Wednesday, May 13, 2009

my new bible.

I just finished reading "Breakfast with Sharks". (A Screenwriter's Guide to Getting the Meeting, Nailing the Pitch, Signing the Deal, and Navigating the Murky Waters of Hollywood) by Michael Lent.


It answered questions I never even knew I had. It prepared me for some inevitable tests of patience, and just when I start to think I am better off trying to fly to the moon than sell a script, he pulls me back in to thinking I can do it. It talks about how to make your script stand out, how to survive pitch meetings, agents, managers, studios, the readers, contracts, writing groups, indies and much, much more. I feel wiser, better armed and equip and encouraged after reading it. I find that I'm quoting him now, with lines like "It takes 5 years for an overnight success, and 10 years for a career in screenwriting." (although to be fair, I think he was quoting someone else who gave him that advise) and my other favorite is that people don't fail in screenwriting, they just give up. I love that because I'm no quitter.

I'm going to go through the book again, and highlight all the points that I need to keep in mind. Like how NOT to submit a query letter. Damn! I just hope that the ones I already sent prior to reading the bible are as forgettable as they are wrong. So very wrong. What Mr. Lent says makes perfect sense. But without experience or success, I doubt I would have ever figured it out on my own.

Maybe it's a personal thing. Maybe I really needed to hear what he had to say. But it's an easy read, and full of practical, useful info for trying to sell a script. Not just for Hollywood (although that's the focus for sure) but for trying to get a career in screenwriting. I highly recommend it.


  1. Yikes, so how do you not send a query?


  2. Hi Julian,
    Well, according to Mr. Lent, Hollywood is a phone and face culture. A phone call or email would be better. But if you do a query letter, then there are a few rules of thumb. No gimmicks. Get to the point, and be straightforward. Limit your query to one project at a time. Your query should follow the form:
    Why are you contacting the agent?
    What material you have for consideration? (logline)
    Your credits or qualifications as a writer. Your contact info.

    He has a sample letter in his book which illustrates this and includes some standard industry things (which show that you're not a complete novice) like that you'd be happy to sign their standard release form and send it along with the script if they were interested. Don't send the script with the query.

    These and so many other great gems of info are found in this book. The stuff about how agents work is really interesting as well. I would offer to lend out my copy, but there's so many great references, I keep referring to it. Sorry. I think it's a must have in a screenwriter's library though.

    On that note, I'm now reading the book "Rewrite" by Paul Chitlik. It's a practical guide to help through a major rewrite. So far, I'm finding it extremely helpful, despite a few minor annoyances in his writing style. ha!

  3. I sent about a hundred queries to managers a few weeks back, and only got four requests from that. It was my first comedy and I was excited about it, and have not heard back from any of them. It's so futile. And what do you make of silence, is there a pass in there. I only query managers these days, agents are a bust. I've been reading a pdf book called writing for emotional impact. It's one of the better ones, written by Karl Iglesias who wrote another book which was also suppose to be good. I think he teaches at Ucla or something. If you want the pdf just yell out. Laters...

  4. First of all CONGRATULATIONS on writing a comedy feature! You should be excited. I think comedy is the most sought after genre, and the hardest to write. And we all know that finishing a script is a huge feat unto itself. No kidding.

    And also well done on sending out 100 queries. Wow. From what I keep reading, it's a numbers game, and you're playing the numbers. Four requests from that seems quite good to me. It's certainly not futile. There is a process to this, and one that takes a tremendous amount of patience and perseverance.

    From what I've read, silence is the norm. Silence means that they haven't even read your letter, and if they have they are too busy to reply, specially if there's not an email address to reply to, and even then, they still might be too busy, or too rude to reply. It's important to have a very simple and to the point letter for this reason. Or perhaps try another logline in the query? Or maybe, if you haven't already, try targeting small production companies that have done comedies similar to yours.

    On another note, have you tried the screenwriting competition route? And short of placing in one, you can get coverage from these, and I hear that this is quite valuable (like the scriptapalooza coverage is supposed to be good.) There are sites where you can list your script's logline and synopsis (for a fee) and it gets to producers, etc. There's also a newsletter from "Inktips" (which you do pay for) that sends out leads. I've gotten a few good leads from this. Maybe you've tried all this, but I'm finding that there are many routes to take when trying to sell a script. Query letters are only one of them. And a tough one!

