I got this question recently:
“I’ve written two screenplays. One is a stoner/office comedy derived from my own experiences but with a fictional storyline, and the other is a drama/dark comedy which is essentially the telling of my own true story about a 15-year-old girl whose boyfriend commits suicide. My question is this: Do you think it is more or less likely for a producer/agent to want to read my script if I mention it is a true story and derived from personal experiences?”
I’ve indirectly answered some of this in my post What should the query letter say when you have no screenplay credits?
Specifically to this question I think that in both cases mentioning the personal experiences would add some authenticity to the story.
The stoner/office comedy isn’t a true story but the fact that she worked in an office will add authenticity to it. I doubt anyone could have written Office Space or The Office unless they really worked in an office. While I would mention this in the query letter I probably would not spend too much time on it and I would put it towards the end of the letter. A lot of people have worked in an office so it’s not that impressive or unique. This script is going to live or die on the fresh approach to well used material. So the fresh take on this material is what needs to be front and center in the query letter. The fact that she worked in an office is merely an afterthought, although an afterthought that I think is worth briefly mentioning.
The drama/dark comedy script is clearly a much more serious story. Teenage suicide is a very serious problem and someone who was intimately involved with someone who committed suicide certainly has some insight that someone removed from the experience would not have. So in this case I would be very specific about the experiences and be clear (like in the question above) that you have actually experienced what you’re writing about. I think this real experience is almost a hook in and of itself and should be highlighted in the query letter.
If you need help writing a screenplay query letter check out my post How to write a professional query letter for your screenplay.
I’ve written many posts on writing screenplay query letters. You can read them all by looking at the “query letters” tag in the sidebar Tag Cloud.