Get Your Script NoticedWritten by: Billy Mulligan of Jane Startz Productions
Published: Feb 11, 2009
Here are some tips for unknown writers trying to get their script read by an established feature film production company. For almost six years, I've worked at a high profile feature film production company in New York City. You want to get your script into my hands. I am not speaking for agencies or studios, but I imagine the process is similar.
It's a significant uphill battle to get your script read if you are a "nobody". But never forget that almost every writer, director, producer, actor and crewmember went through the same struggle to get their foot in the door. The most important thing you can do is never give up. If you have the talent and luck is on your side, you can be a Hollywood success story. Here are some pointers, from an insider's perspective, that will help streamline your efforts and increase your chances of getting your big break by way an unsolicited query.
PUT YOUR BEST SCRIPT FORWARD:
Do not submit your query until you are truly prepared. You must have perfected your writing skills and have shaped your life so that if you sell a script, you can successfully transition into screenwriting as a career and a lifestyle that best serves your writing. One hit wonders fade fast in this business. You must be able to deliver consistently well-written scripts and putting in the time to hone your skills will pay back tenfold.
To this effect, I have encouraged filmmaker friends to, for example, stay a paralegal for another year, use that frustration to drive your creativity and write all you can until you've got a few scripts finished. When submitting queries to producers, have backup material ready. I would suggest that you have at least one more fully developed script that, in conjunction with the script you have submitted, fully showcases your voice, range, depth and adaptability. If you jump the gun and go through the effort of sending queries before you've got the whole package, it will be a frustrating experience for you. Block out what lies ahead at this early stage.
Before you submit queries, devote the time to perfect your writing skills.
ESTABLISH YOUR TARGET:
When researching and selecting your submission list, make sure you target specific producers who are looking for your type of project or have done similar projects in the past. You should submit your query to a large number of companies, but contacting a horror movie company about your teenybopper script is a waste of time. Companies you contact should have a reputation and style that signals a good match. And yes, "every type of movie" is a style that many companies adhere to, so put them on your list. Be aware, though, that a lot of the bigger production companies do not accept unsolicited queries. It is fine to call companies to ask if they accept queries. While you have someone on the phone, be sure to ask to whom they suggest addressing your query, but do not launch into a verbal pitch for your project.
[Note from InkTip: see the Hollywood Creative Directories, IMDB.com, and pay close attention to the production companies of the films you watch to determine the kinds of projects to send a producer.]
Once you have your production company submission list, contact the lower men on the totem pole, specifically development execs and assistants. I have come to think that writers look down upon submitting queries to assistants and I find that surprising. When I started out as an assistant, I remember the excitement that came with being addressed directly by queries. I saw it as an easy way to find material and I was fueled by the hope of presenting my boss with a script I found all on my own. Assistants are in constant communication with the higher ups and if they find great material, their bosses pay attention.
Target the people who are most eager and willing to read your script.
Send your query by way of a one-page fax, email or the least desirable route, regular mail. Again, luck must be on your side to get the producer to pay attention and every route you take has its drawbacks. I do not promote sending letters in the mail simply because, although it somewhat guarantees a direct hit of your target, producers can sense an unsolicited query letter from miles away. Even the mere seconds it takes for producers to open the envelope can result in time they feel is being taken away from their workday. Emails can be deleted without a moment's thought. I find that query by fax usually fits smoothly into the workday schedule.
Sending your query by way of a one-page fax is most desirable.
[Note from InkTip: some producers may prefer snail mail - check with the company.]
ONE PROJECT AT A TIME:
Your query should highlight one specific script and should be one page long. Too much information turns the reader off. If your query does not sell the contact within ten to twenty seconds, it will most likely be dumped in the recycling bin. Queries with a roster of projects lead me to wonder why the writer has so many finished projects, but hasn't sold any. In a way, you are telling the producer too much information. If you have multiple scripts to submit, perfect each one-page query and submit them one by one. If submitting separate queries to the same company, give it an appropriate amount of time between each. Make each individual query stand out and you significantly increase your chances of getting your script requested.
Keep it short and sweet and the better your chances are at hooking the reader.
