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From the Desk of a Producer’s Assistant

April 8, 2009

scripts

Yesterday I started an internship with Craig Anderson Productions, and within a few hours, I knew that there were pearls of wisdom I just had to share.  One of my main tasks is script reading, but before it even gets to that point, I have to slog through the e-mail queries and log lines from hopefuls eager to send in their screenplays.

That’s right: I decide who lives or dies.

I’m sure you’ve heard it before, but you may not have believed it – no matter who you address your email to, it will first pass through the hands of some lowly stooge who decides whether or not to pass it on to the boss.  As of yesterday, I am one of those stooges.

I started carving my way through hundreds of emails, and I’m now going to tell you the secrets to making it into the ‘Worth Looking At’ folder.  Oh, and don’t bother e-mailing your script to me in the hopes that I’ll deliver it directly to my boss – that’s not how I roll.  You have to go through the system like everyone else.

P.S. This list is what I would look for – other interns might be more forgiving, and have different tastes.  Still, a certain level of professionalism is universal.

  • Put ‘Query’ or ‘Loglines’ in your e-mail subject line. This is something that might not have occurred to me before yesterday, but the e-mail system at the office is very quick to label mail as ‘junk,’ which means I have to personally go through it all to find out what isn’t, and it’s easier to find queries that actually say ‘Query’ in the title. It’s highly probable that I’ll mistake a query with the header: “Johnny and Mary want to go scuba diving…” as spam.
  • Don’t send an e-mail containing your logline only. I don’t mean you have to send the full synopsis, character breakdowns, casting suggestions, and your high school transcripts, but if I open an email addressed to no one with no name and the sentence: Can Guido stop the mob from taking over the world? it goes in the trash.
  • Don’t waste your time being cute. No one’s reading your query because they want to be your friend – they want to know if you have a salable idea. Your clever letter might make me smile, but I’m not going to forward a lousy pitch just because you as a person are amusing. I’d rather read a dry, bare-bones e-mail with a well-crafted logline. Put your creativity toward that.
  • Multiple loglines (especially for varied genres) in one e-mail is tacky. Others might not think so, so feel free to take your chances, but to me it reads as, ‘Well, might as well just throw everything out there at once, what the heck?’ You wouldn’t do this with a literary agent (or you shouldn’t), so don’t do it with a producer.  Also, it suggests to me that you don’t have a passion for any particular project, and if three out of your four pitches are completely crap, I’m not going to waste time on the potential of the fourth when there are hundreds of submissions still to go through.
  • Spelling. I will never stop mentioning this.  Ever.  So take it to heart. You are trying to make your best impression, and the word ‘lasbian’ is a complete turnoff. Misspelled e-mails are the first to go.
  • Only mention contests if you’ve actually won something. It might mean something to the producer that you were a Quarter-Semi-Quasi finalist in the Poughkeepsie Amateur Short Film Festival, but it means absolutely nothing to me – and it has to get through me first.  I could not care less that people on scriptcoverage.com were very enthusiastic about your work; that’s like saying, “Well, my mom liked it.”  Unlike with books, no one’s looking to sell you as a writer, so your accomplishments and background are meaningless in comparison to your pitch.
  • Do not end your query by suggesting you’re doing the producer a favor. A dozen e-mails yesterday must have concluded with some variation of, “And I would be happy to send you my screenplay.”  Would you?  How sweet.  I’d be happy to send it through the shredder.  If a producer is interested, he or she will contact you. They are looking to make movies, so if they want a pitch, they’ll let you know.
  • Create a professional e-mail account. I recommend this for anyone applying for jobs, submitting query letters, or otherwise looking for someone to take you seriously.  Though it doesn’t necessarily mean it’ll get junked, an e-mail from ben.linus@dharma.com will get more respect from me than PoLaRbEaRking@island.com.
  • Think before you hit ‘send.’ Be humble – big egos were unappealing in high school, and they’re unappealing now.  Keep your loglines and synopses short – readers are trying to get through these as quick as possible and pick out the gems.  You are trying to sell something – make it sound interesting and show enthusiasm for your own work. Make sure you include contact information. Thank the reader for his/her consideration. And for God’s sake, spell check.

Got all that?  Good.  There are no guarantees that if you follow these guidelines your pitch will be successful, but they’ll take you a lot further and earn you some gratitude from interns like me.

Quote of the Day:

“You sell a screenplay like you sell a car – if someone drives it off a cliff, that’s it.” – Rita Mae Brown, writer

Link of the Day: How to craft a logline.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. Lyn permalink
    April 8, 2009 2:11 pm

    Hey, this is random, but this is Lyn. I worked with you on Mosaic. I follow your blog with some regularity, mostly because it’s usually interesting and insightful. (and I read blogs as a semi-obsessive hobby.)

    Anyway, I’m taking the Advanced Screenwriting course at UCR right now, and we’re talking about different ways to approach producers. Can I send this to my class? I believe it’d probably be pretty helpful as we prepare our scripts for revision and to be sent off to producers.

    Thanks!

  2. April 8, 2009 4:47 pm

    Hey there, found your blog through 20sb, thought I’d “delurk.”

    By the way, I love your LOST references via generic email addresses, so clever! I love that show!!

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