View Full Version : The "myth" of querying ?? Doo-Dah, Doo Dah.
12-29-2000, 03:34 PM
Looking for discussion, not "pie in the sky" cheerleading or arrogant chest pounding.
OK, assuming we have learnt and practiced the craft, done our research -- we have finished our first or our eighth script, done rewrites, fixing, fiddling and polishing. Maybe we've even gotten positive feedback. By God, we think it's good. Time to throw it out to the film world.
But, now what? We have no contacts in the "biz," we don't live in L.A. or any other film center. Well, we query, of course. Isn't that what all the books say? Isn't that mostly the advice we get?
OK, we query away. Some of us are selective, others aren't. We wait with high hopes. They've got to find material somewhere, don't they? And ours is "good."
We're not naive enough to not know how competitive the field is. What we don't know yet is how many people are doing this. Apparently some with few or no skills, cluttering up what little access there may be.
I feel sorry for the people who are inundated with our queries and scripts. Yep, I said that. It is not their job or responsibility to read everything that crosses their desks.
I know people get reads. I watch all the agent etc. sections. I see people discussing waiting for months for responses while still maintaining their high hopes.
Gig has said she used to do a lot of querying but I think she got her "break" from a couple of major contest wins. "I could be wrong." (wink)
I know Tina got an agent rather quickly by querying, but who wouldn't pay attention to a letter from her. That delightful wackiness is bound to show through. Now, she is starting to doubt him.
I have slowly begun to hear more pro's voices, going against the conventional wisdom, and saying flat out "querying is a waste of time and effort."
Not really expecting "answers," just discussion, opinions and experiences.
Here're my thoughts on query letters.
I don't even recognize the validity of questioning whether one should send out query letters or not. How the hell else will one get a reading? Storming CAA with an M-16 and a sack of C4?
And plus living in LA. Living in LA don't do shhit for you if you don't put some elbow grease into it. Last time an agent tapped me on the back while I was waiting in line at Starbucks and asked to read my script: never.
So the question -- or the _good_ question -- is how best to query.
To wit: Ought one send query letters to the big agencies that declare they don't consider unrecommended stuff?
I think thus: If an agent gets a compelling letter from you, and so comes to believe you've written a compelling script, why would he not ask to see it? Can we doubt that if he thinks it's salable, he's seeing dollar signs?
Obviously, the reason for the declared policy against spec stuff is clear. These big agencies don't want their offices filling to the ceiling with fourth-rate scripts.
But it's worth repeating, to my mind, that there ain't no law that keeps an agent at CAA from signing you and selling your script, in the way that there might be some union law keeping some non-union stage hand from working on some set on some location somewhere at sometime.
So, personally, because I know I can write a devastatingly clever letter, I'm taking aim at big agents at big agencies.
I'll leave the small agents to the small writers.
What's your definition of a "small writer"? No chest pounding or confrontation; I just need a concrete context/category.
Lil: Again, no "bad-boy-stuff", just some conjecture...
* If one is not in La-La and has no contacts, I don't see how querying can be avoided if progression in this chosen field is to occur.
* Querying exists in many (if not most) professions, and (to my mind) is always a good skill to hone, just like snappy dialogue, pacing, etc. A lawyer I know (before the "Lawyer-Glut" occurred in the 70's) had to send out 100 such letters just to get 2 replies. One was a "no-thank-you", the other started his career. Anything that starts the career is good, IMO.
* To play Devil's Advocate, most writer-folk (and also the artist-folk) that I know didn't get as much from queries as they did from referrals from people who liked them. That initial "like" led to others reading their work, and progress was made.
Well, that's enough for now. But it's a good thread and a good question to ponder.
12-29-2000, 05:15 PM
That was too, too funny, Zaps. Glad you have that all under control.
Say, how you doing with those "devastatingly clever letters" to those big agents who only handle big writers?
Maybe you could help us all out with a little sample.
Oh, Gawd, I may be laughing at that one for the rest of the day.
<!--EZCODE BOLD START--> Maybe you could help us all out with a little sample.<!--EZCODE BOLD END-->
Oh sure, I'd be delighted to share my letter with you!
Dear Sir or Madam:
I have this most very good script which I would like very, very much for you to sell and give to producers and make money from because I've done a lot of writing and I know how important lots of writing is to do if you're a writer, although notwithstanding the fact that policies say don't consider you if you're still writing to agents, I think you shall find it's a very, very, very good script and shall be excited at our professional prospects together as a team in this most challenging industry that is called Hollywood!
12-29-2000, 05:44 PM
Please tell me that was a joke.
12-29-2000, 05:49 PM
Well, Zaps, that was certainly a "devastatingly clever letter." Have you written an equally masterful script? I wonder, how many sales have you had thusfar? Surely a person of your obvious talents is hob-nobbing with the likes of Cameron, Speilberg, etc. by now - right?
<!--EZCODE BOLD START--> Have you written an equally masterful script?<!--EZCODE BOLD END-->
My script is even better!!!
12-29-2000, 06:34 PM
There are different approaches to getting your script out there, but I think we allrealize that if you don't submit them to someone---anyone---you'll certainly be less likely to sell. That being said, many writers find they do best through personal referrals and such. They know someone who knows someone, etc., and by hanging around at the right parties and so on, get their scripts read. But not all of us can do that. In the old days, you queried everything---books, short fiction, articles, etc. It was an understood way of doing business. Now I think it's not so much the writers who have changed as the buyers. Today a letter just doesn't do much, whereas a personal contact means a real human being to deal with. My preference is e-mail queries and phone calls.
