How do you do it?
Don’t worry, we’ll get to “Development Hell”. But this is something I’ve been meaning to write about for awhile, and after getting a few e-mails on the subject, I thought it was worth exploring (sooner, rather than later).
So I go on a great deal about querying; about what to say to production companies, managers, etc. There’s a lot of blogs that do that: talk about how to query or how not to query. But few talk about how to contact those you’re supposed to query. These blogs all assume that you just “know” how to do it, and I apologize because I have been no different.
When I got out of film school, I had no idea what to do with my first feature script. They sure as hell didn’t teach it in school, and when I tried Googling it, the results were vague. Why? Why don’t people like to talk about HOW to get ahold of these people? I have a theory: if you tell people your “tricks of the trade”, there will be just that many more sharks in the water. And who wants that? This field is already so damn competitive. So go figure it out yourself. (Or buy their list of production companies, for the low, low price of $100!! *Don’t do that.*)
Truth is, I should tell you. Querying is so damn hard already, and that’s just when you actually get ahold of them. Who cares if you get a slight leg up on finding out how to contact them?
So, here goes. You’ve got a brand spankin’ new script. What do you do? (After you’ve bugged your friends and family for a series of critiques, of course.)
First off, figure out what type of movie your script is and then make a list of others like it. Then, do some research and find all the people involved in making that movie: producers, production companies, agents, whoever. If they made a movie similar to yours (in tone or genre), odds are they’ll be more likely to give your script a shot. But how do you do this? Simple. GET A 2 WEEK FREE TRIAL TO IMDB PRO. I’ve done this on multiple credit cards with multiple e-mail accounts over the years. (Sorry, but that membership is too damn expensive for the small number of times I use it every year.) **NOTE: Remember to cancel it. I’ve forgotten a couple times, and it stings having to pay that membership fee.**
So, you start digging, and you make a list. But now you need to actually contact these people. **NOTE: Leave the big fish alone. Don’t go for studio or large production companies. Go for the mid-to-low level companies. They’re more likely to respond.** Problem is, most of them don’t list their contact information; just an email@example.com address. You can use this though. There is a pretty standard structure you can try out to most companies. Let’s say the person you’re trying to reach is John Smith (I’m a writer!). Here’s a few variations to try out:
You get the point. Just keep trying until something sticks. You can also try Googling “@companyname e-mail John smith” and see what bounces back. There are ENTIRE THREADS devoted to this on the Done Deal Message Boards. You can also use Done Deal to find out if the person you’re contacting is reputable, so you don’t waste your time.
Once you exhaust your list, you can broaden your search and start querying other companies, managers and agents. Keep it short and sweet. No big paragraphs. Don’t try to be cute and market your film either: “It’s (blank) meets (blank) and will make 52 million”. They just want to hear your logline and maybe a couple other enticing bits. Did you place in a reputable contest? Put that in there. And like I’ve said in previous entries: keep your query blasts small. Only do about 20 a day (if that). This way, you can see what works and what doesn’t. If you’re not getting a hit, maybe you need to change your subject. Or maybe your logline needs work. Don’t blow it by doing 500 in one day.
It’s tough, it’s rarely rewarding, and sometimes it feels downright stalkery. (Not a word.) But for a lot of us, it’s all we have. And most importantly: it works. I promise.
About the writer: A talented writer and 10 year veteran of the industry, “P.J. McNeill” has seen it all (and he’s ready to kiss and tell.) Got a question, a comment or just general bile /praise you want to spew? Email PJ at firstname.lastname@example.org. New to P.J. readership? Click here for more articles!