Some writers mistakenly believe a query letter should ask permission to send their script. That sets you up for a lot of rejection. Your query letter has a much more subtle purpose - to identify those who will respond to your movie.
HOW TO BEGIN
Format: Query letters run one page or less, single-spaced in a readable font on businesslike stationery.
Salutation: Write to a targeted individual, not a company. This target should be someone appropriate for your story. Often, you don't personally know the target and they certainly don't know you. Put them at ease by answering the first question on their mind.
WHY ARE YOU BOTHERING ME?
Your opening paragraph should clarify why you have chosen to query this particular person. Define how the script might meet their needs. If an established film professional referred you to this person, tell them this upfront.
Then answer their next question
OKAY… SO WHAT IS YOUR MOVIE ABOUT?
I know this part of the letter sets stomachs churning. Writers believe the entire future of their script relies on what they put into these few descriptive sentences. No one sells a movie script off a query letter; all this letter has to do is entice them to take a look at the script. Hopefully this letter begins a long conversation between the two of you as you work together to set up the script at a movie studio and get it made.
Organize the pitch section of your letter into two paragraphs:
The first pitch paragraph acts as a trailer for your movie. Tease the reader into wanting to see your movie script, just like movie trailers entice the audience to come back to see the next attraction. Introduce your genre, the main characters, the lead character's situation, the main obstacles and major adversary and how the lead plans to overcome them. Hint at the ending without giving it away.
The second pitch paragraph promotes your script by highlighting vital elements that reveal unique marketing angles which make your movie special. Think of it as the poster for your movie. Here are some brief examples of story elements worth emphasizing:
- POTENT THEMES: The movie WITNESS had a provocative theme. Do you resort to violence in order to keep the peace?
- UNEXPECTED TWISTS: The alien in E.T. is not a conventional extraterrestrial intent on conquering earth; he's a frightened, homesick, lovable creature who was stranded here accidentally. He's not the adversary in the movie, the misguided adults are.
- GENRE FLIP-FLOP: "The Full Monty" is an atypical male bonding movie (no violence or contact sports) where the men recover their pride by baring their souls as well as their bodies.
- PRESSURE COOKER: Some movies use devices to raise the stakes. "Miracle on 34th Street" has a ticking clock - Kris Kringle needs to be released from jail by Christmas Eve. "Titanic" exploits our knowledge that the big boat sinks and sets us wondering which passengers will survive.
If the description of your movie hooks your target, another question arises.
WHO THE HELL ARE YOU AND WHY SHOULD I CARE?
This paragraph should reveal your credentials. Include relevant background information: scripts sold or optioned, filmmaking experience, publishing credits. If you have no writing credits, focus on relevant accomplishments: script contests, writing programs you have completed. If you have personal experience relevant to your story, the setting or the hero's crisis, include that; but be brief.
Add a unique and memorable detail that will make you attractive to the agent or producer. Some writers target film pros from their alma mater. Others mention unique hobbies, personal experiences or established careers in other fields that give them a special point of view.
Invite them to read your script and tell them how to get a copy. Some writers include a self-addressed stamped postcard for a reply. VITAL: Include your contact information (or your agent's)!
WHAT TO LEAVE OUT OF A QUERY LETTER
- Resist the urge to beg, whine, complain, fabricate or threaten.
- Avoid cynicism: You're my 209th submission and you'll probably blow me off royally like the rest of them did . . .
- Resist defeatist generalities: With 100,000 scripts floating around Hollywood, I doubt you'll pay attention to mine . . .
- Don't ask for pity: I have three young children, my health coverage expired, the transmission blew on my Toyota and my husband just walked out on me . . .
THE LAST WORD
To get better results, focus on the ACTION you want the reader to take after reading the letter. SUBTLE HINT: You want them to think -- Hey, we do not want to miss out on this script, let's take a look at it.