12-29-2000, 06:34 PM
I'm getting ready to send out a pile of letters to cable movie producers after spending a couple of years spinning my wheels in studio meetings. Those are query letters - even thought many of the people I'll be writing to I've met. I'll work the phones, too (verbal queries.)
You HAVE TO try to communicate with these people, right? How else will they know you exist?
True story: When I first came to LA I had made a sale, but knew no one. I needed to make another sale (or learn how to work the fry machine at MCD's) so I made up these funny fake yellow page ads about my scripts. I sent them to every producer in LA. I kept sending similar "flyers" three times a year to everyone on my mailing list - even after I had sold TREACHEROUS and seemed to have a career. And the producer of DUMB & DUMBER invited me to the premeire of his new movie! He saw my name 3 times a year on my "junk mail". How many other people in town "knew me" from those silly "flyers"? I began bumping into them! One producer made me a deal - he'd read my best script if I took him off my mailing list. He read it and bought it.
Okay - how many of those thousands of mailings were a waste of time? None of them. There was no way for me to know who I was going to score with and who I was going to fail with. If I sent out 1,000 letters and made one sale, it was successful.
No matter HOW you do it, you have to let people know you're out there. How else can they find you?
12-29-2000, 07:04 PM
Here, here... buy that man a bottle of champagne to pour down his throat at the tick of Midnight on the last day of the best year of my life thus far. Querying is essential to people not in the LA area. It is a skill that is never, ever wasted. I've sent out my (what seems like) 1000 queries and still don't have the sale. But I have scripts I believe in and concepts and ideas that are fresh along with non stop requests for my material... the sale is only a matter of time. Querying is what the screenwriter is about whether it be by e-mail, phone call, snail mail, etc. Obviously someone in the business is the best way to get in... but I'll tell you something. I like challenges. My best friend's uncle has played the Phantom of the Opera over a thousand times over nine years (the last in conjuction with Paul Stanley of Kiss) and I know him quite well. He's elbow to elbow with Norm Jewison, Mike Fox and several Canadian biggies that come from my cold world north of most of you guys. And he got to the top the hard way... he proved himself. Know what..? He doesn't even know I've got a script yet. When the time comes when I absolutely have no choice but to call on the only insider I know. I'll do it. But for now... I ain't gonna. I learn much more about the business by doing it my way. I am lucky to have the choice and a good second job... so I query. I query my ass off. I only send the script out to people I can find some info on... and I go with what I got. I polish and fix with the rest of you and that is what I think this BIZ is about. It isn't the fame, glitter and glory. It's about putting out the best product you can come up with... and then rewriting it... again and again. You gotta love it. If you want my advice... QUERY!! You'll never regret it.
Laters... and a helping of luck to go along with my best wishes for the New Year.
12-29-2000, 08:20 PM
Well I got a lot of breaks Lil. One of my longest standing friendships/working relationships is with someone I cold called before those contests though. And I have ties to this day to people that came straight out of querying, either by letter or phone, just picking up the phone and calling strangers and just writing letters to people I did not know saying, Read me, I promise it is worth your while, just read me. If you cannot do that, you will not get read and no one will ever see your work. So you have to decide. Do you want to get read? Then you do everything in your power to get read.
...if "getting in" is such a roulette table/crapshoot/lottery, then isn't every query that we write the equivalent of buying ten (or twenty) lotto tickets instead of one or two? Doesn't that increase the odds?
12-29-2000, 09:22 PM
When I first completed my screenplay to what I thought was a polished draft I quickly began querying adding to the statistics of newbies without a clue, cluttering up the desks of agents.
My first batch of five only got 2 rejections and the other 3 no responses at all. I quickly revised my query letter believing that I must not be presenting my script well. I sent out about twenty more queries. I've had three requests, about five rejects, and the rests no replies. Still no agent or deal.
So now I've resolved that it has to be the script. I got a few more writers to read it and they gave me a wake up call. It's the script. Not that it's horrible. But it could be better.
So now it's back to the editing board. And now that I have some distance from it, two other completed screenplays, and the daily knowledge I gain about the craft I can attack the chore of yet another rewrite more objectively. Then with my revised query letter AND script maybe those requests will turn into some offers. However had I never queried anyone I would not have realized that I wasn't reaching my full potential or making the Hollywood grade. So though nothing has come of my querying other than the joy of knowing that I sparked enough interest in my writing to make professionals request it I have learned and I am still learning my weaknesses which in the end will make me a better writer. So querying is good. No thank you's are good. Rejection is a learning experience. There's those rose colored glasses again. :)
12-30-2000, 12:31 AM
I'm looking at it this way:
A query letter must do for a writer what a resume does for someone in the regular business world. It calls attention to you and your abilities, making the reader want to see/hear more of you. Simply put, it's goal is to get you a job interview.
Once you're in that interview, you must sell yourself and your abilities instantly. Most job interviewers know whether or not an applicant is right for the available position within two or three minutes of starting the interview.
Sounds a lot like a pitch meeting, eh?
We all know what happens to the pile of resumes sent to companies looking to fill positions--the same thing that happens to the pile of query letters agencies, studios and prodcos get.
