The Anatomy of a Query Letter | Script Revolution

The Anatomy of a Query Letter

Introduction: 

Perhaps one of the biggest leaps we make in the early days of our screenwriting journey is the one from writing to networking. Suddenly we have to switch hats and adopt a whole new mindset that encompasses concepts we're unfamiliar with. It's daunting and that's why many stay within the comfort of entering competitions and evaluation services. There's really no substitute for promoting directly to industry members however and the most common way to do that is with querying. In this blog, Larry Postel guides you through a methodology based in quality and not quantity with proof that it's worked for him - CJ 

I’m a longtime non-represented screenwriter in Dallas with four original specs produced in the last three years – and another on the way (I think). Writers often ask me how I do it – and they’re amazed to hear that it’s via cold queries to producers. Of course, the next question is what the hell do I put in my queries to generate that kind of interest? Do I include a cash incentive to get them to read a screenplay? Do I keep hitting them with more and more queries until they finally give in? No and no.

The truth is that I spend a lot of time crafting a query that connects with them on an emotional level. And that means presenting not merely the concept, but why I wrote the script, why it’s important to me, and why I believe it will appeal to an audience. In other words, I don’t include just a logline; I try to write a query that demonstrates the passion and heart behind the premise and execution.

With that in mind, below is an actual query I wrote that generated numerous reads – and eventually a deal made earlier this year. Also below is a breakdown of the structure and reasoning behind this query, which I hope will help and inspire you all!

The Opening 

The key to any good opening, just like the first act in a screenplay/movie, is to grab their attention and keep them engaged. As you’ll see in my query for SESSIONS, I stated right up front that I’m a cancer survivor – but only because it’s relevant to the screenplay. If pitching a family comedy, I obviously wouldn’t include that fact, but in this case it clearly fit.

Open with your strongest credentials, whether that includes credits, awards -- or even a brief statement about yourself that relates to the premise and theme of your screenplay. Another great option, of course, is to say that you’re a big fan of a certain movie or two the producer produced. I urge you to not open with the basic “I have a screenplay I’d like to submit to you…”  That’s not going to grab anyone’s attention. Although they may still glance at your logline and even like it, setting up your personal connection to the material (or referring to the producer’s body of work) makes it much more engaging.

Also important in the opening is to use the recipient’s first name. I use IMDbPro for research in all of my queries and always try to use a first name when I can find it (along with their email address, of course). On occasion, when I only have the company’s general email address without a name (in other words “info@...”), I’ve given it a shot – but it’s rare that I’ve received a response when I’ve done that.

The Middle (second act)

Hopefully, your opening hooked them enough to read on. This is where you dig in and explain why this screenplay will connect with an audience by way of the theme(s).  The key here is to sound authentic and passionate – and provide sound logic behind your thinking. As we all know, most ideas have been made into movies in some form or fashion, but this is your chance to present your unique take – and why your approach to your story will resonate with an audience in whatever demographic you’re targeting with your script.

If you use this approach properly, you can seamlessly weave your logline into the middle portion of your query while tying it into the theme.

I should mention here that I’m also an advertising copywriter, so I’ve been fortunate to have learned how to think and write commercially over the course of my career. But anyone can learn how to do it. In advertising, the goal is to connect with the prospect/consumer via a benefit that engages and motivates them. Likewise, in querying producers the goal is to connect with the producer by conveying a strong sense of empathy in yourself and universal appeal of your screenplay and its theme (which is essentially your protagonist’s arc). No matter what genre you’re querying, this is important.

The Close

As with any sales pitch -- no matter what it is you’re offering -- you need to close with a call to action. Ideally, what you’ve said in the middle portion of your query will entice them to request your screenplay. Something I’ve always included in my queries – and I believe it’s also important – is to mention that you’re open to signing a release if they require one. In my case, I have an entertainment attorney, so I also offer having her submit it as an option.

This may not seem like a big deal, but it seems to me that mentioning a release is a sign to them that you’re acknowledging they might be reluctant to read an unsolicited script – and you’re willing to sign a release if they require one. If nothing else, this conveys to the producer that you understand how submissions typically work and how they do need to protect themselves. I believe the mention of a release has gotten me into doors that would not have been opened otherwise.

My query for SESSIONS (redacted in spots):

Hi (recipient name here),

I’m a cancer survivor and WGA writer with four original movies produced in the past three years, including Sony’s 5000 BLANKETS starring Anna Camp, to be released theatrically this December; THE MAIN EVENT, a Netflix Original; HIGH HOLIDAY, a Peacock Original; and FLIP TURN, an indie drama available on Amazon Prime Video.

In addition, I was named by the Austin Film Festival as “One of the 25 Screenwriters to Watch in 2020.”

The reason I’m writing you today is because I’ve written a contained, low budget interracial romantic drama and would appreciate the opportunity to submit it to you.  Entitled SESSIONS, the story is about a bitter widower (Black) and deeply anxious married woman (White) who help each other face their faith and fears as they fall in love over the course of their six chemo sessions for Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma (which is the cancer I had).  

Even though SESSIONS involves patients going through chemo, it’s by no means a medical drama. Instead, it’s a romantic drama with a medical backdrop that shows how faith stemming from illness truly transcends race, gender and all else. I know its theme of empathy, inclusiveness and self-acceptance is one that will touch and inspire many. 

I would greatly appreciate the opportunity to submit this screenplay to you.  If you require it, I’ll be happy to either sign a release or have my entertainment attorney (my attorney’s name) submit it to you. 

Thanks for your time and every consideration, (recipient name here). 

Warm regards,

Larry Postel

About The Author

Larry Postel's picture
Real name: 

Larry credits his early interest in writing to his dad, a wonderful wordsmith and storyteller who had an advertising company he aptly named Post 'n Tell. Larry went on to study and work in advertising himself. His love of movies led him to screenwriting, with a focus on family comedy and character-driven drama.

A battle with cancer (Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma) in 2012 made Larry more determined than ever to inspire others with his own story -- and in the stories he tells.

Since mid...Read more

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Comments

Bamutiire Jerry Edmund's picture

A helpful guide.

Jane Tumminello's picture

Thanks Larry for all your very useful information. (My Mom who was my biggest support had Lymphoma.)

Christian Cujovic's picture

Thank you Larry!
What you say is very clear and to the point. I find this very helpful!

Larry Postel's picture

Always happy to help. Jane, so sorry to hear about your mom's Lymphoma.

Happy and Healthy New Year to all.