Screenplay Writing Tips — Making Your Cold Query Letters Not Seem So Cold

I want to be perfectly blunt about something up front – most screenplays suck, and it’s very rarely just one thing that’s wrong with them. In addition to being a working screenwriter, I also work as a coverage analyst, which means that I read screenplays and professionally evaluate them for clients. I have read some truly, truly horrific script, which include pitches like:

– What if a guy traveled back in time and discovered that he was Jesus at the end of the script?
– What if two terrible stand-up comedians went through their own personal version of Dante’s Inferno?
– What if sharks could shoot out lava at people and decided to destroy an island off the coast of Washington?

Even if you think any of these pitches are good (and they’re not), the screenplays ended up being terrible. I bring this up to illustrate a point and offer you some screenplay writing tips – producers don’t want to read your script, and it has nothing to do with you. It has to do with the fact that they are more than well aware of the amount of garbage floating around out there, and because these are busy people with jobs to do, they need to invest their time wisely.

Why am I telling you all of this? It’s not to discourage you, or out of some “tough love” kind of thing – it’s because I want you to be aware of what you’re dealing with, in full, and what the best strategy to deal with that kind of thing. What does all of this mean when you put it together in terms of screenplay writing tips? Simple – it means that you need to have a killer query letter.
A professional query letter is a well-honed tool – short, to the point, and effective. Don’t give them a ton of information about the town you grew up in and how it inspired your script – they don’t care about that kind of thing. Don’t tell them that you’ve written 20 other screenplays – this may seem like a good idea at the outset, but as Jake Wagner at Benderspink mentioned in an interview, if you’ve written 20 screenplays, why haven’t I heard of you yet? You can mention another credit or two if it makes you feel more comfortable, but my screenplay writing tip is to do your best to keep the focus on the script you’re trying to get them to read.

The way to make a query letter garner a positive response for you is to pitch it as a combination of two other movies – if you have an action movie, say that it’s “Speed meets…” or “Die Hard meets…” – something that people have seen and that made a lot of money. If you put that your movie is “Gigli meets…” or “Jem and the Holograms meets…,” no one will read your script because both of those movies were huge bombs.

In short, a good screenplay writing tip is to reach out to as many people as you can, famous or not, big or small, and plan your communications according to your audience. This is a business that is very much based on images and appearances, and it might seem kind of goofy that you have to change how you’re speaking to someone depending on your audience, but if you divide your time up between reaching out to established writers with e-mails of thanks and sending out query letters to agencies and managers that are targeted to them and on-point, you will find that you have greatly increased your odds of getting someone to read your screenplay and put yourself ahead of the amateur league of screenwriters out there.