Many resumes are works of fiction. So is a query letter. It must be more memorable than your script. That's why I prefer snail mail-- my query letters are on resume paper, with a simple, tasteful logo. it feels different in a reader's hand, looks different, and the content speaks for itself (as it should). Sure, it sounds corny, but I believe it's an advantage. It stands out and hopefully stays out of the slush puddles.
12-30-2000, 06:03 AM
For a fairly minimal fee, Smart Girls Productions in Los Angeles will provide writers all kinds of querying assistance. Services include actually copying and mailing out hundreds or thousands of queries to approved lists of producers or agents. They'll also compose queries or synopsis, and they'll provide sheets of adhesive mailing labels with addresses for agents, etc. It was with their help that I signed with my current agent. Their number is 818-907-6511.
12-30-2000, 07:49 AM
Run it by us. The best way to get the best material to the best insiders is to hone... querying is the way to go. Or run it by me... I'm blunt. I only tell lies when i refer to my own work so you're safe. There is no myth... just fact. Hone the hell outta it and it'll come along like a toddler... got legs, can walk... maybe we can make it stand up, etc.
Oh yeah, email@example.com
I'll show you mine if you show me yours... (kidding)
12-30-2000, 02:34 PM
Thank you. That was very nice of you.
I started the thread for a couple of reasons - my own ponderings, wanting to provoke some discussion (you never know what gem might poke out for me and others), and to find out if anyone supported a few pros I have heard and read who say it is a "waste of time."
There were some other intentional things "to ponder" in that post. Oh, yeah, I do that sometimes. I'm not too good at it, as so many people miss it.
I only wrote my first screenplay in '99, but I have queried heavily. As I'm selective, most of them come back "no unsolicited" or they are never answered. I've had a few script requests. If they were read or who read them, don't have a clue.
I got a call from one agent, decided he was a yo-yo. He's WGA but I suspect he's a long way from being a "player." A "so-called" manager called, I ran like hell. Hustler, hustler, hustler. I have a background in a similar field and am too familiar with things like this to be willing to walk into those potential messes. Every "opportunity" ain't necessarily an opportunity.
One person (not sure who he really was, just who he said he was -- my letter was passed to him by a WGA agent) was going whoopee wowee all over himself over three scripts. He was going to get them to assistants of "A-list" actresses right away. Just sure they'd snap them up.
Well, yada yada yada, good thing I'm not starry-eyed.
I'm going to do another major query attack. Waiting for a better time.
12-30-2000, 03:28 PM
People who say querying is a waste of time are usually (and watch out here comes a real broad generalization) people so far removed from the struggle to get in, they do not remember what it was like -- or people who did not have to make connections from scratch because they had some form of access starting out. Which is great for them. But if you know no one and do not live somewhere film people are falling out of trees, the advice "Oh do not query give your script to a friend" does not do you any good because your friends do not know anyone in the business. So you have to build a network from scratch. I knew no one and did not live in Los Angeles. Here are some things I did:
I attended classes and seminars by known speakers and instructors locally and out of state.
I worked as a film liaison for a film festival.
I was a volunteer reader for a place in Los Angeles that would ship material out of state and sponsored events.
I joined film organizations like IFP and attended their events whenever I could.
I crewed on independent films shooting in my area.
I crewed on every student project coming out of my class.
I was a volunteer sysop on a screenwriting board.
I got myself hired to interview screenwriters and agents for magazines.
I wrote agents and producers.
I cold called agents and producers.
I entered contests.
I attended film school full time and wrote eight feature scripts.
You cannot do just one thing. Just one thing might not do it. You have to do a lot of things. And if you do enough, if you follow enough avenues, one of them could be the door that opens. But you do not know which door that will be. So you hit them all. And you cannot say "oh that one is a waste of time." Because, well, nothing is a waste of time. It is all part of getting you there. So you make the effort. Or you pack up your toys and go home because if you won't, someone else will.
12-30-2000, 04:19 PM
You go GIG! That was the most inspirational kick in the pants post I have read to date.
Gig, or anyone else who might know, how does one go about becoming a member of the crew for a feature shooting in your town. There are two shooting right here in my home town in Feb. and April tenatively. One happens to be with the man I'd like to star in my first script. I'd do anything from getting cappucinos to cleaning the rest rooms. Um, well, maybe not anything but you get the jist. How can I get on that crew?
12-30-2000, 04:52 PM
You fax the production office your resume.
If it's a feature film from a major studio, it's going to be difficult to get on the crew unless you have experience. You get this experience by working on student films and smaller budget movies, where you can also garner contacts that may help you get an in with feature films.
12-30-2000, 05:04 PM
Volunteer to learn the ropes at local production studios, the ones that hire equipment and editing facilities out to producers of TVC'S. I started this way.
You end up developing relationships with freelance crew from all over town. For example, if a director likes you (and you didn't topple the set by tripping over power cables) he might invite you to the set of the feature he's working on next month.
12-30-2000, 05:44 PM
If it's a union crew, forget it. Call your local talent agencies, find out who's casting local talent. Get some 8"X10" b&w glossy headshots, try and get an appointment.
Aren't you in Chicago? Third largest actor market in the country, all the local pros and hopefuls are going to be out in force for the acting and extra market. Lot of good actors with lots of background and experience (including film) in your area.
Finding those agencies might not give you a shot this time, but if you do the groundwork now, might lead you to something in the future.
