Querying Spec ScriptsComplications Ensue
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Sunday, February 04, 2007

Q. I get how to query an original [feature script] but I'm less clear on how one would query an existing [tv] show spec script.
It's simpler. You don't have to describe the main character, for example. Instead of "a war-weary veteran who's killing time working at a paint store," all you have to say is "House" or "Jack" or "Jack" or whoever.

You don't need to say much. Really just the territory. In a feature spec, they're interested primarily in the hook, and only then the execution. In a TV spec, it's mostly about the execution. So they are going to have to take a look at your pages. Maybe not all of them, maybe only 5 of them if they see something they don't like, but they can't go off the query.

So, if you're speccing a House (and who isn't these days?), you'd say something about the patient of the week ("a runner whose leg may have to be amputated"), and something about House's personal drama in that episode. (Never ignore the emotional component!)

So really you're not querying the whole story, as you would with a feature, but more like the territory. Even with a stunt spec, you really only need to query the stunt: House hires a new intern named Meredith Grey.
Q. And the fact that I have several scripts, how much do I say for each one in a single letter?
I don't think you need to mention other specs. If they read and like the first one, they'll ask for your second spec. But you could say, "I also have a Grey's Anatomy spec."
Q. Do they record each query so they can blacklist me in the future if I get annoying?
No one keeps track. Who has time? And you're only going to query once per script. So if they actually remember you from 6 months ago, and you're offering a new spec, you could only get points for persistence.
Q. How often do you send out new queries (or re-distribute old ones)?
You send out new queries when you have a new script you're proud of. November or December would be a good time, if you're hoping to get into next year's staffing season. By this time of year (February) most agents already have a full roster and are trying to get people to read the clients they have. See my other posts on staffing season.

By redistribute, I assume you don't mean sending the same query to the same agency again. Don't do that. You can always send a query to an agent at an agency to whom you have not proposed that particular script.

Your old spec may still be good, and that's what you'd send as your second script if you get interest.

By the way, I hear a lot of conflicting info about spec pilots. My take on spec pilots is: don't write a spec pilot unless you've written some produced television, or at a bare minimum have one or two kickass spec episodic scripts.You're trying to show you can write other people's shows. Writing a pilot shows neither that you can capture the voice of another show, nor that you can write episodic tv. A pilot is, after all, more like a feature, because it introduces characters and situations and does not have to relate to established story lines. It is also much, much harder to write a kickass pilot than a kickass "center cut" script. (Something I'm struggling with right now, thank you.)

I would say write a spec pilot if you've proven through staff jobs that you can write episodic TV. Write a spec pilot if you think you've got a shot at setting it up somewhere, or if you're looking to break out of the niche you're in.

That said, there are people who've got hired with spec pilots or even plays. But I wouldn't count on doing that.

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Good primer.

But Jane Espenson said most agents are looking at spec pilots more than existing shows these days.

By Blogger Emily Blake, at 12:30 PM  

Also, she says January-March is prime agent hunting season.


By Blogger Michael, at 12:34 PM  

Actually, since we're speaking of good months to query agents, I was wondering...

Could you run down the best/worst times of year to do things? When it's good/bad to query an agent, when it's good/bad to pitch producers, how many weeks you should allow before and after things like Banff, CTF announcements, etc.

I know producers and agents are ALWAYS busy, but I sometimes fear that I'm showing my greenness by contacting them at a bad time of year.

(I didn't see that in your book except for a mention of the LA staffing season, so redirect me if I missed it!)


By Blogger Crystal, at 11:05 AM  

I've been going through this process lately, so I have some insight. The letter I've been sending mentions a few of my scripts scripts - two specs, a feature and the pilot I'm working on. It's more of a pitch about me rather than my work, which is a little different from a standard query. I'm happy to say I've gotten several requests and a couple meetings, so the ball is rolling. You never know what's going to work - just make sure your scripts are stellar.

By Blogger Shawn, at 11:42 AM  

So one should always be directing the query at a particular agent at an agency, not sending out a general query to whoever is interested at the agency?

By Blogger just some guy trying to write, at 3:03 PM  

Yes, always query the individual agent. If they're not reading, they might pass you along to someone else; but at least you're less likely to get lost in the pile.

By Blogger Alex Epstein, at 3:13 PM  

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