I’ve heard something lately that I haven’t heard in a while: genuine interest from a management agency in my work. I picked up an insight at the Austin Film Festival last October and when I came back to LA I thought try something I’d never done before. I sent a query letter.
Query letters have been a tool for aspiring writers in Hollywood for decades. It’s a letter written to agents, managers, producers, or production companies that basically says, “I’m So-and-So and I have a script call ‘The Great American Screenplay’ and it’s about …“
For a myriad of legal reasons, very few companies accept unsolicited scripts. So the goal of the query is to pique the interest of the reader enough that they solicit your script.
Before the internet changed everything, these query letters were old school, requiring ink and paper, a roll of stamps, and a lot of envelope licking. It was common for aspiring writers to send dozens of query letters with the hope that someone would take interest and respond. The problem, as you might imagine, is that all these companies and agencies are bombarded with queries every day and the likelihood of a response is very low. So, the general perception among writers is that query letters don’t work.
I was somewhat surprised to hear from a literary manager speaking on a panel at the film festival that his agency still accepted queries via e-mail. I thought, my script pitches well, what do I have to lose?
In early November, I sent three query letters to three different talent management agencies with a short pitch for “The Resurrection of Dennis Munson.” Two weeks later, I got a response from one of the companies. They asked for the script. So, I sent them the script. Their instructions are explicit: don’t follow-up. If we’re interested, we’ll contact you. The holidays came and I didn’t hear anything. To be honest, I kind of forgot about it.
Last Friday, exactly two months after I submitted my script, an e-mail appeared in my inbox. “Thanks for sending your script to us – we enjoyed your writing and want to read more from you.” They asked if I had any other completed scripts that I could send a pitch, or logline, for. Fortunately, I did have another script called “The Tinker Dreamer” that I’m proud of and it’s a story that I think reflects my creative voice.
I worked on the pitch over the weekend and sent it to them Monday morning. That afternoon, they replied and asked for the script, which was great, except for one big problem. The script wasn’t done. I thought for sure if I heard anything back from them it would take a week or two, which would give me time to finish it. I did not anticipate they would reply in two hours.
Before the holidays, I started on a rewrite. It was a significant rewrite that I thought I’d have done, maybe, by the end of the January. I looked at the script sitting on my desk, bloodied with red ink. Oh crap, I thought. I have to finish this now.
I rewrote the script in 36 hours. It was intense and to be honest kind of fun. I wrote late into the night and got up early to keep going. Tuesday night I finished the new draft and sent it off to my editor for cleanup. Amazingly, my editor, who lives on the east coast, had the script edited by the time I awoke Wednesday morning. I addressed my editor’s notes and submitted the script to the agency Wednesday night. Phew.
Now I just have to wait and see what happens. I may never hear from the agency again. But then again, who knows? Anything is possible.
Here is the pitch I sent them for “The Tinker Dreamer.”
The Tinker Dreamer is a Capra-esque sci-fi drama set in rural post-war America of the 1950s, before Sputnik and the space race, in a time when mankind’s ideas of outer space were formed by science fiction comics and B-movies. Max, an inventive dreamer, comes of age longing to explore the outer reaches of the known universe, but entangled love and family loyalties keep his feet firmly on the ground. Max’s unconventional beliefs are put on trial after a mysterious machine he builds falls into the wrong hands. The town’s believers and cynics take sides as the fate of Max and those he loves rests on the flip of the machine’s switch.
A WRITER KEEPING THE FAITH IN LOS ANGELES