HAVE AN ANGLE:
Have a selling point that jumps off the page. These include awards, marketable and descriptive loglines, comparison to producer's past films, and last, but never least, flattery.
Do the research and submit to screenwriting festivals and competitions. It can be costly but is worth a test run. Sometimes it pays off in a big way. The most notable experience I've had with an unsolicited writer was with Jake Cashill. His query highlighted that he had recently won the inaugural Francis Ford Coppolla Screenwriting Competition. The one page faxed query said that Coppolla himself had read the top ten scripts and handpicked the winner. That is more than enough for me to want to request the script. Ultimately, I passed on that particular script but it was very well written, as were his two other samples he immediately sent. I met with Jake and he presented me with ten ideas for his next project. He was prepared in exactly the right way. I appreciated his style and choices in story and picked one that I believed had the most potential. A few months later, he delivered an excellent first draft and my boss enthusiastically took on the project. Within a few days, the script was submitted to A-list talent.
I also recently requested an unsolicited one-page faxed query because the writer's logline sparked my imagination. The writer described the script as "Desperate Housewives meets Mean Girls". I read the brief synopsis and decided that the premise was fresh, funny and best of all, I could see the movie's appeal to a wide array of demographics. Unfortunately, the script was poorly written. However, a fresh and marketable logline makes it that much easier for me to say yes.
If you single out in your solicitation that your project is similar to one of the producer's past films, highlight a unique twist or angle that will make the material seem fresh, yet familiar to the producer.
Every person in this industry reacts to flattery. Adding a small personal anecdote about why you love one of their films is a great way to get producers on your side. In fact, if I see the name of one of our films on the query, my eyes immediately go to it. It's a great trick because every released film is a years-long labor of love for producers (and everyone who works for them), so by appealing to their emotional side and paying them a unique compliment is a great way to attract the producer to you and your work.
Add a unique element to your query that pops off the page.
FRIEND OF A FRIEND?:
A surefire way to get your script read is by having a personal connection to a producer. No matter if it's a friend twice removed from my boss or myself, I will read material if I have any remote personal connection to the writer. This industry is most definitely based around who you know...
So who might you know?
DON'T BE THE PHONE COMPANY:
Be patient once you have submitted a project to a producer. Most of the time, your script will be near the bottom of the producer's to do list because of the nature of its submission. The reader is doing you a favor accepting your project because it is, essentially, extra work for them. In fact, the biggest production companies do not even accept unsolicited queries because they're simply too busy with submission from established entities. Most production companies adhere to a "we'll call you, don't call us" policy and a phone call regarding your submission will not help your cause if it's made too soon.
If your material is requested, give it at least a month before you call or email your contact. This is a good enough time period so that your contact won't feel pressured, but will feel a tinge of guilt that might get them to read your script sooner rather than later.
Be unassuming in your follow-up and approach your contacts in an unobtrusive manner.
BE PREPARED FOR THE NEXT STEP:
As I stated above, if you get through round one and have gotten good feedback, you will immediately be asked to send other writing samples. These do not have to be in the same genre or vein as the previously submitted material. In fact, I look for writers to prove their range and find myself turned off by one-trick ponies.
If they pass on your script, make sure to ask them if they are open to you submitting queries to them in the future. They'll almost always say yes, even if they don't mean it. When you are ready to submit another script, whether it's a month or a year later, refresh your contact's memory with a small synopsis of the previously submitted script. I would also imagine that when trying to get an agent, it would help for you to reference that a certain production company has responded well to your writing and that they are open to being submitted other material.
Know how to use your unsolicited submissions to your advantage in the future.
Billy Mulligan is the Director of Development for Jane Startz Productions in New York City. Billy has worked extensively on two studio releases, Disney's TUCK EVERLASTING and Miramax's ELLA ENCHANTED. He has also produced a short film, CONFESSIONS OF A DANGEROUS MIME, which will be distributed worldwide by Big Film Shorts. He developed and is producing Anthony Fisher and Dan Rizzo's LIFE AMONG THE RUINS, which he has listed on InkTip for the past year.