I recently got a question from a screenwriter looking for help with his query letter. He had read my post on How to Write a Query Letter but still had additional concerns for his own letter.
I am currently on hiatus and not helping with queries or screenplays right now. But, he pitched me a small sample of his letter and asked nicely, so I decided to give him some fast thoughts.
It came with the caveat that I could post about it on the site, so the advice could potential help other writers. And so, here’s the first line of the proposed query letter, slightly modified:
Dear Agent/Producer/Manager:Below is a query for my latest comedy/drama/horror screenplay based, in part, on actual events in my life and inspired by a story by Franz Kafka.
Here’s what I wrote, in part:
Thanks for the email…but let me just say that THREE warning signs jump out at me in your FIRST sentence.
1. comedy/drama/horror – I’ve never heard of this genre. If you’re going to claim your script fits into a genre, the best idea is to pick ONE genre or MAYBE two. I’d stick with one so the reader can get a firm grasp on whether your script is the type they’re looking for.
2. based on “my own life..” – This is common pitch from first-time screenwriters / amateur scripts. Unless you were a firefighter during 9/11 or have some other monumental or unique life-experience that shows you’re an expert in this topic/event, I’d leave this part out. In the end, we all KNOW screenplays are partially based on our own experiences, but a direct memoir, especially from a first-time writer, is not a great read.
3. …based on Kafka. – Comparing your movie to a book is a tough sell. Right now, you’re telling the producer that you wrote a sci-fi, literary, existential exploration. They might think that sounds like a BOOK rather than a movie.
In other words, the first line is very, very important and right now you’re in danger of scaring a few people off in that first line…
From there, think about what MOVIES your screenplay will be like. What do you love about those movies? What made you WANT to see them? Hone onto those scenes and ideas.
Then think about your script. What scenes / characters will make people want to watch you movie? Can you pitch it in a way that makes the reader want, nay, NEEDS to watch it?
Best of luck with the script, and again, hope that helps.