Query from Iowa

Since Sawbuck is currently in the Nicholl Fellowships in Screenwriting Competition, I stopped querying for a month or two while working on my next script.  Last week I saw the name of a top-notch management company in an article and thought “What the heck, I’ll just send out a quick query since it’s one of companies I would love to work with.”

The next morning I got a read request from a Development Executive.

But more on that later…

If you’re a screenwriter and  haven’t yet had the pleasure of reading Scott Smith’s Screenwriting from Iowa blog, then you’ve already gotten your money’s worth by reading this post.  In this recent article, Scott shares a query letter along with priceless feedback from WME Story Editor Christopher Lockhart.

To give you a taste of this chock-full-of-valuable-info article, here’s a comment from Lockhart about the difference between a hook and a twist:

Remember, a “hook” is what takes an ordinary story and gives it that spark of originality. That dash of taking the familiar and making it unique. Hollywood likes unique – but familiar.  A hook is built into the concept.  It’s not a twist.  The idea of a hook is to hook the reader into the story.  So it’s found earlier in the script.  A twist is an unexpected plot turn.  For instance, in THE SIXTH SENSE, the hook is the boy sees dead people.  The twist is Bruce Willis is dead.

Could making a point be any simpler?  Aspiring writers search high and low (and sometimes pay a lot of dough) for that kind of information.  As to the subject at hand — querying — I suggest reading Scott’s article before continuing.

Back?

Good.

Remember that query email I sent out last week?

I’ve read several books and tons of articles on the query process and have found a scary amount of conflicting information:

  • Synopsis — Some say include one, others say keep it simple.
  • Personal Info — While some say don’t bother because the person reading your email really doesn’t care, many agree that if it pertains specifically to the subject matter of the script it can be of value.
  • Contests — Many will tell you to include any contest placements/wins.  Others say, “If it’s not a Nicholl’s placement or win, don’t bother mentioning it.”

… and so on.  It can be exhausting trying to figure out what’s effective, what’s not, and what could actually hurt my chances of getting a read request.  And since a good number of query emails never even get read, there’s no way of knowing if what I’ve sent out was simply ignored or wasn’t effective.

Frustrating.

So, through trial and error — and having to sift through what “should” work and what is “the best way” — it was comforting to find validation in Christopher Lockhart’s comments as they relate to the current state of my query email:

SUBJECT: Sawbuck

John,

I’m currently seeking representation and hope you’ll consider taking a look at the following screenplay…

SAWBUCK – After a 10-year-old boy is almost murdered, he must join the hunt for a bizarre serial killer to save the next victim.

This Consider-rated mystery/thriller could be described as SE7EN on the ROAD TO PERDITION with a supernatural twist.  Thanks for your time and I look forward to hearing from you.

Best regards,

Mark Strauss
mark@subtexter.com

While not perfect, it’s light-years beyond where it started (much like early drafts of my scripts).  Part of the trick is to never lose sight of the purpose of the query, because it’s the only product I’m selling:

The motivation for the reader to want to read my script enough to request it.

For many early drafts of my query email, I lost sight of that goal.

Oftentimes, the answer to an important problem can be hidden in plain sight and I must go through self-created roadblocks to find the truth.  After being overly verbose in previous versions of my query email, I finally realized that, along with the above-stated goal, the airiness of the query should be indicative of the economy of language of the script itself.  If I must make the recipient wade through a bunch of “salesy” crap, why should they expect the script to be any different?

The paradox is the more I try to build myself and/or my story up with fluff, the less professional/credible/talented I come across.  To this point, I’m still not convinced “Consider-rated” should stay in there; it may do more harm than good.

I’ve also found that crafting a simple, effective query helps develop the script/story itself.  Because the scarier truth is, if the story can’t be distilled down to such a simple level, then there’s something seriously wrong with the story.  Which, ironically, makes querying a complete waste of time anyway.

Happy 4th of July!

Additional links…


3 responses to “Query from Iowa

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