If you make the agency connection, they might be able to point you in the right direction to caterers etc.
Check your local university film and theatre departments they might have calls for "grunt" work posted on their bulletin boards. If there is any non-union crew work, it might be listed there, too. See if you can get to the bulletin boards in your local professional theatres, somewhere in the backstage areas probably near the greenroom (actor's resting and gathering area). They would post any open calls or agency contacts there, too.
You need to find out what those crew jobs entail. They don't just hire anyone or even take volunteers who don't know anything about it, unless you're in some itty-bitty remote market. Even there, there are usually knowledgeable students around.
Check with your IATSE Local for potential crew work in the future, that could be iffy.
None of this work and research will be a waste. You'll learn and it might lead to something.
Can you get off your day job? You also can't just leave to get home to your kids if it ends up being a sixteen hour or longer day.
Go for it and good luck. Let us know.
Forget faxing the production company. Not where you are and with no background. If they need local people, they will be provided by local sources.
You can sure give Chris's idea a shot but I doubt if there are any opportunities in that area for any non-union crew or helpers, unless you're a mucky-muck union guy's nephew.
12-30-2000, 07:03 PM
Fax the production office your resume. Even if they are a union crew, they may need P.A.'s or use interns and you do not have to be union to do that.
File a resume with the film commission and check in every couple weeks or so to see who's coming to town and what they need. Be nice. You want people to remember your name in a good way if jobs come up.
Figure out what you are qualified to do and can do and list it. Stand in, assistant, driver, whatever you can do, list it.
Keep in mind when you go to crew on a film, you are going to crew on a film. Pay more attention to what these people want from you than what you want from them and do a good job and you will do okay. Show up with another agenda in mind and I do not think it will go too well.
I got on as crew because I was a film student. Independents would call the university looking for bodies that knew what gels were. People in the film program would call students. I would go.
12-30-2000, 08:00 PM
Thanks Crash, Chris, Lil and Gig.
Film school is starting to look rather good to me right now. Lil, I am right outside of Chicago. I've been contemplating whether to register in the spring as a Mass Communication major at Aurora Univ. or Film School major at Colombia. The expense for Colombia leaned me towards the former. But as far as building a career in film it looks like a may have to bite the bullet. I went to the film commissions web site. There was a lot of information and advice there. I entered the Chicago screenwriting contest in April. Didn't make the cut but I spoke with one of the administrators in the film office who was very nice. I'll try her on Tuesday to see if she can give me some direction. An aspiring director buddy of mine also went to Colombia and is in close contact with one of his teachers. I'll see if he'll get me some information as well.
Wish me lots of luck. I've humbled myself and I'm going into the strictly learning mode. I'll just try to shine at whatever avenue I can get myself in and if the opportunity arises for me to pitch myself or my script I'll do it. I realize that I have a lot to learn and I like it. Because when there is no challenge or anything to learn I tend to get bored.
12-30-2000, 08:38 PM
Good advice from Gig.
Fax the Production Company if you want, but I'll guarantee if you don't make the local contacts you're gonna be sittin on your butt a wishin. Unless lightning strikes.
Some might be surprised to know how well developed and professional the agency and support systems are for these projects in the larger markets outside of L.A. Ah ... this just happens to be something I know a bit about from several different angles.
If you want the chance to work on one of those films and don't have a friendly connection or a fancy related resume, do what I suggested, all of it. Especially finding those agencies. The right ones. The ones who have their fingers in those pies. And check those bulletin boards, the phone call requests will be funneled to their own students. Do it and you might actually have a shot. Now or in the future.
Don't expect any of it to be "glamorous" and you might not even get near some "biggie." You won't be the only one around looking for a "break." Do your assignment to your best ability and don't look or act "starstruck."
See if you can find a link to Mystic-Carli's website, somewhere on this board under a thread I think she started. She tells her tale of being an extra on a Disney film.
Again, Go For It.
edit after reading your post.
Good, use those connections. Get info from anyone in your area who might be able to contribute. You never know where you might pick up a useful tidbit.
12-30-2000, 09:09 PM
Um, no offense to extras, but I would not be caught with extra on a resume. Extras, in the film community, are cattle. That is not a stepping stone.
12-30-2000, 10:31 PM
Well, golly gee, Gig, I thought Urs just wanted to work on a major film for the experience. She doesn't have to put in on her resume. I don't presume to know nuttin about nuttin in the Hollywood scene. But in some areas, many fine well trained actors are happy to pick up an occasional extra gig.
Some quite well-known actors have extra work in their backgrounds in NY. But most of the actors there have serious intentions. Not anything like the hoardes of naive teens heading to Hollywood to become "big stars," where many end up shattering their lives all over the streets.
Would I put extra on my resume? Hardly. Nor would I put crew work as a student, in any venue, on my resume (I presume you don't either). Or gosh, a whole lot of other things that might have once been there including some published writing. I used to have four different resumes, many different things on each depending on what the pending deal was. Hardly ever needed to use any of them.
Carli is in high school, not in L.A. Her story is charming and her observations quite astute.
I don't choose to put down the work anyone does unless it's harmful to others.
