Okay, so it happened nearly a century ago, but it’s still a great cover letterand one that writer Robert Pirosh didn’t customize, but instead mass-mailed to as many employers as he could think of.
Pirosh had just returned to New York (by way of a year in Europe) and was hoping to make it in Hollywood as a screenwriter.
I like words. I like fat buttery words, such as ooze, turpitude, glutinous, toady. I like solemn, angular, creaky words, such as straitlaced, cantankerous, pecunious, valedictory. I like spurious, black-is-white words, such as mortician, liquidate, tonsorial, demi-monde. I like suave “V” words, such as Svengali, svelte, bravura, verve. I like crunchy, brittle, crackly words, such as splinter, grapple, jostle, crusty. I like sullen, crabbed, scowling words, such as skulk, glower, scabby, churl. I like Oh-Heavens, my-gracious, land’s-sake words, such as tricksy, tucker, genteel, horrid. I like elegant, flowery words, such as estivate, peregrinate, elysium, halcyon. I like wormy, squirmy, mealy words, such as crawl, blubber, squeal, drip. I like sniggly, chuckling words, such as cowlick, gurgle, bubble and burp.
I like the word screenwriter better than copywriter, so I decided to quit my job in a New York advertising agency and try my luck in Hollywood, but before taking the plunge I went to Europe for a year of study, contemplation and horsing around.
I have just returned and I still like words.
May I have a few with you?
385 Madison Avenue
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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Tools to Help:
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
SUBMISSIONS INSANITY: 4 Things To Check Before You Make Your Submissions
Submissions Insanity # 11: How To Win Screenwriting Competitions
SUBMISSIONS INSANITY # 9: Submission Techniques GUARANTEED To Fail
SUBMISSIONS INSANITY # 7: A Screenplay Idea For All Seasons?
Submissions Insanity # 6: Writing Rules – The Least You Can Do