Below is an email exchange between myself and a writer who emailed me. She’s had some success sending out cold query letters and following my advice in my How to Sell Your Screenplay (in a nutshell) post.
She asks a few follow up questions which I’ve tried to answer. Hopefully you’ll find the exchange useful and inspiring. The thing that impresses me the most is that she’s very hard working (she wrote her first 3 scripts in the last 8 months) and is being very proactive by sending out query letters.
Of the 100 query letters I mailed out, I got requests back from 4 producers so far, requesting to read different combinations of the three scripts I sent synopses of… Also, one of the production companies I sent a full script to wants to work with me exclusively on developing one of my scripts to improve the structure a bit before passing it on to the President. If he likes it, they’ll package it and/or send it to studios, and if not, I’ll still own the script to take wherever I like… I was just wondering if this is within standard industry procedure? And should I be trying to get an agent now?
Thanks so much for your advice and all the information on your website which has helped to get me this far.
Here is my response:
It sounds like you’re right on track. 4 requests for your script out of 100 is a solid number.
First, don’t stop what you’re doing. Continue to send out more query letters. I think a 4% return is good enough to feel like you’re query letter / synopses are working so I could continue to send things out. Try to send out 100 letters per week… or every two weeks… or what ever you can afford in terms of time and money and don’t stop until you’ve either optioned the script or gone through the entire HCD.
I don’t know that specific production company so I can’t comment on their reputation. It’s certainly not unheard of for a development person to read a script and be willing to work with the writer to improve it. But do NOT PAY THEM ANY MONEY for this help. If they start asking for money in any way what-so-ever (i.e. “I know this great writer who would be willing to work with you for a fee”) politely thank them for their time and move on. I’m not saying that this production company is going to ask for money but if they do it means they’re not worth working with.
However, if they’re just willing to help you develop your script for free and they’ve said you can leave at the end of the process with all rights in your revised script it really comes down to personal opinion. My recommendation is to sit down with them and have a meeting. Listen to their story notes and decide if you like them or not. If you feel like their notes have merit what do you have to lose? I’m always looking to improve my script so if someone has good ideas I’ll take them. However if you meet with them and you don’t feel like they get your material and their ideas aren’t in sync with your vision then you need to think long and hard about whether or not you think it’s worth making these changes. The only reason you’ll be making the changes (if you don’t like their ideas) is because you think they have a good chance of getting your movie made. I really can’t answer that question. And honestly it’s a nearly impossible question to answer as you just never know who might be able to get a movie made. Trust your instincts. Ask questions and try and judge if they’re serious producers or not. A large part of screen writing is making changes that you don’t always agree with so if you’ve never been through that process it might be worth it just to experience it and learn from it. And it might be worth it just to build a relationship with this company / development executive. But again it’s really a gut decision that only you can make.
But to answer your question specifically I would say that this is “within standard industry procedure”.
She responded to my email with this:
I will keep promoting the other two I’ve written, but the company wants me to work with them exclusively (ie. not send it to anyone else) on the one they like…is that reasonable to expect without paying me any money? I suppose so, since they’re going to work with me on improving it for free and I can always shop the hopefully improved script around after.
The company has some really big movies listed as credits on HCD (Platoon, Falling Down, Seven, The Fugitive) so I’m assuming they’re reputable and have the money/ability to make a well budgeted movie.
As for going with my gut… I can’t have an in-person meeting with them because I live in Canada, but I talked to their Creative Executive on the phone and got a really good feeling about it. She said she loved my script, thought I had a good voice for comedy, laughed out loud several times, said the main character was so much like her that she would’ve sworn she’d written some parts herself, and she passed it on to the President of Production and he liked it too (in fact, she was so complimentary that I was almost expecting it to be a scam where they asked me for money). Then after we got off the phone, she sent an email saying how excited she is to work with me on this and that “it’s so nice when a blind letter leads to something good.” She’s going to email me some notes soon, so we’ll see if we’re on the same page when it comes to revisions, but so far my gut feeling is really good.
I realize there are quite a few more stages to go through and the odds of getting paid for it/it ever getting made still aren’t that good, but I’m very encouraged that only 8 months after first trying my hand at screenwriting, with only the second script I’ve ever written, and with only my first batch of query letters, I’ve even gotten this far. And a lot of it has to do with me closely following the marketing advice on your website. Your advice was realistic and yet made me believe it was possible to get my scripts read by producers. So, truly, thank you.
I responded with this:
From what you’re saying it sounds to me like the company is legit and really does just love your screenplay – so I would go with it. Always keep your eyes open and be aware that production companies asking for money aren’t legit, but it sounds real good to me. And yes, it’s pretty normal for them to not want you to shop it around while they’re helping you re-write it. If they really like the rewrite they’ll probably want to option the script from you, and that’s the courtesy they’ve earned is the first look at the rewrite.
One note make sure you get the contact information of every person you talk to that likes your script. Try and get a personal email address (gmail, hotmail, yahoo, whatever) if you can. People in the entertainment industry move around all the time so it’s quite likely that the person you’re working with now will go to another company and your connection is with that person not necessarily with the company. When and if they move you’ll want to know where they go. Start building a contact list so that with every script you finish you send out an email to all your personal contacts. These contacts are like gold. There’s a good chance that they won’t sell this script but you’ve gained a solid relationship in the industry and down the road it could pay dividends. The person you’re working with is going to advance in their career, too, so if you stay in contact and build a good working relationship you just never know what opportunities might present themselves.
It’s actually very inspiring to hear that someone is actually succeeding using my site as a template. That’s exactly how it was intended. Like you, when I was starting out just gaining the knowledge about how to actually get my scripts read was very inspiring.
The one other thing that I thought about after emailing you was that while 4 responses out of 100 is okay it’s not great so you might want to continue to try and improve your logline, query, and synopsis a bit. Use the 4% as a benchmark on your next batch of 100 letters. Hopefully you’ll get 5% or more and can keep improving with each batch of query letters you send out.
I quite agree with you – the reception your material is getting is very encouraging. You must have some talent to be able to churn out your first 3 scripts in only 8 months and have them be good enough to get interest from a production company. I know my first 3 scripts were a mess and it took me a lot more than 8 months to write them! So keep doing what ever you’re doing ’cause it’s working.
If you have a question please let me know: [email protected]
(Note: Please keep in mind that this is an informal email exchange so please pardon spelling and grammar mistakes.)