Tuesday, January 10, 2012

How to Query

Last week, 7 Managers requested my action screenplay. Here's how I did it:

In the past, I extolled the virtues of Networking and Applying to Screenwriting Competitions -- and I still do -- they're the #1 and #2 ways to get your script read by the best of Hollywood -- but after my string of non-luck in 2011, I'm ready for #3 again.

Cold Query E-mails. In three steps. Oh yeah.

1) Draft the Email

And by draft the email, I mean write a killer logline. I've written about this before, even with a first draft formula, but never forget: raise the stakes, make it original, and practice pitching. I didn't feel ready to query until I rewrote my logline dozens of time with help from my friends.

Remember, agents and managers deal with pitches all the time, day after day, year after year -- and if they are going to give you the time of day, your logline needs to stand out.

Which is also why you gotta make your email short. Here's what worked for me:
Dear [First Name],

I thought you might be interested in my new script:

[TITLE] -- [Genre]
[Logline].[MOVIE #1 meets MOVIE #2].

Thank you for your time.

[Your Name]
[Personal Website]
2) Make a List

And by list I mean an Excel Spreadsheet of all the agencies, management companies, and production companies in town. This is where your research comes into play -- Deadline.com, The Hollywood Reporter, Variety, IMDbPro, The Wrap, TrackingB, The Black List, etc. -- to find the names of ALL the companies. Not just the big ones. ALL THE HOLLYWOOD. More on that later.

Then you need to make a list of individual agents, managers, and development execs at those companies -- and you find their email addresses. No, not "info@BigStudio.com" off of their corporate website. You need their individual company email addresses. But how?

I've been able to find email addresses through IMDbPro and google searches -- but mostly through networking. Working as a Hollywood assistant, you collect email addresses from major Hollywood players, or just e-mail structures like firstname.lastname@company.net. Also, fellow writer friends have shared their query lists with me too. So don't stop networking!

Then once you have compiled hundreds -- seriously, HUNDREDS -- of email addresses, then you're ready for the final step:

3) Email Everyone

That's right. Everyone. All at once. Not just the people who represent/hire writers in your genre, style, niche, etc. All of Hollywood. Paper the town. Here's why:

The tide can turn so quickly. The agent who represents comedy writers today could represent horror writers tomorrow. For example, after The Devil Inside made a surprising box office smash this past weekend, I imagine everyone in Hollywood might want their hands on the next found footage horror script. So you never know if you're querying the right or wrong person.

But do use some discretion. For example, I would suggest querying one rep per company unless the company is huge. If you email 1-2 reps at a time, wait a month for a response, then email another 1-2 reps at that company, you might get a better response then carpet-bombing everyone at the company with emails and expecting a personal, passionate response.

And here's the pep talk.

This is a lot of work. Not something you do in an afternoon. This takes hours and hours. Days and days. It took me weeks of working on the logline, compiling the list, drafting hundreds of emails, and then sending them all off... with only a 1% response.

After 400 something emails, I got 7 responses... and already one manager passed. But this is the number one rule of screenwriting: DO NOT GET DISCOURAGED.

So 3 months later, change the wording of the logline, and do it again. Or even better -- send out a new logline for the new script you finished in those 3 months. Because the first thing anyone will ask after a positive read is "What else do you have?" and it better be in the same brand as your last script and you better send it immediately. So keep writing and keep fighting.

Remember, no one fails in Hollywood -- you only fail if you give up.

Don't give up.


  1. This is a great post that puts all the hard hours of work into perspective. It's so important to keep fighting and stay organized. I love that you have an Excel spreadsheet... that's probably the obsessive compulsive in me. :)

    Best of luck as always,

  2. Awesome post. Cannot wait to see your films on the big screen, and I know it's so going to happen- probably sooner than later!

  3. Hey Nathan,

    Great to see you persévère!! Great advice. It is a TON of work, but if you are dogged, you will see results.

    I second the advice to keep on writing. You get better in your craft and you will inevitably find a story that will resonate. Having a lot of irons in the fire is the path to success.

    Tess Burningham

  4. Great post, Nate! I teach similar concepts in my management class. It's amazing the work that goes into pitching one's ideas and some of my students don't realize the dedication it takes.

  5. Thank you for all the comments!! The day's not over, and this has been my most popular post yet! Thanks so much and I wish you all continued success in your endeavors :)