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The fine art of email

Email is getting worse, especially from males interested in the film industry (and business grads are even worse.) Even some actresses, who work with text for a living, have forgotten how to write.

Bad writing is contagious. I've read my recent spec letters, and they're getting worse. I need an anecdote. I need to see good letters.

Let's imagine you're writing an email. Steven Spielberg is producing a sequel to Hamlet in your hometown (or, if you live in your hometown, your old university town, or where your cousins live.) You want to get a job there.

Second scenario. Your favourite author has written a short story that you want to option. Or, you saw something on script pitch that looks great.

Third scenario. A local unemployed dentist is adapting Edgar Allan Poe's "The Raven" and has posted a few jobs. You're not sure the film will be any good, but you just want to build your reel.

Or, Make up a project and situation to reply to. I'll start.

"Dear Mr Edward Wood,
I read about Ed Films in Daily Variety. Variety says that your company plans to shoot "Plan 10 from Outer Space" and the follow up, "Plan 11", in Croydon next August.

I'd like to apply for the role of makeup assistant to the third zombie on both films. I'm a graduate of University of Southern California, and after taking a break from filmmaking, would like to break back into the business. Please find attached below a link to my CV.

Let me know more about that project, and any other you may be shooting in Croydon, England or Modesto, California.
I hope to hear from you soon.
George Lucas"
(encs, or whatever, can be added if you like)

Did you see what I did there, that a lot of emails don't do? It didn't take long, did it?

Anyone else want to write an example cover letter, so that people who have no clue can send clearer cover letters in the future?

  • Good idea Vasco, and I like your template letter as a starting point.

    My optional additions would be to request that your CV is passed to the department head - production can hire local HMU assistants for sure, but the department heads will have a huge say and veto. If you have a portfolio, make sure they can see samples of your work - sounds obvious, but just in case :)

    11 months ago
    • Thanks Paddy.

      I often wonder how many people the production company hires directly. I see a lot of post-production, and even hair and make up these days, are being credited to corporations rather than individuals (or the corporation first and the individuals listed later.)

      Finding out who the department head is can be daunting sometimes.

      11 months ago
  • Don't write an email.

    Emails end up in spam, cold contact emails are easy to ignore, or end up in the "read sometime/never" pile.

    To make sure someone actually reads your email, make it a paper letter. Because no one sends letters any more. A letter is a curiosity. A letter will be read.

    Even better - "this is the paper copy of the email I sent to ...... on....... from my email ........"

    11 months ago
    • I completely agree with you Marlam, unrequested emails will usually go straight into spam, worse still be marked/flagged to go automatically to the bin and not hit your inbox in the future. Taking the time to write and send a letter has a far greater chance of actually getting your message noticed and read. If they then contact you make sure to put all your links in your email signature so that then when you first communicate by email the reader will have all they need but do remember to heavily compress any attachments or your email will become suspect and blocked if too large.
      Regards Ray

      11 months ago
  • I'd agree with the irony of the empowered reemergence of the letter by snail mail. A letter can almost be commensurate with a gift, if presented well. All sorts of 'attachments' can be included, pictures, diagrams and even DVD's and USB sticks. Makes sending and receiving an occasion. Emails can be so much more acceptable after such an introduction.

    There's a reason why in circumstances, such as in legal matters for example, communications and notices are done with wet ink on paper. It's more emphatic on several levels.

    11 months ago
  • Agreed about including a USB stick with your letter. Last year in my mailouts and festival meeting handouts I put all trailers for my features, film pitches, photos etc onto USB sticks, when I met someone that was interested I'd hand them a USB stick and say, my stuff is on the stick please watch it and then recycle it, making the flash stick a gift meant that they were always accepted and if sent by post I knew that they would at least have had the opportunity to watch my stuff as very high-quality viewing files. People are always worried about opening attachments on emails, where with a USB flash stick, you plug it in and scan it for virus's before opening anything on it , so no worries too about having to heavily compress video files down to tiny pixelated versions to ensure acceptable download times, I could make them nice large 4K AppleProRes files that looked fat and beautiful. Letters are easily stored as hard copies and far less likely to be lost somewhere in your inbox if not filed correctly instantly when they come in. Letters also can sit on someone's postal inbox for days until they find some free time to process them properly as opposed to opening up their laptop after the weekend to find three hundred unopened emails in there and then hacking and slashing them ruthlessly to try to get on top of the backlog, in those circumstances emails from unknowns usually get instantly deleted before reading since these people are busy working professionals with serious decisions and deadlines targets to make they sadly, therefore, simply do not have the time waste checking out and sifting through potential junk mail.
    ​Regards Ray​

    11 months ago
  • Writing is re-writing... even emails and query letters

    Best advice I got was in relation to this scenario:

    Writers spend 12 months crafting a script and 12 minutes writing a query letter to create interest in it... Basically, the advice was set time aside like you would your scripts to craft your email queries. Of course that doesn't mean 12 months of agonising, but it does mean draft it, give someone to read and/or stick it in a drawer for 24 hours and return to it

    11 months ago
    • Good point. The 24 hour cool off period works a lot of the time. Sometimes fresh typos are invisible.

