Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Query Letter Blues

I've just completed the thankless task of sending queries to agents about my latest work. I'm always fully prepared to query hundreds of agents if I have to, however, after pulling out my trusty 2006 Agency guide and paring from the list of Agents all of the ones who don't operate in L.A., who take unsolicited queries, and who have ever represented someone who has sold something, I am left with about fifteen solid options. We are told when coming up in the screenwriting world to go for the gold and only query the very best agents, as they are likely to get you the very most money and the very best jobs. This idea was reinforced recently when I received a phone call from a representative of Fade In: Magazine. Since I had finished 2nd in their contest of about 2600 scripts, they had some questions about me regarding representation I might currently have or had in the past. I told the very nice woman that one of the scripts had been represented for about a year, and went into some detail about the nature of said representation. The woman was frankly horrified at how I'd been treated, and asked how I got attached to this particular person. When I explained she had found me through Inktip.com, a resource for screenwriters, producers and agents, I could actually hear her turning up her nose over the phone line. "Oh," she said unenthusiastically. "Is there a problem with Inktip?" I asked. "Well..." a sympathetic pause "...do you really want to be represented by bottom feeders?" Clearly I do not. However here is what happens if I attempt to send even my name and the date to a top agency. In a few weeks, a very official looking letter will come in the mail. Enclosed will be a letter from the agency's legal department explaining "This letter is being returned to you UNREAD." This is followed by some more language that explains, essentially, that "no one within five miles of the building has even looked at the stamp on your letter. Do not ask us if there were flowers or a flag on that stamp. None of us know. The fact that you might even suggest that we know horrifies us. What do you want us to get SUED???" There is no way around this. I have sent a release form. I have opened my letter with promises not to sue. I have even sent letters with no original material and asked how they would like me to proceed. I always get that letter. I once got that letter from an agent who had already reviewed previous material from me and somehow managed to miraculously avoid a lawsuit. Guess she didn't want to find out if lightning could strike twice. From what I understand, the way to get represented by a top level agency is to sneak into the agent's building, follow them until they are alone, then ambush them, drag them into a laundry closet, and lock them in with your screenplay until they have read it, at which point they will become so impressed with your moxie that they will take you on on the spot. Unfortunately, this is not really my style, so instead I send my queries and hope for the best. In the meantime, I pursue other avenues, and hope to find a producer that can actually get my movie made. Then, in my fantasy, I thumb my nose at all those high level super agents eating their hearts out as I pocket that half million dollars that could have been their commission. "Who needs you!" I shout with glee. "I've beaten the system! I did it without you, and I'll do it again and again! I laugh at your contacts and your packaging skills! HA HA HA!" The following day I sign with CAA.

Brown Bashing

Ok so I've decided to succumb to the call of the zeitgeist and write a blog. If anyone is reading, I want to assure you that I feel very very dirty doing this. And as long as we're on the subject of dirty secrets, I'd like to take this time to reveal another one: I liked the Da Vinci Code. Not the movie, the book. It seems the popular thing now is to bash Dan Brown's literary credentials. Everyone and their mother can now tell you that while Dan Brown writes a great page turner, his actual ability as a writer is virtually non-existent. I'm not quite sure when everyone in the country became such a perceptive literary critic. Up until this week I didn't even think most people could read. What does it mean to be a "bad" writer? Having attended the Professional Writing Program at USC, I encountered many of them. Some qualities of bad writing for me include: continuity errors, that is, things that just don't make any sense, extraneous prose, sections that don't move the story, bad grammar and spelling, unrealistic dialogue, self-indulgent conceits, and being boring. While I didn't read the Da Vinci Code critically so much as for entertainment value, I didn't discover a whole lot of these problems either. I think that people assume that just because a story is entertaining and reads fast, the writing is bad. Which is sad, because the corollary is that for a book to be written well, it has to be slow, plodding, and boring, and I think that today's educational system promotes this concept, pushing "classics" on students without putting them in any context which might cause a young person to find them interesting. Dan Brown may be no Hemingway, but he wrote a story that was not only accepted by a major publisher, but was then devoured by millions of people, in a culture that does not exactly put reading at a premium. In my mind, that's something that takes talent. If you don't agree, you try it.