12-30-2000, 10:55 PM
I got the impression Urs wants to work on a film to make filmmaker connections because she is writing scripts. If she is going to make any sort of telling connections or ties, she cannot be an extra, she has to be crew or production. If she were trying to act, okay, she'd go get head shots and hit the agencies with legitimate connections in town and go out on every casting call she could and hope if she did do extra work, somehow she'd get picked out to speak a line or something and meanwhile go after speaking roles and drag her way up the casting ladder and fight for a SAG card. But she is writing scripts. She wants filmmaker connections. And to make those she has to be crew or in the production office. Not an extra.
I am not knocking Carli. I am giving someone who is trying to make fillmmaking connections advice. And your advice is good Lil -- for an actress. Not for someone who wants to work with and make connections with filmmakers. Not the way I have seen it work anyway. Mileage may vary.
12-30-2000, 11:23 PM
I'm getting the giggles, Gig. Urs can decide what she'd like to do and how much she expects from a maybe one shot experience. We've given her what info we can. She'll go get some more from other places.
Many different ways to do almost anything. Some work for some and not for others. Some do everything "right," and they still don't get where they think they want to go. Gee, sometimes real life gets in the way or changes things. You might not be a filmwriter all of your life, you't don't know. You might even decide or be forced into doing something quite different.
But I will have the last word, for once.
12-30-2000, 11:42 PM
Well no kidding, Lil. I may be tending bar in the not too distant future if we go on strike. There is no security in this profession. There rarely is, in the arts.
(And you thought you would get the last word. Neener.)
12-31-2000, 12:24 AM
A fight over me. Almost as exciting as how close I came to being the initiator of a locked thread. :)
Every bit of advise is helpful. But I really wouldn't want to be on camera. I'm more of a behind the scenes person. I'll hold a light or work the wind machine but get in front of the camera I'll let the aspiring actors handle that. :0 But calling those companies is a good idea. I intend to probe every crevice that may have a lead. I've been thinking about what I'm good at and for the first time I feel like a fish out of water. I've been able to manipulate my resume to get into various positions that I had know experience what so ever before but I honestly cannot think of one thing applicable to the film industry that would look good. I'm a research analyst right now. Multi-tasking, meeting deadlines, and quick learner are some of my most salable qualities. It'll take a prayer, some heavy leg work/research, and connections to get me on those sets I know. Does anyone know of a reading reference that goes over the production aspects of making movies? Honestly, I have only researched writing movies. I'm somewhat clueless as to what happens next. And maybe if I can see the different responsibilities I can find something a position to shoot for. Knowledge is power!
12-31-2000, 06:18 AM
In respect to Lil's thread, I will offer no "pie in the sky cheerleading" or arrogant chest pounding. Instead, I'd like to present you...
...Monica Lewinsky's dress!
12-31-2000, 09:53 AM
Funny, Crash, and somewhat to some points. I guess we all have to make those decisions. What they are worth and the possible consequences to us. Individually? Now and later? Or do we care?
If you have a gift, which you seem to -- How will you choose to use it? Do you care? Not for me to judge. I guess it depends on how you get your deepest rewards. How long you keep them. How long you care.
Early, heady, successes (or damned close to them) are hard to match. Man! being in "the know" and right there in the the movin' and shakin' center of so many people's greatest dreams and desires. Sparking applause and envy. How can you beat that?
Not sarcasm, just know what you must be experiencing.
You may have a long life. Things and us have a way of changing, at varying speeds, all through that life.
Have you considered what choices some of the writers you have expressed respect and admiration for, maybe even dreamed of emulating, might have made if confronted with your quite "in the now" opportunities?
Care to question yourself about why you are attempting to inflict your (insert adjectives and nouns of your choice) on others here? Seemingly with little regard for what they might have, now or in the future, to bring to the table.
Never can really tell, can you? Kind of like the wealthy man who drives a beatup old pickup while his neighbor has all the accoutrement with nothing backing it up.
Hey, makes no never mind to me. If you are enjoying your present, superior, take no prisoners persona here, have at it. Me? I like it when you share your current progress, experiences and the insiderer info you are privy to -- far more. So, what the hell do you care? But could you maybe attempt a little more humor with your other stuff?
Two best pieces of advice I ever got:
"Never underestimate your audience."
"Don't deliberately speak down to your audience."
Those apply to anywhere.
12-31-2000, 05:50 PM
Not quite sure what you're talking about Lil. My above post is a fine example of what happens to a man when he's up late hours with a few drinks in him.
But I hope you find the answers to your questions.
12-31-2000, 09:12 PM
There is a book, I believe it is titled "WHO DOES WHAT IN FILMS". It pretty much nails what the title says. There are also some independent film books that list what crew members do. From personal experience, I would say find out who the AD's (Assistant Directors) are. Make sure you address your resume to the 2nd AD (maybe the 1st AD, but she or he will likely pass it on to their assistant). The other option is to find out who is doing "extra" casting. GIG is right, don't become and extra. But, instead try to work as an "ON SET" assistant. This would be checking in and wrangling extras. I know of 6 assistants I have or refered to other production jobs or hired myself, because they worked well with the extras... and the AD's.
As said before. DO THE BEST JOB YOU CAN! If you show any sign of being starstruck... you'll likely get "bounced". Believe me, people will notice if you do a good job, you'll get moved closer to the action and be given more responsibility. Don't be afraid to ask questions! There are usually a haf dozen ways to do an "assignment", if you are unsure, ask the AD "How would YOU like this done", if they're any good, they'll explain in depth.
