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Screenplay Cover Letter

1) DO connect. Lots of writers contact me, quoting the old “Catch 22” situation: they can’t get a producer without an agent, but they can’t get an agent without anything produced. NOPE! The savvy writer knows collaboration is the cornerstone of the industry. Getting together, making short films on smartphones, entering screenwriting contests and schemes, putting on plays in pubs… It all counts! What’s more, the internet has made it easier to connect and collaborate, even from afar, if necessary. So even if you’re stuck in the middle of the DESERT with only rattlesnakes and cactuses for company, as long as you have an internet connection, you can STILL do whatever it takes! They’re hardly going to travel down the interwebs and punch you in the face for it … What’s the worst that can happen; they ignore you?? Get surfing and pronto, I say! MORE: Connect with Writers, Agents & Producers Online.

2) DON’T send work unsolicited. Look, there’s generally no point sending work out that people didn’t ask for. It will vanish into cyberspace and/or get “moved to trash.” That’s just the way it is. Agents, producers etc. are busy with their existing clients and projects … Y’know, the ones that actually make them MONEY. Funny, that. So don’t get depressed over it … Alright, alright, all those websites say, “no unsolicited material.” Boo Hoo, etc. But guess what? There’s a very simple way of turning this situation around … MORE:How To Get your work solicited.

3) DO send to the right people. This is a no brainer. KNOW who you’re pitching and/or sending work to. Do not blanket email **everyone** and do NOT send work that is out of a particular person or prodco’s remit! So in other words, do not send your Horror screenplay to an agent who represents only Rom Com Writers, or send a producer Science-Fiction Action/Adventure when they only do gritty realist drama. Obvious stuff no doubt, yet people get sent stuff not even vaguely suitable on a daily basis. Do your research, Google is only a mouse click away after all. MORE: Can’t Get Read? Yes You Can.

4) DON’T address it the *wrong* way! Address it “Madam” if you must, or even “Our Dark Satanic Mistress” … but if I get another script competition submission addressed “Dear Sirs”?? I may go mental Godzilla-style and eat LONDON. I’m not even kidding. My name is LUCY. It is not a unisex name. There really is no excuse. This is not unique to me, either. My female agent and producer colleagues tell me they get the same ALL THE TIME. Yet all writers need do is check websites for names, most even have a picture next to those names. DO IT. MORE:How to Get An Agent.

5) DO send them whatever they asked for, the way they asked for it. I’m getting bored of saying this, homies.Check the submission guidelines or a puppy dies. Seriously. If there are no submission guidelines? Then send a screenplay and a one-page pitch, nothing else. NADA. Boom. Done. MORE:B2W Submissions Checklist.

6) DON’T send NDAs or Release Forms to readers, agents or producers. NDA stands for “non disclosure agreement.” Many writers send these out, believing this is the “professional” thing to do. NEWSFLASH: it’s not. NDAs are industry documents, not for individuals. Sometimes writers mix up NDAs and release forms, which are “permission to read” documents … Again, these are industry docs. MORE:What’s the difference between an NDA and A Release Form?

7) DO know the legal stuff – before you even have to talk about it. If I had a quid for every time a screenwriter adapted something without having the rights, I’d be a gazillionaire. And guess what happens if you do this? NOTHING. That’s right, it’s a big fat waste of time because no agent or producer is going to touch your adapted screenplay with a trillion foot barge pole. You absolutely MUST have the rights to adapting an existing work or story, which may also include the (free) agreement of the author or people involved (if a true story). So, whenever you submit an adapted screenplay, make sure you state you have the rights (if applicable). There are, naturally, exceptions that are copyright-free. These include true stories that happened a long time ago, or creative works published outside the author’s lifespan plus seventy years (in the UK … make sure you check out your own territory for its legal slant on this). MORE:2 Laws Every Screenwriter Should Know and How True Can A “True Story” Be?

8) DON’T Be Gimmicky in your cover letter. Remember from #5 on this list: unless it says otherwise, send your cover letter/email, your screenplay and your one-page pitch. That’s it. NOTHING ELSE. Writers have finally started to get this and I haven’t had anything weird through the post for a good while, bar a selection of fruit tea bags last June (it was so the reader could “put his/her feet up with a nice cuppa and enjoy the screenplay.” Nice thought, but … no. Also: I don’t like fruit tea).

I do however get gimmicky cover letters and emails all the time. Only last week, I got one via a prodco where one chap interviewed himself that went a bit like this (names have been redacted to protect the innocent, plus the nutcase writer’s):

INTERVIEWER JOHN: Hi I’m here with veteran Screenwriter Jon, collecting his tenth Oscar for Best Original Screenplay. So, Screenwriter Jon … Was it a struggle to get to the top of your game?

SCREENWRITING JOHN: Yeah, you bet. But [prodco **I’m** reading for] were brave and took that chance on me … they didn’t live to regret either. I’m now bigger than Joe Eszterhas!

Okay, so it wasn’t quite as bad as THAT. But seriously, dudes: DON’T DO IT. MORE:Submissions Insanity 2 – Crazy Writers.

