Nick writes: I can barely get an agency to respond to a script query. Most don't respond and the others send letters from their lawyers telling me never to write them again, concerned they may be sued. How does one approach an agency to get a response one way or another?
I really have to stress that this town does not operate on query letters; it operates on recommendations and relationships. If you can cultivate a relationship with agent or manager (or someone who has access to an agent or manager and can pass along your work), that will be much more meaningful that a letter from someone that nobody knows. This is why I am taking the path of assistantdom and meeting lots of people...ideally, I'll never need to write a query.
Many agencies DO NOT ACCEPT QUERY LETTERS. This includes all of the Big Five and many of the next five. That's why you're getting the letters from biz affairs...and yes, it's about legality. Every so often you will hear a story about a movie that started with a query letter, maybe even to a biggie... but it is absolutely the exception and not the rule. Some smaller agencies and management companies (don't forget about managers - writers often get managers before they get agents) DO accept them, so I don't want to completely steer you away from sending them. But target smaller places, and know that you're probably going to have to throw a lot of spaghetti at the wall before some sticks. Here is the list of WGA signatory agenices. You can google management companies. I blogged a little about them before: Is this company legit? Know that you may never hear back about many of your queries. It means that the company either doesn't accept them, or doesn't like the sound of your script. Either way, you have to move on.
If you're determined to query your way to the top, I recommend you keep your query short. Give a logline or brief synopsis of the script and ask if you can send it. If you can't sum up what your story's about in a couple sentences, you have bigger problems entirely. If the script has won contests, mention that too. If you're funny, be funny. But generally quick and to the point is best. The assistants who open it are probably going to throw it in the trash, or if they're feeling generous, send it over to BA so you can get that rejection letter. They've got lunches to confirm and meetings to set. Do everything you can to keep that letter IN their hands, and compel them to email you and ask for it. Play agent a little - if you had to sell this script, how would you do it? Why should people want to read it?
It's tough, and I feel bad that I can't give any better advice. But here's the deal: only young agents are out there scouring the earth for new talent. Once you've got some clients you're passionate about, you have to spend your time and energy busting your ass to sell their work and get them jobs. Think of it this way: once you have an agent, do you want your agent to ignore you while he tries to find new clients, or spend his time working for you? Exactly.
Make sure your script is ready, and fantastic. The truth is, there is a lot of crap out there. Maybe it's sad that people assume your script will be crap, but I write enough coverage to agree with them. If you write a great script and keep at it long enough, I really believe you'll get there. But crap is crap. The other day my boss had me print out scripts for him to read that had been written by his friend's wife's friend (I'm telling you, use your connections, no matter how random). He sighed, looking at his huge reading pile for the weekend. "Maybe it'll be really good!" I said, smiling. He smiled, and laughed. He laughed and laughed and laughed.