Once you have the job, don't blow it by telling the producer or an actor on the 3rd day that, "you have a script to read". If THEY ask YOU, that's different. Tell them you you have a script... but you'd rather not bother them with it until the end of the shoot (great way to win points). If they ask for it sooner, you've hooked them.
Have I mentioned... DO THE BEST JOB YOU CAN at what you have been asked to do!
Hope that helps.
12-31-2000, 09:16 PM
Hey GiG, let me know which bar. Maybe I can be a barback.
Re querying: who the hell knows? I think anything under the sun is worth a shot, and no one is under any illusions that anything is going to be easy. Many success stories have totally implausible beginnings. Ex: Harmony Korine, the writer of "Kids" sent his script unsolicited to UTA. On a Saturday, one of the soon-to-be partners was putzing around and did something he never does. He picked Harmony's script out of the pile. Couldn't put it down. The rest is history. Anything and everything is worth a shot, the more creative the better, though I'm not a fan of "gimmicky" come-ons and we all know how I could preach about Quality of the Script. But whatever Lil, hope that's useful.
I know a number of writers at big agencies and have a fairly well-known agency myself, and none of the group that I know started at a big agency. They all had a small agent, then moved up as their career moved up. The top agencies take on a writer who they think will make X number of dollars per year. That is what they care about, not how good the writer is, necessarily. Taking on a new writer requires an amazing number of man-hours, so they avoid one-script wonders.
There is no shame is querying a small agent. You’ve got to hit them all. At least, in my limited experience, that’s how it works.
01-01-2001, 04:04 AM
Tao, you can barback for me any time. (smile)
I think you will last longer than me though. I have been holding out for something. How are your assignments going?
Doug, nice post.
01-01-2001, 01:26 PM
Tao, wish you could visit the board more often. I appreciate your point of view.
Urs, a fax addressed to the AD's, now that makes sense. I was picturing a fax just willy-nilly sent in to the production company, someone at the other end glancing at it, mumbling "Umm ... another one of those," and filing it straight in the wastebasket.
Maybe Doug or someone could give you some tips on the kinds of things to say. I think you can see that no version of "I've written a script and would kill to get on the set and I'll work really, really hard," is likely to work. (Yeah, yeah, I know you would do a lot better than that.) Don't lie or pad, someone always knows, not like some "real world" jobs.
At the risk of being Johnny One-Note, some of those local agencies may actually have an inside track on a lot more than extra and small role casting. If they like you, they might head you in the right direction, maybe even (gasp) help. They may not be that easy to get in to see, either.
Being a Jack of Many Trades, I used to get calls for the oddest assignments including a really stupid local TV script thing. I didn't take most of them, I was too busy at the time.
I've done some work with IATSE in New York and D.C., but that was only because they liked me from other working relationships and I wasn't too high falutin' to not know their names and get to know them. A New York crew (the toughest of the tough) nearly fainted when I gave them all an opening night token.
They would offer me stuff once in awhile, just for the hell of it and they got to "boss me around." It was mostly a lark and I didn't have to go through channels. Sure helped in a lot of other situations, I was allowed to do all kinds of "illegal" things. A lot of people could never figure out how I got away with that.
Get everything you can from that film commission contact.
There are no doubt folk all over Chicago with the same notion you have. The ones with meaningful recommendations will have the best shot. The ones who get every piece of information they can, may be right behind them. Just like anything, sometimes all it takes is being in the right place at the right time to get a shot at something.
Sounds like you're determined enough, you just may find a way.
Yeah, Doug, good post. I was trying to think of the name of that book. There's another slim volume called "... something, ... something and Best Boys." Library, don't remember if it was any good. Urs, check under the film section at your Main Library.
01-01-2001, 06:03 PM
Well GiG, let's put it this way. I have to hand something in in about three or four weeks, I've thought and scribbled on it for four months, and I just spent the last two days with Robert McKee's book trying to remember how to write a screenplay (or maybe learn?).
This in the vain hope I can put together my pile of mush into something my cavalcade of demanding employers will find captivating. Then I must rewrite my mush-pile for a micro-managing actor/producer while starting the first draft on another project, both of which need to be handed in by Doomsday.
And I am still vying for a four week prod. rewrite job.
Come to think of it, by May 1st, I may not be qualified to barback. It's hard to barback in a strait jacket.
And my advice is: be careful how long you hold out. Doors and windows are slamming shut right and left. Discretion is the better part of valor. Jump in and take one! Even a silly one! Stock up! Damn girl, there's a tornado a comin'!
01-02-2001, 05:03 AM
Oh it will be okay. I've always taken high altitude leaps in work. No point caving now. (smile)
Are you sure you want that last one? You have enough on your plate to turn hair white already. You'll be fine though. I knew this writer who'd written something like 15 popular books. And every time he started a new one, he panicked because he couldn't remember how to write a book. And every time, he just sat down and wrote a great book. I think one reason his books were so good was, he didn't have a formula. Each book was a new experience for him. You'll be great.
All jests aside . . .
Wyo mentioned something that no one else commented on, so either it's such a well-known fact it demands no discussion, or people missed it, or people didn't recognize its importance, or it's not important at all.
But probably it is important.
The question is: Should one bother to send queries to big agencies?
Wyo said, with authority implied, that big agencies "avoid one-script wonders." Which statement seems to mean big agencies avoid any script no matter how good from an unproduced writer. Which seems to mean an unproduced writer ought not query a big agency.
