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Finding the Right Producer

Contributed By Charles Deemer

Once you've written your query letter (see previous column), where do you send it?

There are two ways to approach an answer to this question, and I recommend both. First, do some research to find producers who have shown an interest in material similar to yours; and second, find producers who, for one reason or another, cannot be eliminated from possible interest in your kind of story.

Doing Research

Make a list of all the movies you can think of that answer the following statement: "The people who made [movie] would do an excellent job with my story."

Spend some time on this. Your list should have as many movies as you can think of.

Take this list to the Internet Movie Database. Look up each title. Write down the names of all producers and production companies associated with the movie. Do this for each movie. You should end up with a long list of producers.

Now take this new list to the bible of marketing, the Producers volume of the Hollywood Creative Directory (HCD). This is not free. You can buy a hard copy for about $60. Better yet, take out a trial one-week subscription to the online version for $14.95 (or subscribe for a year if you can afford it and if you plan to market at least 3 screenplays during the year).

What you want to do is find each producer and production company in the HCD. Disregard producers whose address are at studios and major entities (production companies you've heard of). They won't have time for you. You are looking for the small independent producers with whom film projects from new writers usually start. Study the opening credits at the next movie you go to: you'll see a big name you recognize, like Dreamworks, but you'll also see something like "in association with Stubborn Mule Films." That's the place you want to send your query!

During your trial week, go through your entire list and write down the email addresses, if any, and snail mail address for each producer. If possible, you want to do your querying by email, which is much more efficient and also much easier.

The Shotgun Method

After you've gone through your list of producers and prodcos, you've completed the first approach, based on research. The second approach is "the shotgun method," and to begin, you generate the "list of producers with emails" from the online HCD. You'll get a list of over 500 producers. Go through each one to look at their credits. What you are looking for here is anything that can eliminate them from having a possible interest in your story. For example, they may be genre-specific (and not your genre) or interested only in TV. You now have a "second string" list of email addresses.

Sending the Email Query

Begin with email queries. Begin with your first list. Put the word QUERY in the subject line and send out your query letter to every email address on your first list, and then every name on your second list. This will be a huge job, so break it into small parts. Send out 10 or 20 emails a day, for example, until you've exhausted both lists. In case you haven't figured it out by now, marketing is a numbers game. The more queries you send out, the more reads you're going to get. If you haven't sent out at least 100 emails, you aren't working at marketing hard enough.

Sending the Snail Mail Query

When you send your query letter to producers without published email addresses, include an SASE (self-addressed, stamped envelope) or, better yet, list your 800 number (get one!). With snail mail, direct the letter to a specific person, either the producer on your list or the name associated with "development" in the HCD.

Waiting for Results

What kind of results can you expect? At least ten percent. That is, for every ten queries you send out, you should get one request for a script. If you're not getting a ten percent return, jazz up your query letter.

Don't make any follow ups to query letters. To those to whom you send scripts, don't do a follow up until three months have passed -- then just send a short paragraph asking if the script has been read yet.

Most emails will go unanswered. A small percentage will respond with a polite no and a smaller percentage will request a script.

Now is also the time to start a new script! You need to do this for several reasons: one, the get in the habit of being a producing screenwriter who is ALWAYS working on a new script; and two, to get the old one out of your system so the mountain of rejections coming your way will be less painful.

Marketing is harder work than writing. Trust me on this. But without biting the bullet in this area, your script is doomed to be unread. You CAN get producers to read your script but you have to do the hard labor to earn these readings. What's keeping you from starting?

The Producer's Unit
A definition of roles in the Producer's Unit, as well as a description of duties.
The Cost of Production Value
Examples of actual costs of bringing production value to a shoot and an examination of the mindset of the producer in regard to ambition and motivation.
Qualities of the Producer
A detailed description of the five requisite qualities of the producer: Strategic Vision, Creative Balance, Ability to deliver attachments, Track Record and Existing Relationships.
The Pitch Sheet
The one page pitch sheet that you will send to interested parties.
Role of the Producer
The oft-misunderstood role of the Producer as the project architect. Also, the importance of the script, bringing attachments and the producer's strategic vision.