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Friday, April 18, 2014

Notes from a Veteran Writer – Querying (P.J. McNeill) - posted by P. J. McNeill

As you may already know, we’re a varied bunch at STS.  Our main focus is – and will continue to be – showcasing scripts.  Short and Sweet.  Feature lengths, long and hard (um, okay… that came out WAY wrong.)

But in addition to the reviews, we’ll also be presenting interviews with directors and writers, book reviews, and various articles about the script writing industry.  Today, we’re honored to present to you our featured guest writer “P.J. McNeill” – a talented writer and 10 year veteran of the industry.  This guy’s seen it all.  So sit back – enjoy the read. And learn a little something today.  (And for alot of foreseeable Fridays to come.)

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Querying

 

I was once at a dinner party, talking with a writer who had just sold something to Sony. My interest, naturally, piqued upon hearing this. “How? Did you query a lot of producers?”, I asked. He arched an eyebrow. Clearly the term “query” was lost on him. “No, I just gave it to a friend…and they gave it to a friend…and THEY gave it to a friend, until it wound up in the hands of an agent.” I stared back at him in shock. Then he said “Honestly, I don’t even know who gave it to the agent.” His nonchalance made me want to ram my plate of hors d’oeuvres in his face.

Those of us not lucky enough to just release a script out into the ether and have it immediately sell are left with the dreaded query letter. Over the last 10 years, I must have sent out a couple thousand query letters. I do not have an agent or a manager (but believe me, I’ve tried), so I’m left with the task of pitching my material myself. (Side Note: A few months after my infant daughter was born, my wife and I were approached by a talent agent; looking to represent her. We declined, but as we were walking away, my wife said, “4 months old, and she would have had an agent before you.” Ha…ha.)

When I first started writing query letters, I would send these long, bulky letters that I’m almost 100% positive no one read. They were boring to write, so I’m sure they were boring to read. It was only several years later that I realized I needed to do something special. Something that stood out from the one-hundred-some e-mails producers must receive every-single-day. I won’t go into detail what I did, but suffice it to say, I received the most reads I had every gotten from a query blast, and optioned my script within a couple months. It’s important to stand out. It’s such an obvious piece of advice, but I ignored it for YEARS. I just thought “Hey, my work speaks for itself.” Well, no…no, it doesn’t.

It’s also worth mentioning that you need to strike a balance. Get a producer’s attention, but don’t go too far. There’s the obvious example of the guy who left his script in a briefcase at an agency in LA (that was subsequently blown up by the bomb squad – the script, not the agency). Run your idea by a few people before executing it. Ask them “Will this make me look like a nutjob?

Avoid query e-mail blast services. It’s all a crock; believe me, I’ve spent money on them (Future article title: Don’t Spend Money). Don’t get me wrong, they’ll hold up their end of the bargain: they’ll send your query letter to a BUNCH of people; I just wouldn’t expect them to be quality. The way these services get you is by showing you an incomprehensibly large list of producers/agents/companies and expecting you to just give them your money without looking into it; which I didn’t do…AT FIRST. After the service provided me NOTHING in return, I looked into the people on their list. Most of them either a.) hadn’t produced anything in YEARS, or b.) had no real connection to the film industry at all. You’re better off getting a subscription to IMDBPro (or if you’re cheap like me, the 2 week trial) and doing your own work yourself. That way YOU control who you’re e-mailing. It takes a lot of time, but it’s worth it.

So, to sum up: if you’re ever at a party and some writer is going on and on about his recent sell as if it’s no big thing, just take your plate of hors d’oeurves, get a good solid grip on the plate…and offer it to them.  Then give them whatever the hell they want.  Seriously, screw querying.  Just make a powerful friend.  It’s a lot easier.

Contact info: Got a question, a comment or just general bile (or overwhelming praise) you want to spew?  Email PJ at pjscriptblog@gmail.com,  If you’re nice, you might just get an hors d’oeuvre! New to P.J. readership?  Click here for more articles!

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