9) DO know about money. Writers ask me all the time about money, such as *when* they should be asking about it – and how much for. Well, it helps to know The Writers’ Guild rates for your country and make sure you join, if you can. But also: don’t forget that many indie producers are poor, just like you. Saying an automatic “no” to working for free may be counterproductive to your career. Of course exploitation is wrong: no one would suggest otherwise. But collaboration with the right people can take writers to amazing heights they would never have achieved on their own. Think about it. MORE:What is a screenplay option agreement and how does it work? and Relationships And Teamwork.

10) DON’T harass people. Getting a referral or following up should never be about DEMANDS. Yes, of course if you don’t ask, you don’t get, but concentrate instead on BUILDING relationships, rather than harassing others … and funnily enough, people will be much more eager to deal with you and help you. MORE:B2W Resources List.

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How to Pitch a Screenplay, How to Sell a Script and Build a Screenwriting Career, Networking Tips, Screenwriting How-To Articles, Submissions Insanity by Lucy V. Hay

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The marvellous Becky asks my thoughts on cover letters today. I’ve read a lot of cover letters over the years that accompany scripts. I know a lot of agents’ assistants, readers, etc don’t bother but I’ve always found them very illuminating. What a writer does (or doesn’t) put in their cover letter can say A LOT about the script’s quality, believe it or not, in that the weirder or more badly written a cover letter is, *generally speaking* the weirder and more badly written the actual script is. A simple equation, really.

So here’s a quick breakdown of my thoughts on cover letters. Obviously I’m just one reader in a crowd of many, but this is how your cover letter *might* be perceived:

1) Do your research. There is no point sending a comedy script to a production company that specialises in drama; literary agents too can have preferences. The “write” way to approach the right people is by consulting agent and prodco’s websites and resources like The Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook. Never skimp on research. Similarly, GET A NAME and send it to someone specific within the organisation. Stuff addressed to “Sir/Madam” looks amateur when you can get a name easily off the internet. The really clever writers RING PEOPLE UP and ask them if they’re interested in reading their stuff. Very often they will say yes and if they say no, you haven’t wasted your time.

2) Presentation is everything. A grammar and spelling check is a must in the “write” cover letter: you’re trying to persuade someone to think you’re a good writer. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with using a bit of colour or making yourself a nice letterhead on your cover letter, but do not go overboard. Inspirational quotes, very bright coloured paper, photographs, daft fonts with super squiggly serifs, etc are a BIG no-no.

3) Recommendations, meetings, solicited works. If you have been recommended by someone to the person you’re sending to, have met them before (however fleetingly) or this person has ASKED you to send your work in, for God’s sake SAY SO in your cover letter. Chances are the agent or producer won’t be reading the cover letter anyway, it will be their assistant; at some places you may get preferential treatment (ie. get read quicker) if you’ve been recommended, have met them before or been solicited. DON’T however kiss arse or tell gigantic fibs, you will be found out, it’s a smaller world than you think.

4) Keep your letter brief and to the point. Tell them what you’re sending them (a script, a novel, a treatment, etc), tell them the title and most importantly the GENRE. You’d be surprised by how many writers leave this information out!

5) The one page pitch. ALWAYS include a one page pitch or synopsis with your work (and that includes you, novelists!!). Readers HATE having to dive into a draft “cold” with no idea of what it is, plus this is an added opportunity to SELL YOURSELF AND YOUR STORY. Don’t let it pass you by just because one pagers are a bitch to write. Go that extra mile. DON’T however include CDs of music that “go with” the script, photographs of characters, concept art or anything else. Once I read a script about a a family of girls who make a quilt and the writer thought it an excellent idea to include a piece of said imaginary quilt. That was just odd.

6) Don’t be needy, weird or boastful. Gushing over someone via letter just creeps people out; so does going on about how VERY DIFFICULT you’ve found writing the script [for whatever reason], how much scriptwriting or other writers do your head in or what your deepest, darkest fears are. Similarly, there is a difference between bigging yourself up (after all, no one will do it for you – and if you’ve won a contest or have credits, say so!) and full-on BOASTING about how fabulous you are. Sounds an exaggeration, but I’ve read cover letters like all of these lots of times. I’ll never forget one I read about five years’ ago that came through a literary agent which, I kid ye not, said: “As someone of above-average intelligence, I have created a script that asks wise questions of its audience and provides them with the answers.” Blimey, wish I knew all the answers. The funniest thing was, it was a very derivative comedy with very little to say in my opinion. However, my ultimate fave weirdo letter STILL of all time came to me just three scripts in to my reading career and said: “This script has received funding [from this initiative]. This means it is good. If upon reading it you disagree, please call [this number] and the writer will be happy to explain anything you did not understand.” Arf!

Anyway, hope that helps – The Rouge Wave has some of its own thoughts on query letters. NOTE: query letters are different to cover letters in that a writer will send these out with a logline and NO SCRIPT, asking an agent, producer etc IF they want to read their script. This is a good idea – sending your stuff out cold is a mug’s game because even if someone *does* get round to reading it, how do you know if you’ve targetted them correctly? It’s a waste of time and trees. Send query letters, phone calls and emails people!

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