A few months ago Lisa Crafts suggested we do a write up on cover letters.
At the sample reel panel in Ottawa I actually learned a thing or two -mainly that I'm not the only person who reads cover letters.
Like the cover letter itself, I'll keep this basic.
1) Know who you're addressing. I actually like "Dear Mr. O'Connor..." but as other folks pointed out they're fine with a first name -as long as it's a professional name ("Dear Richard" not "Dear Rick" -Rick was my father). Conceding that decorum went out with Art Deco, I won't hold points against anyone for thinking we're on a first name basis.
Ms. is still an acceptable suffix. Miss is not. Really ever, but I'm not a Miss so it doesn't effect me. "Mrs." should only be used if you know the addressee is married.
If you're wonder how "Mrs." comes from "missus", it's because the word was originally "mistress."
You know how you find out whether someone is married: google. Producers will google you before an interview, it's only fair.
2) Once you know who you're address, make sure you're addressing the right person. I admit it, I've copy and pasted sales letters and instinctively hit send before changing the addressee. So I know that you're mass mailing your reel off an outdated weblist and have some sympathy.
Sympathy aside, it's completely amateur. It means your work now has something to overcome. Your first contact with a potential employer and you've made a mistake already. That reel has to be damned good now.
3) Get to point. "I've been working as a XXXXX for XX years. I would like XXXXX position with your company. I've done XXXXXX and XXXXXXX and would be happy to work in that capacity with you..."
It's a business letter. Business should be upfront and on the level. Say what you want and what you're will to accept.
Don't say you'll do "anything". "Anything do-er" isn't a position that's generally being looked to fill. The "Anything Do-er" is usually the kid of a friend or colleague who needs a summer/part time job (just being honest). Or they're the owner.
In any case, you're an animator (or compositor, or model builder). That's the job you're after. Anything different is a leap of faith and a negotiation.
4) Show familiarity with the work of the company you're applying to and make a connection. My work on "Project YYYYY" is similar to what you've done on "Film WWWWW". Not only does this show you actually have taken the 5 minutes to look at the website, you're making the recruiter's job easier by directing them to a specific piece of interest.
5) Use your 'ins'. Remember that kid who's the "Anything Do-er". Remember how nepotism got him his job. Those are the breaks.
There is always a tribal mentality at play with humans. Those already in the tribe have a much greater possibility of acceptance.
Let the studio know if you sat next to a staff animator at a screening of The Rugrats Movie when you were 14. Hopefully, you've got a better connection (a classmate, a friend, you had a conversation with the director at a talk) it doesn't matter -use what you've got.
6) You're not funny. Don't pretend to be. Just don't. You're not funny.
7) You're not Tolstoy, either. Keep it brief. The cover letter is to introduce yourself and give a context to your work. The reel and portfolio should do the talking.