So: should unproduced writers truly not bother querying big agencies?
If people on this board are in the process of querying agents or are about to starting querying agents, this issue would seem to be quite important to them.
Maybe people working inside the industry might be generous enough to let us know whether it's worth a writer's time to query a big agency.
01-02-2001, 02:41 PM
I really wish I could quit my day job. I've started to make progress already. I can tell that an opportunity is right at my finger tips (even though not on the crew shooting here for Ali with Will Smith in March). But I now have this overwhelming fear that my day job will be in the way. They have a crew call hotline. One independent company is looking for Craft Service Person (what is that), production assistants, and interns. Also looking into other avenues. I think it's time to gather up a nest egg so that I can quit my day job and pursue this thing fully. I'm rambling. Yeah, while I'm at my day job.
My advice for what it may be worth, which might not be much. It is very difficult to get in at the top three agencies unless you can more or less guarantee a couple hundred thousand dollars worth of income a year. At the mid-big three -- Endeavor, Paradigm, and UTA (which is where I am) they are more open to good writers they can develop, but it's still hard and takes a lot of luck, plus good writing. Below that is a rash of agencies who are hungry for writers. The other thing I picked up along the way: It's much better to be a smaller agent's number one writer than a big agent's number 40. This is a trade-off and there are agents so small it doesn't hold true, but the Jerry Maguire theory of agenting works. A very big agent, working for ten percent, is going to promote a million dollar a script writer over a WGA minimum wage writer. Do the math.
My experience applies to feature films. I don't know squat about TV.
01-02-2001, 03:16 PM
Querying is a double edged sword and both sides are blunt. For querying, most people query with the notion that something is going to stick which is a stupid move - always query to specific producers that seem to fit the genre that you are currently writing about.
01-02-2001, 04:31 PM
Just some quick thoughts.
It's harder to ignore a phone call than it is a letter. Think of all the junk mail you throw away and view your query letter in the same fashion. While the person you are querying may be looking for material or new "voice", it's like anyone having to read business letters or junk mail. It's not fun. Phone calls are quick and it's harder to say no to a phone call. The downside is that you can piss off the person you are calling by pestering him or her. Another downside is that you can sound really stupid really quick rather than in a controlled query letter.
Thanks for the reply.
You work at UTA? Small world – last October I interviewed there for the mail room with H. Sanders and S. Eddy, but I didn't lie very well and they were on to me that I wanted to be a writer! Which anyways was a good thing because I would have made it two weeks on seven bones an hour and then I would've been evicted from my place and left to panhandling at a 101 exit ramp!
I'm guessing you're an agent by your writing ("rash of agencies" is too sophisticated, to my mind, for a young assistant) and your humility (calling UTA a "mid-big three" when some people number it one of the "big four"). If you might be able to offer some thoughts (which thoughts I would appreciate) on a couple of questions I have that might stray off-topic w/r/t this board, my e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
01-02-2001, 05:07 PM
GIG, in response to your earlier post, I'd like to point out that I don't believe querying is a particularly effective way of getting into the business and, despite your generalization to the contrary, I am not a person "so far removed from the struggle to get in, [that I] do not remember what it was like -- or [a person] who did not have to make connections from scratch because they had some form of access starting out. "
I had zero connections going in. I do not and have never lived in Los Angeles County in my lengthy television career. I started out much like many others. As an undergraduate, I made the long drive to Burbank, filled out an application, and got a job as a Story Ananlyst at NBC. From there, I eventually managed to parlay my growing work experience into a full-time writing career.
I can write a query letter now that will get me through the door of most agencies. But the reason my query would work at this point is because I can refer to people and companies I have worked for that are mutually known to me and the prospective agent.
This is a collaborative business, a business of relationships. And the vast majority of people I have met would far prefer to work with people who are known to them - or known to people who are known to them - than with people who aren't. ( I realize that I too am generalizing, but I think it's an equally valid generalization)
I humbly submit that your own query letters were infinitely more compelling than others because you had some relevant work experience (relationships) to mention in them.
By that point, I think a simple phone call would have sufficed just as well, if not better.
Obviously, a query letter is better than nothing. But I hate to see aspiring writers who believe that these are the only two choices.
01-02-2001, 06:45 PM
Perhaps this may prove illustrative, and it tangentially pertains to GIG:
I first met GIG while an agent at a small boutique. One of my young writing clients (who is now doing quite well) asked me to meet her. But this story is really about how I managed to land that young writing client (feel free to chime in, GIG). I was an assistant at UTA (way back in 1992) when my boss handed me a letter from a client of his asking him to read "Jeff's" spec script (TV). I read it and told him it was good, but he wasn't in the mood to (or in need of) signing any new, unproduced clients. I kept in touch with "Jeff" and signed him as my first client when I left UTA to become an agent at this boutique. Together, after much blood, sweat and tears, we got an offer on a short-lived sitcom where he met Sam Simon and Bruce Helford. They loved him, and the rest is history (reference Bruce's amazing success rate since then - "Drew Carey" and "Norm").
That's how it happened for one wannabe. You see, dreams do come true. But remember, "Jeff" wrote about 15 specs before he got that first job. He worked hard, and it payed off.