    I just saw that book "Writing for Emotional Impact" and almost bought it. But I couldn't justify one more book at the moment. My pile of books in waiting are:

    - Selling Your Story in 60 Seconds.
    - The Script-Selling Game
    - Save the Cat!
    - Writing Treatments that Sell
    - Laughing out Loud (writing the comedy-centered screenplay)
    and the one I'm currently reading:
    - Rewrite (which is helping me do just that)

    Plus I have two scripts of friends to read and give feedback...

    Yikes! With all this reading, who has the time to write! haha!!

    But when I've caught up, then I will take you up on your kind pdf offer. thanks!! Or I will just buy the sucker. I do like to mark up my books. doh!

    Oh, one last comment I'll make is that it's really good to have a support network. Rejection (or silence) is not fun, but it seems easier to take when there's others you can share your experiences with. Writing groups, or meetings (the NZWG ones are great), or blogs! are all good ways to ward off feelings of futility. Knowing that there's others out there pulling for you, and going through the same shit you are really helps. :)

    Ciao for now!

  5. I have used inktip a lot. I sold a short script through their site last year. And have even rejected people from other shorts, that's a real luxury for a writer. I find inktips much better for short scripts, I didn't have many logline views with features, and gave up on it when they put the price up. I don't see how they can justify doing that when the balance between writers and producers is now so low. I understand when inktip first came out a lot of producers used it, and now not so much, but it's like everything I guess, it's not going to work for everyone.

  6. Wait! you SOLD a short script!! I bow in humble praise.

    Do you get inktip's magazine? I find the leads in that very good. Also good to see what production companies are looking for. I got a lot of views, but no actual bites from my listings. Yet. ;)

    If you have any tips of any other good sites, I'd love to hear about them. A writer I know has had good sucess (in terms of requests) from
    Hollywood E-Query which is a service through Have you heard of them?

  7. Do you mean their newsletter? I get the free one. I was signed up to their sub newsletter for a while and they seem to end up giving away the leads for free a couple weeks later in the free newsletter, or if there was really something good I could just ask an associate the company name and then track them down on imdb or something. So I let the sub expire. I put a logline in their magazine, you know what I'm talking about, right? The one they say they send to thousands of industry people with loglines of scripts on the site. Costs $40usd or something to put a log in it. Well I didn't get anymore views from that than I did just having the script on their site, so I would not recommend the magazine. I had a good log too. They say they send it out to over two thousand people as hard copies and thousands more as pdfs. The newsletter, however, does have its moments I agree. I was in it when I sold my short script. And a NZ producer read about me and emailed me asking to phone him. We chatted and he ended up taking a thriller feature I had written but I never heard back from him. Was probably not popcorn enough. But the point is that it's a great way to network.

    There is a huge amount of interest out there for short scripts . From good filmmakers and people just starting out. The door is so much more open than with features. You can post on newenglandfilm your logline, and you can check for people wanting scripts. There's always plenty. Or the jobs section on forum which combines mandy leads and craigslist ads. Good forum to check out on that site. You know the short script section in inktip is free, right? You can post as many as you like. That want a registration #, but you can make those up. I had another short script in production from a lead on but it looks like it has fell through, might have something else a go with a uk director soon though.

    I had an email address I was just using to query leads on and all of a sudden I started getting emails from inktip and other companies, so some of the leads are sometimes faked from companies to harbor emails from screenwriters. Low. Really low.

    I haven't heard of HEQ. But I tend to stay away from those. You can just send your own queries and at least you know where they are going. Here's one that only charges $5, I think it was $5 anyway.

    You could check out really funny site, and you can find email addys for a lot of people, some bounce, but others get through, just target the development executives or producers.

  8. Ya, the newsletter. The magazine does suck. I tried the free newsletter, and it never gave names, etc. Maybe that's changed. Or like you said, you can do your own detective work.

    I have never really been into short films. Writing, making or watching. Shame really as it's HUGE I know. I may reconsider. I've seen some really fun and good shorts lately. Times are a-changing with increased accessability.

    Thank you for all the cool info and sites. You're a wealth of info. I gratefully take all help and tips!! I will look into all these once my re-write is done.

    Mucho gracias Julian! Good luck with the UK director.