I got these questions recently:
“I recently started sending out query letters for a script I completed. I received a couple of requests for the script and some rejections. One of the rejections said, ‘We already have a similar project.’ Does this mean I should scrap my script altogether and just move on to the next one?
Another rejection said, ‘Your query letter reads more like a writing sample than a movie.’ Even though I had a script consultant edit my query letter, should I consider revising it? In general, how much scrutiny should a new screenwriter, such as myself, give to the ‘feedback’ included in a rejection?”
You should not abadon your script just because some other company has something similar in development. I can pretty much guarantee that some production company somewhere has something in “development” that’s similar to just about any story idea you and I could come up with. A statement like ‘We already have a similar project’ could be as simple as your script is a teen comedy and they’re developing a teen comedy. If anything I would take this as a compliment as it means your working on ideas that have at least some commercial viability.
Now with that said if a movie comes out and is fairly successful that’s very similar to your script you might want to put it away for a while. I’m not talking about “similar” in terms of tone or style or genre I’m talking about some high concept premise that is basically the same as your high concept premise. Unless your take on it is vastly different you’re probably not going to get a lot of traction. For instance, if you have a movie about a guy stuck on a bus that had to maintain a speed of at least 60mph and you were trying to shop it around right after Speed came out I don’t think you’d find much interest – but that’s the sort of similarity I’m talking about. The great Blake Snyder has a whole chapter in his great book Save The Cat about how Hollywood wants “the same thing only different” so if your script isn’t at least somewhat similar to something that’s been done I’d say you might have a bigger problem than if someone thinks it’s too similar.
I’m not sure what the person meant by ‘Your query letter reads more like a writing sample than a movie.’ I’m just not sure how a query letter could read like a writing sample. If you’re getting some positive responses from your query letter than I would say it’s working.
In general I try and look at the feedback I get on a query letter or script in a broad sense and try and see if I’m hearing the same sorts of things from different sources. If that’s the case than you can start to get a sense where the troubled areas are.