Learning to write emails for success
I have good news! You don't need to live in Hollywood to make it in Hollywood!
In previous articles we've discussed the ability for friendships to build career success. I know many of you reading this are not located in a major film industry city, and perhaps many of you who are feel too busy to be attending networking events. Well, fear not, because despite popular belief, you can absolutely build friendships over long distance.
Email acumen is probably the most overlooked and understudied aspect to screenwriting careers, but regardless of if you live in Los Angeles or Sudan, you can absolutely build good business friendships electronically. I don't recall having ever read an article or book that devotes any time whatsoever on the topic of how to effectively communicate and build working relationships through email. And though I'm always an advocate for being genuine in all relationships, being genuine does not mean that you should just wing every email or letter you write.
In the thousands of emails I've received from screenwriters—solicited and not—it's clear that many writers draft communiqué as a wish: a hope for interest. That said, you'd be surprised how easy it can be to start real dialogue with someone you'd like to work with. In this article, we're going to explore some of the do's and don'ts of writing emails for your screenwriting career.
1. Offer Help.
I know I've said it before, but I feel I need to elaborate on this. It can be one of the smartest decisions for a new, unproduced writer to offer certain services for free. This is one point that I have seen in more than a few articles and books. This does not mean that you should offer to write screenplays for free, but offering to do coverage, or help out on set can get you through doors that are otherwise locked. And most important, don't attach strings to your offer (see below for "Getting Ahead of Yourself.”)
The best thing about offering your help and services for free, with no strings attached, is that when you've delivered on this help a couple times, it buys you their attention. Producers are humans too, and if they know you've already spent your time working for them, when you ask them if they could provide notes, or consideration for one of your scripts, they're going to feel a bit obligated.
The second best thing about offering help and services for free is that if a producer or director takes you up on this offer, they're not going to have unrealistic expectations of your service. They're not going to give you deadlines, or be upset if you fall short. Believe me, they are fully aware that you have a life. It's just good to know that you're there to help.
And last, but not least, when you offer your help, and begin to form a real relationship, its only a matter of time before they start introducing you to other people in the industry. So, by building one strong friendship, you can build numerous industry contacts.
2. Keep'em Posted
You may have met many of your producer contacts at pitching events, or you might have just cold-emailed them after finding their address on IMDb. Whatever the case may be, you should make it a point to keep your contacts abreast of news in your world! Did you just option a script or find representation through InkTip.com or other means? Let them know.
Informative emails are important, especially when you're not really asking for anything in return. Danny Manus in one of his articles on NoBullscript.net pointed out that when you're pitching in person, it can sometimes be prudent to not really pitch at all. In other words, just starting a rapport with them is like a soft-sell. If you're not even trying to push your projects on them, and are instead just conversing, then a producer's guard can go down, and they'll start asking you about your scripts on their own. The same holds true for "news” emails. Just saying hi, telling them about some updates in your world, and asking them how they're doing can have a long-term beneficial effect.
Asking them how they're doing is just as important as updating them about your world. When you're building rapport with filmmakers, find out some details about their life—both personal and professional. If you're able to close an email by saying "and as I recall, your daughter, Alexis, has a birthday coming up, so 'Happy birthday to her',” then you're going to be in a good spot. There is no person alive who doesn't appreciate being listened to. Feel free to take notes on them after each meeting. This way you have a record of some things you can mention later.
Just be sure to take Step #5 below ("Be Brief") to heart. These types of emails are essentially broken down into three brief sections: a section about you, a section about them, and your salutation. The section congratulating or inquiring about them should be no more than a single paragraph. The section updating them about you should be no more than a simple paragraph as well. The salutation should be no more than two words (i.e. Best Wishes, Looking Forward, Sincerely...etc). Remember, brevity is beauty.
3. Ask Advice
People love giving advice! This article is proof of that. When asking for advice however, you may want to drop some ego-boosting comments at the head of the email first. A very wise nanny once said, "a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down.” Google people before you contact them, and find out what they've produced, or if they've won any awards recently. Compliment them on something specific to show that you really know what you're talking about.
The key in these emails is to be brief. I wouldn't recommend asking for full coverage of your screenplay to someone you just met, but asking them more general questions laced with compliments works great. Something like "I really love the movies you produce, so I'm wondering if there are any books you've read that you think would be good for me to read.”
4. Personal Invites
Even if you don't live in the same area as the producer, feel free to invite them to more personal events. Maybe there's a 4th of July party you're hosting. You can drop them a line saying "I know you're probably in Hollywood for the holiday, but in case you're in Chicago for some reason, I'm throwing a party with some other industry folks out here. Let me know if you're around.” The more industry-related the event, the earlier in your relationship you can invite them. So for a film festival party you're going to, you could invite them the day after you meet them! For a birthday party, you may want to build a little more rapport over a few months.
5. Be Brief
Be brief. You should be writing emails, not dissertations. Brevity is beauty. Enough said.
1. Badgering is for Badgers
Until you're friends with someone, you shouldn't blow up their email inbox with an email a day. It's pretty safe to reach out every four to six weeks though! And if you're taking my advice from Step #1 above (Offer Help), then you'll have an excuse to get in touch much more often than that!
Following up with those who haven't gotten back to you, however, is acceptable in moderation. If you sent an email to a producer or agent, and you haven't heard from them a week later, it's totally fine to send them an email with the subject "Following up” where you're just softly reminding them. You should have the original email you sent a week ago within the body of the new email, and your new message shouldn't be much more than, "Hey, just wanted to see if you had a chance to read the below from last week. Hope you're well.”
2. Getting Ahead of Yourself
You can follow every tip from above, but if you include something along the lines of offering help on a short-term basis, and then maybe you can go work for them, it sets the wrong tone for the email. You're, in essence, going immediately from offering help to asking for work.
You should view this person as a friend, even though you just met them. This is a tactic that I use in business myself. I would never bring up employment with a friend when I'm offering my help. When you write emails as though you're already friends, you'll find the right tone, and your responses will be well received.
3. Don't Get an Attitude
Believe me, I know how frustrating it can be to send out emails and never get a response. Or what's worse, getting the occasional response, and then later no reply at all. Until you've established a real relationship, you can have no expectations. Know that as much time as you spend on trying to establish a relationship with them, they're probably spending even more time nurturing the relationships they already have. This is very much a game of time.
Developing long-distance professional relationships is completely in your control, and distance is not much of an excuse. Proof of that is so far in my short career, I've already closed three deals without ever having even met the person I was doing business with.
As hokey as it sounds, you are able to reach out and touch people's minds and hearts through email. So, when you're taking the time to email people you've met, just be sure to acknowledge how much time you're requesting from them. You're goal should not unrealistically be to form email friendships with every producer you meet, but I promise that the ones you do form good friendships with will be worth their weight in gold—both professionally and personally.
About the Author:
Gato Scatena is a producer with Scatena & Rosner Films, and former vice president at InkTip. His most recent productions include the film, "Filth," starring James McAvoy, the upcoming comedy, "Mantevention," starring Mario Van Peebles, and Lifetime's "Imaginary Friend," starring Paul Sorvino. Scatena & Rosner Films is in development on more features for 2017, and also works in film tax incentive financing.
Questions for Gato can be tweeted to @GatoScatena on Twitter.