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What Should The Query Letter Say When You Have No Screenplay Credits?

Mike said:

Hi, Ashey!

I have another question.  This time, about query letters.  The example you gave on your website shows someone with an experienced background in writing screenplays for movies and shows your past history of works.

But what if you don’t have an experienced background?  Would you explain in your letter that you’re a “novice” or a “first-time” screenplay writer “looking to get published”?    How would you write a query letter in that sense?

Thank you!


Ashley Scott Meyers said:

If you haven’t read my full post How to write a professional query letter for your screenplay you should check it out now.

As I mentioned in How to write a professional query letter for your screenplay if you don’t have any experience you don’t want to point this out you simply want to try and come up with something positive to say about yourself and your writing skills.

Really this is just “Sales 101.”  Use common sense.  If you’re trying to sell something you might use testimonials about your product.  But if you have no testimonials yet you might try and find specific things to highlight about the product.

One question I would ask myself is this:  why did I write this script?  The answer will hopefully give you some good fodder for your query letter.  For instance, if your story is a cop drama and you worked as a cop for twenty years you might want to mention that.  You might say something like:

My script Eastside Strangler is an inside look at how the police track down and arrest serial killers.  As an LAPD officer for more than twenty years I was involved in several serial murder cases and participated in the actual arrest of one mass murderer.

Okay, so maybe you don’t have any real world experiences as interesting as being a serial killer arresting police detective.  Use what you do have.  Years ago I was kicking around ideas for a script about a professional tennis player.  I played tennis in college and knew the tennis world very well.  That was something I would have used in my query letter.  I would have written something like this:

I wish to send you my screenplay Big Serve, a comedy about a tennis prodigy who was born with an extraordinarily long arm allowing him to hit some of the biggest serves ever seen in the tennis world.  As a successful junior and college tennis player I have a lot of firsthand knowledge of how the tennis world works – there’s a ton of fresh comedy in tennis that has never been mined before.

Many screenwriters (and directors and producers and all people involved in filmmaking) are quite often film geeks with no real world experiences what-so-ever.  So if you have some real world experience which adds authenticity to your script I think that can be very powerful.  A development executive might really respect the fact that your script is actually written from the point of view of someone who actually knows how the police operate instead of written from the perspective of some film geek who knows nothing about police procedure except what he learned from T.V. and movies and is only able to regurgitate the same nonsense that he say in an episode of Miami Vice.

I knew a television writer who was a lawyer and wrote a spec Law & Order script and ended up getting hired on a law-type television series.  Real experience in a field can add some legitimate credibility to your story so use whatever you have.

If you can’t find any angle where your own experiences don’t give you some advantage in writing this story I do have one last idea for your pitch (although you might want to seriously consider writing your next script based on something that you know a lot about).  When I had zero experience and my story really didn’t relate to anything I had ever done I simply made sure my synopsis was around a half page long and then combined the query letter and synopsis onto one page.  So you would introduce yourself and get right to the point and never even mention anything about your experience (or lack of experience).  I mentioned this method last because I think finding an angle with your background is a better way to go, but if you can’t find it, this one will work well.  I think development executives probably like the fact that everything is on one single page so they can quickly and easily pass judgment on your project.

Here’s an example of that style of query letter / synopsis:


1 January 2010

Joe Producer
Production Company Name
Production Company Address
Production Company City, State and Zip Code

Dear Director of Development:

I wish to submit my feature length screenplay, “INHERITANCE,” for your consideration.  “INHERITANCE” is a modern day film noir set in rural, northern California.  The cast is small but developed, and the locations are graphic yet limited.  With no stunts or need for major special effects, “INHERITANCE” could be made on a limited budget.

It’s the story of two lovers who go to the rural desert town of Termo, to pose as the heirs to a recluse millionaire’s fortune. The lovers, John Brody and Mary Johnson, are grifters, bonded together by passion and their plan to get rich.

The lawyer of the estate seems a little suspicious, but proceeds. The local sheriff becomes jealous and tries to pin the old man’s murder on John and Mary, but he doesn’t have any evidence.  The recluse’s unknown illegitimate child mysteriously appears with a natural longing for his father’s fortune, and a plan to get it.

John and Mary’s passion for each other increases and finally explodes.  Their plan gets increasingly scrutinized and eventually bursts.  John finds out about Mary’s other lover and her plan to kill him and take the inheritance for herself.  John realizes that the lawyer is also the recluse’s illegitimate child.  The lawyer moves in, manufacturing the evidence the sheriff desired, figuring it’s his destiny to get the inheritance.  But it’s not in John’s nature to go down without a fight…

“INHERITANCE” is a Hitchcockian tale of passion and greed, backstabbing and double-crossing, desperation and determination, truth and destiny.  It is the hopelessly talented versus the doggedly determined, and the outcome is a naturalistic film noir somewhere between Zola and Hammett.

You can contact me via phone or email (818-752-5555 info@sellingyourscreenplay.com) if you would like to read “INHERITANCE.”  Thank you for your time and consideration.  I look forward to hearing from you.

Sincerely,

Ashley Scott Meyers


Notice how I never even mention any experience (or lack thereof).  I just pitch the script and wrap things up.  The synopsis literally becomes the query letter.

One other point I want to make.  I use MS Word’s Header/Footer function to put a nice “Ashley Scott Meyers” header on the page and I put in my contact information including address, email, and phone number in the footer so that it’s easy to find and not just wrapped into the query letter.  If this were an email query I would have added that information to the bottom of the page.