A great screenplay query letter – my thoughts

I always suggest opening with a compliment — the “kill ’em with kindness” approach — that way you don’t just sound like you want something from them but you’re here to contribute something to their obviously stellar output. Plus, everyone likes a little ego stroke, especially in Hollywood.

Open the letter by congratulating them on the success of their latest film and tell them how much you love one of their smaller, critically-acclaimed films. They will appreciate you noticing one of their lesser-known, more artistic efforts. I also suggest doing some research and pointing out an obscure fact about them and their work that could only have been known by someone who took the time to do their homework.

Of course, pointing out if you were referred to them by a friend or colleague is always a must-mention.

Get to your Logline as soon as possible, and make sure it’s only 20-30 words.

Do not waste time with personal details about yourself unless they are relevant (e.g., if you are an EMT and your script is about EMTs). Do NOT include your personal history with screenwriting. I’ve seen too many query letters and websites from screenwriters that go into detail about how they were singled out in Mrs. Beasly’s second-grade class for their excellent storytelling skills and then when they were 10 they saw Star Wars and they’ve been in love with the magic of cinema ever since, blah blah blah.

Do not list all the fascinating jobs you’ve done over the years. Saying that you’ve lived a full life by working as a shrimp boat captain, kindergarten teacher, glass-blowing apprentice and taxi cab driver just shows that you have trouble focusing on a task (and probably can’t hit deadlines). It also makes you sound like an “artiste,” which is not what they want when they’re in the business of commercial entertainment.

No one cares how you came to be a screenwriter; they just want to know why they should take the time to read your work.

Do not say anything negative or criticize current movies. Do not say how comedies today are not funny and your script will finally make audiences laugh again (I’ve seen this done many times). For all you angry writers our there who think it’s your calling to restore greatness to a genre that is obviously not up to the heights of yesteryear, you should look at the box-office to see how much other people are enjoying the current movies in that genre.

Make sure to thank them for their time and consideration and include your contact information below your signature. Don’t list a silly email or odd production company name (especially if this production company does not exist or has no feature film credits).

Finally, just sit back with a tall, cool drink and wait for the check to arrive.

Just kidding. To have that kind of confidence, you need to make sure you’ve written a great script first.

Good luck!

-Dan Calvisi

2 replies
  1. Bill Martin
    Bill Martin says:

    Dan -- Back in the day I wrote the screenplay for ‘Harry and the Hendersons’ as well as ‘Michael Nesmith in Elephant Parts,’ which won a Grammy for Video of the Year. After a long hiatus i’m writing again. Should I mention these credits in a query letter?

    • StoryMapsDan
      StoryMapsDan says:

      Hi Bill,
      Thanks for your question and congrats on your credits and on getting back on the horse. Just my opinion, I would avoid the Michael Nesmith credit and probably mention “Harry and the Hendersons” as it’s an 80s classic at this point. It’s true that you will get some industry people who will immediately disregard you as too old but then you may also get some that respect a produced credit, especially a major studio one, so they will give you a read. If the goal is to get them to read your script, then anything you can say you should use.

      In a perfect world, your story alone — as communicated in your dynamic logline and query letter — would be enough to hook them to read your script, but with the volume of queries they’re getting, we know that’s not always enough. If you need any further help with your script, let me know!

      Good Luck and Happy Writing, Dan.


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