I don’t work at UTA; they represent me. I know H. Cohen and S. Eddy and like them both. Most people going into the mail room want to be agents. Probably not the place for an aspiring writer. The track is mail room to assistant to agent, although a few start in the copying room. Being an assistant appears to be close to indentured servitude, but a few move on up.
My story is not typical in that I was 40, living in a cabin way back in the mountains of Wyo. and didn’t have a phone or know anyone west of Utah and had never read a script much less written one when I got my first job. What I had done is I had written some novels that didn’t sell well and I was desperate for money. So, one way in is to publish some novels and hope a producer comes to you, but since breaking into fiction is almost as hard as breaking into screenwriting, it’s probably not a realistic way to make plans.
However, what started this discussion was your statement that small writers go to small agencies. While I am not A-list, I know writers who are, and they all started at small agencies. UTA, and maybe Paradigm, will discover an unknown and take him on sometimes (especially if your script calls for a high budget and you’re six figures or more right off the bat) but it happens so rarely that it usually makes the news (see the Kids screenwriter story from earlier). That is my basis for saying you should get over the “small writers etc.” thing.
If you want more advice from an old guy, I’ll be happy to help, but as you can see, my way is not your way.
01-03-2001, 01:14 AM
Wyo, I'm glad you said what you did about small agencies/writers.
I have heard of bad agents at big and small agencies alike. And while some of the smaller agencies are considered tops at what they do, they sign new talent more or less as often as the big agencies. Remember, the smaller agencies are typically started by veteran agents who have clients they know they can count on. They aren't necessarily more likely to take on new writers since they don't always have the manpower to do the extra coverage.
After several years of bad representation and trying to make sense of it all, I am finally in a situation I am very pleased with. I have a manager at a small firm which specializes in comedy, and an 800 lb gorilla of an agent at a well-known midsize agency.
Go to the agency you think will represent you best. It's the individuals who represent you that matter, not the size of the agency.
01-03-2001, 01:36 AM
Hey, thanks to the new and newish voices who have contributed to the query part of this thread and the related subject of agencies. Hope you all stick around and toss around your stories and insights. Sure is beneficial to those of us who know we're out here thrashing around in the dark.
Wyo - cabin in the wilds? Need a live-in junior writing partner? (Well, in the summer that is.)
Recovered fiction writer, eh? :-)
When I started writing, it was fiction too. Jeez, I didn't _see_ films then! I was New York Review of Books-snobbish and held any medium other than the printed page in drastically low regard. I wrote about 800,000 words of fiction -- three novels (one 300,000 words), a novella, and a rash of short stories. Studied fiction, too, under pretty well-regarded fiction writers. But I now think the screen is a better medium.
Still, I think it pays very well indeed to study the purer form of fiction, for you can see it pretty clearly in someone's writing if they've studied writing itself formally. I'm astounded every time I pick up a produced script by how mediocre most professional screenwriters are at the physical act of writing.
But -- they're produced and they're making money, so who has won in the end? An aesthete living in poverty in the Village, publishing in Ploughshares and the Paris Review? Or a small-minded vulgarian putting words together by the skin of his teeth in Hollywood, living in a million-dollar home in the Hills?
Give me the house in the Hills!
Anyways, sometimes the tone of one's writing is lost on readers, whether it's the writer's fault or the reader's.
My tone in calling for the small writers to stay at the small agencies was, plainly, I think, ironic, especially considering that I made it clear I've never made a dime on screenwriting. (Maybe Ploughshares readers would have observed the tone. Oh, well. I still want my house in the Hills!)
Wyo, are you doing re-write work on films, or selling scripts? And where in Wyoming were you? I was in Jackson three years ago, and I've got two thoughts: I'm not sure I've seen a more majestic place in my travels; and I'd sure like to give all those Hollywood types plaguing the area their walking papers!
01-03-2001, 01:57 PM
Yeah, yeah, the same thing has happened to several us. I think the problem is (other than normal communication problems), too many people have been in and out of here saying things like that seriously. Including your "letter." Many things I would have once had a hearty laugh over, I just don't know anymore. Unless it's someone who's been around long enough for me to have a handle on.
I've pretty much stopped with the irony and tongue and cheek stuff. Too many people misinterpreted and I ended up starting "stuff" I was totally mystified by. Then you have to do the expaining ... and on and on. I can't cut it out completely -- too ingrained.
Another ex-snob, eh? Yeah, been taken to task for that, too, when I was laughing at myself.
<!--EZCODE BOLD START--> Another ex-snob, eh? <!--EZCODE BOLD END-->
I still am a snob! Just no more Daedalus and Foreign Affairs!
Now, F. Truffaut and J.L. Godard!
01-03-2001, 02:32 PM
First rule of screenwriting: never ever explain yourself.
Second rule of screenwriting: f*** 'em if they can't take a joke.
01-03-2001, 02:47 PM
You're absolutely right. Problem is I have that "womanly side" and don't enjoy hurting people's feelings or "one-upping" someone who ain't playing on the same level -- unless they're an arrogant a**. Then it isn't the same, just annoying.
01-03-2001, 03:45 PM
"Jeff" is a good example of someone who pounded out query letters and made his initial contacts that way. He wrote letters by the hundreds and is one of the hardest workers I've ever seen. We were breaking in at the same time and every time I would sit back and think, There I worked hard, he would pace me and I would think, Damn, I have to work harder to keep up with "Jeff." There was never any doubt, watching that guy go, he was going to make it. And he did. (smile)
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