      I think it still helps to have a template, of what to put in.

      11 months ago
  • MyMemory are doing 10 x 16GB USB3 flash sticks for £25 at the moment so that's £2.50 per stick to load on both any completed films, showreels, scripts, storyboards, Artwork and several feature scripts plus, treatments, outlines, synopsis, headshots whatever etc Would make nice Christmas gifts if sent out to producers etc that you think might finance your next work.
    My neice an actress, made up bespoke chocalate gifts all signed with their individual names to send out to ten casting directors that she wanted to remember her in the future, all sent out to arrive on Halloween. Cost her around one hindred twenty inc delivery but I thought it was money well spent and a genius idea be remembered by!

    11 months ago
  • Instead of gifts, I'd like a little clarity.

    I had a good letter, better than average anyway, of someone who said she wanted to do a work placement and gave me days when she was available. As I didn't have an office, I thought I wasn't in position to have an intern at the time.

    When I hire a cab, I don't want a present. I want to know when the cab with arrive. Does the driver know where I will be? If they don't, they won't show up on time.

    It's about logistics, not bribery. If you want to direct a film, to act in it, to shoot it, to crew, to cater, you have to be able to get to the right place at the right time. So, let me know that you know where the place and time are, or if you don't let me know when you're available and where you can travel to.

    Harrison Ford got a job when another actor wasn't available.

    Who, What, when, where, why and how. Answer as many questions as you know the answer to. Who are you talking to. What job are you available for. When can you work. Where do you think the job is at (or where can you work).

    Some of these are repeated the job ad, so why say so, right? Well, do you really want to work for a producer who only has one project?

    Why and how might be for the interview stage, or second email. Not as important to say right away, imho.
    Why, if you have a motivational statement (some people only give this.) And, how might be your CV. A good why might get you a second job if the first one's not available.

    Does that make sense?

    11 months ago
  • Sorry but no, not really. Keep up Vasco your not following where this thread has been quickly leading us all to collectively. To summarize the thread started as "fine art of the email", quickly ruled out as an unlikely way of catching anyone's attention in a world where people receive regularly over three hundred emails a day no matter how "finely" it was written, this moved on to how unlikely a busy film professional was likely to read an unsolicited email, the email being far more likely to go straight to spam or be deleted unread, no matter how "fine" its content. Snail or traditional mail was suggested as the more likely option for the person receiving it to likely read it (novelty factor), then we progressed to if taking the time to send a letter why not include more than an innocuous wordy (yes in this medium we work with both picture and sound) letter, but taking the chance to add showreel material, pictures etc,. finally, I suggested adding an inexpensive USB flash drive as a way of proving them instantly with extremely high-quality content far more likely to catch their eye than the written words therein. If you believe that commissioning editors, powerful producers or studio heads that can all green light a project on their sole discretion are likely to be "bribed" by an included USB flash stick costing two pounds fifty well...carry on the way you are presently promoting yourself, if it's working for you, your career is charging along exceeding all your dreams and highest expectations, do carry on, but if not perhaps trying a new inexpensive, more imaginative initiative might be a way forward.
    regards Ray Brady

    11 months ago
    • Ray,
      Thank you for your contribution.

      I have received responses to my emails. (Some good agents only want email query letters, and so do some journalists.)

      Yes, it is valid that snail mail can get attention.

      I know some cases where USB sticks would be appropriate. However, for many film jobs 4k showreels aren't relevant. A script is a script (and usually needs to be preceded by a query letter.) A runner, an accountant, and many roles don't touch the recording devices, or if they do don't supply their own.

      Also, a Christmas gift of a showreel or headshot is not always appropriate. I guess it might have worked for South Park. :)

      Anyway, the original post was because I get a lot of emails that I want to reply to (including responses to my job posts) but that is difficult to reply to because it is unclear what the sender wants, when they are available, and so on.

      And, let's say you write a snail mail. If you get a weird USB stick from a total stranger, without a clear cover letter, would you look inside it? I think it still makes sense to know what to put in the cover letter.

      11 months ago