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How to Sell A Screenplay

December 3, 2015
6 min read time



You already learned how to write a screenplay. Now its time talk about how to get your screenplay in front of agents, managers and producers. Download our eBook on how to sell your screenplay today!

What is a query letter?

A query letter is usually a one-page letter or e-mail that you send out to agents, managers and producers to try and entice them to read your script.

What is a logline?

A logline is usually the first thing in a query letter and is the most vital piece of the message. It is usually 1 or 2 sentences long.

What is a synopsis?

A synopsis is a short summary of your script, usually a half-page long, and is used in some query letters. If not included in the letter, it will sometimes be requested by industry players after reading your logline.

What is a treatment?

A treatment is a document that details your movie script from beginning to end, and can be requested by industry players in a number of very different scenarios. It is more useful as a writing tool than anything else.

With that quick primer out of the way, let me tell you:

Secret #1: The most important of all four of the above is the logline. You will need the logline for more people, in more situations, and it will be the most read or heard thing about your story – far more so than your actual script.

Think of your logline as a 5 to 10-second pitch. Whether delivered in a sentence or two in a letter or email, or whether you just bumped into a producer at Urth Caffé, it’s the one or two sentences you say or write most about your screenplay.

Secret #2: As a manager, I never once asked to read a synopsis or treatment. Nobody in the industry has any time, and if someone can’t write a good query letter or logline, we figure they can’t write a script. It takes more time to read a synopsis than it does to read the first few pages of a script. And seasoned pros can tell if you’re a good writer from just a few pages.

Secret #3: Make sure those first 5 pages of your screenplay are absolutely stellar and attention-grabbing – even if they just showcase how brilliantly you write on a technical level. Those 5 pages make or break whether anyone reads any further in your script.


Okay, so let’s talk about query letters. Most books will tell you to write a one-page query letter that includes a logline that’s 1 to 3 sentences long, a short synopsis, and a bio of yourself. From my experience as a manager, that exercise is a total waste of time. Since all I care about is the logline, give me a professional greeting, a logline, and a professional exit. Let the logline speak for itself, the rest is fluff.

Now, my only caveat with not including any bio information is if you’ve won any prestigious screenwriting competitions, or if your occupation has anything to do with the story at hand. For instance, if your day job is as a detective and you wrote a murder mystery, include that information. That kind of background lends an air of credibility and is the only time it’s worth writing a short bio.


Before I go over how to execute a perfect logline, let’s clarify first what a logline SHOULD be – what it should LOOK like, READ like, and FEEL like.

Some books say you should write a short, 1 to 3-sentence paragraph to tell the reader your script’s story. I say, bulls%$^. You write ONE sentence, and ONE sentence only, and you SELL the reader on why he or she should read your script.

Let me repeat that: Your goal with a logline is not to talk about or encapsulate the story in an exciting way.  Instead, a logline is meant to highlight the aspects of your script that would entice someone who didn’t give a crap two seconds ago into wanting to read or know more.

If you can write one sentence that entices the reader to want to read your script AND also gives some semblance of what the story will be, you’ve written the perfect logline.

The Way The Books Teach You To Write A Logline:

When JACK wins a trip on the maiden voyage of the Titanic, he finds himself in a world he’s unprepared for. Amidst the opulence of the ship, he falls in love with ROSE, an upper-class girl about to be married off to the villainous CAL. Will love conquer all?

Not bad, right? It could use some polish (“villainous Cal” sounds cheesy), but as far as textbook loglines go, nothing stands out as terrible about it. What if you wrote something as simple as:

A journey of forbidden love between a poor boy and a rich girl on the final voyage of the RMS Titanic.

Now, the second logline isn’t perfect – but it highlights A: the love story, B: the historic and tragic setting, and C: just from that one sentence, we know what the movie’s story might be like. We excised ALL unnecessary words and details, and kept it brisk, HIGH CONCEPT, and mysterious enough to warrant a read.

Notice I didn’t go into any detail – the object of a logline is to whet someone’s appetite. You’re trying to bait them with the mystery – what happens? How does it happen? If you TELL them too much, they won’t have any questions in their mind, and thus, have less reason to read your script to find out.

So, never ever TELL the story.  SELL the story.

SYNPOPSISWriting a synopsis for a screenplay

Writing a synopsis is really only useful for two reasons:

Having it on hand in case anyone (and hardly anyone will) asks for it.

If you write it before starting your script, it helps you narrow down what the most important aspects of your story will be.

Other than that, there is no real practical application to writing a synopsis when it comes to interacting with industry people.


Lastly, for an aspiring writer, there is only one good use for a treatment: To help you plan out your script, beat by beat, from beginning to end, BEFORE you start writing it.

Treatments have no other practical use for unknown writers because the only other time a treatment will become necessary is once you’ve become an established Hollywood screenwriter. For instance, you may have read stories about people, like my first client Travis Beacham, who sold a treatment for tons of money (http://www.deadline.com/2010/05/legendary-pictures-re-teams-with-clash-of-the-titans-scribe-on-pacific-rim/), but the only reason that happens, off just a treatment, is because he’s an established writer with credits on big movies and a studio didn’t want to pass up the next big tentpole film.

The only other time a treatment will become necessary is if you’ve sparked interest in a producer or executive because of a script you wrote, and they’ve asked you to come in and talk about your other ideas. In this scenario, DO NOT – under any circumstances – leave behind a treatment to read. Hollywood desks are littered with paper, and adding to the pile will only get your treatment, eventually, into the trash. If you excite them enough with your ideas, they’ll pitch what you pitched them to their boss (since they don’t have any paper with the idea written on it), and if the boss likes it, you get invited back to meet him. That’s the goal – not a treatment making its way around the office.

So. remember what the role of each of these four writing tools is – and use them to your advantage.   

In the world of an unknown writer, your logline is king. It will either make people want to read your script or flee the kingdom. It’s up to you to finesse it into shape and then get it out to the industry.

Good luck, and if you have any questions please feel free to email me at info@scriptawish.com.

Happy Writing!



A former Hollywood literary manager, Michael helped several students from his alma mater sell their scripts and set up projects (including with Academy-Award® winning producer Arnold Kopelson). Michael started ScriptAWish.com as a way to help other writers get their foot in the door by helping get their script into shape and then sending it out to his contacts. His new venture is a collaboration with several professional screenwriters called StudioGhostwriters.com and is intended to help producers and independent filmmakers put their ideas into screenplay form or get their scripts polished.


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