You wrote a script and now you need someone to read it because, face it, if no one reads it, no one's going to buy it. And if no one buys it, well, no one is going to make it. Which means no movie and the point of writing a script is usually you want to make a movie.
So you need someone to read your script.
If you are in this business on the inside, you will just pick up the phone and call your good friend Clooney and presto, the script is read. If you're on the outside trying to get in, it is a little harder than that. You have to convince a stranger, who is bombarded with scripts daily, to read your script. There are three primary ways to make contact:
1) Cold calling.
3) Event Pitching.
Which plan of attack you choose should be, always, based on your strengths and weaknesses. If you are good on the phone, you will get somewhere cold calling. If you are not good on the phone? Don't call. Write. If you are especially good at verbal pitching? Hit festivals, meet everyone you can, tell people your story, or get up in front of a pitch panel and toss that story line out there. If enough people hear the pitch and like it, someone will most likely read the script to see if you can follow that up with the goods.
If you don't know what you're good at? Don't worry, you'll find out. That is not meant to be dark and menacing either. If you are well established? Finding out the hard way might hurt you if you pull some marketing campaign that hits rock bottom. Everyone knows your name and that is embarrassing. But if you are generally new to the game? You can bottom out and no one will even see a blip on the radar. So finding out, going in, is not going to damage you professionally. Don’t panic. Just find out. The old fashioned way. By trying and doing.
Queries to whomever you know is a good gamble for getting your script read. However, if you're starting from ground zero, you don't know anyone. And while it would be great to be sending your scripts to actors and actresses and famous directors, it's a hell of a lot easier and cheaper to track down producers, thanks to The Hollywood Screenwriting Directory compiled by The Writer’s Store. And agents, if you pick up the list of agencies from the Writer’s Guild of America, West’s website, (wga.org). (In the old days, the directories to grab were The Hollywood Creative Directory and The Hollywood Agents and Managers Directory but the HCD people seem to have gone toes up so the directory from The Writer’s Store is the next best choice hunting up production companies. After that, for a list of agencies, you want to hit the Guild website. So that's where you start. With two types of people:
Agents, because if a good agent signs you, that agent can walk your script in fifty doors and save you the wear and tear getting that script through fifty doors yourself would rack up.
Producers, who are more likely to read a newcomer than agents (agents being huge on referrals to the point of refusing to even read an unknown writer without one) and can either buy your script, (yay!), or refer you to an agent who can walk your script in fifty doors where someone else might buy it.
"Querying," by definition, means you are "enquiring" whether or not someone would be interested in reading your material. But you have to give them a reason to read your material. Which means, you have to "pitch" to them, either over the phone, in person, or in a letter sent snail mail or email. And that's where most people run into trouble. Most people can't "pitch."
What a Pitch Is and Isn’t
All pitches are Sales, with a capital "S." There are different kinds of pitches. One is a sales pitch for an existing work, a script written on speculation you now want someone to read (and hopefully buy). One is a story pitch, you go in and tell people a story you want them to buy, as a project, and to pay you to write.
The purpose of both pitches is to sell, and what you're selling is either you, the writer, and the script you've written; or you, the writer, and the project you want the studio to buy and hire you to write. So both pitches are about selling you, the writer; however, even though in both instances you are selling you, you are not the subject of either pitch. The story is the subject of the pitch. Always. And this is important to remember.
When you meet someone to pitch, or call someone to pitch, or write a letter to pitch, you do not talk about yourself. You talk about what it is you have written (the spec script) or what it is you want to write (the project you're pitching). This is a cardinal rule. That does not mean skip important criteria such as you have written ten block buster movies. If you've written ten block buster movies, you tell them that right up front so they will sit up and pay attention to what you have to say, figuring you are probably pretty good and they should be paying attention. But you don't ramble on about your family or your pet or your source of inspiration. See, nobody is interested in you unless you have material they want to buy. Then they get interested in you. Then they are agog, "Wow, someone who created something I want to buy, who the hell is this person?" But until then, they don't care, they just want to know what it is you are selling and is it worth their time to even read it, or is it more dreck from the mill?
These are busy people. They don't have time to find out who you are unless you have something they want. Which is not maybe the gracious way to put it, but definitely how it is. They aren't interested in you. They are interested in the material.
The only time this is not the case is when a studio cuts a writer a blind deal. A "blind deal" is a contract to write an as yet unspecified piece of material. Studios will sometimes do this when they think a writer is up and coming, but they don't have a project they and the writer want to work on together yet. People at the studio are pretty sure, though, if they don't come up with something quick, this writer is going to get snatched up by other people and get real famous and turn "expensive." So a blind deal is a deal a studio makes in advance of finding a project for a writer because it wants to contract the writer for hire while the writer's services are still reasonably inexpensive. Or, because a writer is so hot, regardless of price or hierarchy, people will lose that writer’s time without a bid before a project is determined. Though more often that is a studio deal.
If you are newish, that doesn't happen unless people at a studio think you are an up and comer, and they won't think that until you have turned a lot of heads. Meantime you are stuck with the more normal scenario, you are selling you, but the subject of the pitch is not you, it is, in Hollywood speak, "the project."
There are two types of projects you will pitch: the existent project, i.e. a script you wrote on speculation and now want to sell; and the non-existent project, i.e. something you haven't written yet, but would like very much for someone to buy and pay you to write.
This article is excerpted from Max Adams' book The New Screenwriter's Survival Guide.