Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Understanding Script Coverage - Why do I need it?

Ok, so you keep hearing this word being tossed around and you have no idea what it is or why it has everybody losing their minds. Well, to be honest I haven’t quite understood why the industry puts such a heavy weight to Script Coverage because it’s a subjective process to some extent and depending on the weather, how your reader slept the night before or if they had the time to, you may get differing results.

Coverage is a written report, kind of like Cole’s Notes, design to give agents, producers, and execs a feel for your script without having to read the entire manuscript. Most of the honchos don’t have time to sit and read all day. They are busy making things happen (which is where you want them to be). A coverage report breaks your script down for them and presents it in a concise and skilful way that they can, at a glance, decide if they’ll have someone else read it for them... ;)

Seriously, a good coverage is what opens doors and gets everything moving for you.
In a coverage report you’ll have a few basic sections. First they will summary the script particulars, title, genre, # pages, the writer, who is doing the coverage etc. This is fairly standard.

Next, some give a logline for the script. It’s a good one liner that gets the point of the story across and creates some interest. (Writing a good one is a masterful skill that takes time to develop!).

Now Coverage Reports vary from one reader to the next and each company has their own specifics and order they want the info presented in, but at the end of the day they all have the same stuff in ‘em.

You will have a grading section. In this section you will be given a “Pass”, “Consider”, or “Recommend” rating in several categories.

Pass means that the work is not up to par or not desirable now (there are many reasons why this can be so, not all of them related to the quality of the source material). Usually, the work doesn’t receive further attention within the industry.

Consider means that the work as written has merit or shows promise and should be further assessed. A Consider evaluation can lead to the source material itself actually being read by a producer, executive or agent (between incessant parties, galas and exciting film opening events, of course), and/or more of the writer’s work being solicited for review by those in the industry.

Recommend is the highest acclaim, and not often conferred. The script, story, etc. is good enough in its current manifestation to warrant a read, and usually it will be read, often by a producer or someone in an industry decision-maker’s chain of command.

Some categories you may be graded on are, Premise, Plot\Storyline, Structure, Dialogue, Production Value, Project (as a whole) and, You the Writer. They may use a different rating system for these finer point of the analysis and give poor, fair, good and excellent ratings, but you will almost always get a Pass, Consider or Recommend for the Project and you as a Writer.

There is always a synopsis of the script. Some are a page but not usually more than three. This is a good tool for you because it will highlight the areas that caught the readers attention, and if you feel they missed important parts of the script. That likely means you missed too… Re-write them and punch them up and bring the reader’s attention to them!

The next common section is the Reader’s comments and opinions. Here you have 1 -3 pages of notes the reader feels are important. If you are paying someone for Coverage, this section is extremely important to you because this is where they will offer their ideas on missed opportunities and where you can make improvements. This is the section you are actually paying for! If you have a good reader (And I do – Thank god!), they will be to the point. They will not sugar coat their comments and they will offer suggestions and constructive criticism on how you can improve your project and make it Silver Screen worthy. Don’t argue! Fix it! They are right. Think of it like this. You are paying them to review your work. You are paying them for their opinion. So don’t call ‘em out ‘cause you don’t like what they have to say. My reader once told me she was going to spank me because she had to read a 105 page Romantic Comedy that didn’t have a kiss at the end. Even after I argued the “Sleepless in Seattle” point, I was put back into my place. She also told me that she told all her writing friends and they all had a good laugh at my expense. She is the best thing that has ever happened to my writing!

Now, this doesn’t mean you need to blindly obey your Reader's every whim. YOU are the writer! And YOU know your story! Or at least you should!!! So take what you’re given and put your spin on the ideas. Think of the comments as a recipe. It may call for Chocolate chips, but caramel or peanut butter chips might be just as good… So play around with the THEME of the suggestions. AND… RE-WRITE!!!! RE-WRITE, RE-WRITE!

I keep stressing this point, but its true… Writing and story development is an ever evolving process. You will never have a perfect script, and you’ll never be done with it. You WILL however get to the point when you are DONE with a script! That’s the point when you can’t look at it or read it without your jaw tightening and your mouth filling with that tangy pre-vom juice. Set it aside and work on something else… ANYWAY! Back on Topic!

After the summary or somewhere within the report there may be budget suggestions. I have no idea how accurate these estimates are… Usually they are vague enough to fall within your own idea of the Blockbuster production you’ve submitted.


Coverage is a tool! It is a great tool for you to gauge the preparedness of your script for Contest Submission, Queries to Agents, Prod Cos, and Producers. Unless you are getting a consider or recommend, forget it. Each year millions of scripts are sent to Hollywood for the Industry to peruse. Of those Millions, 98% of them end up in shredders and recycle bins. Of the remaining 2% you find such masterful creations as Waterworld, Eight Legged Freaks, and the Hills have Eyes 2. You also find the brilliance of Get Shorty, The Matrix trilogy, and Letters from Iwo Jima. I know, you’ve probably done the same thing I’ve done which is sit down in front of a movie for the night and spent 2 hours saying… How does shit like this get made when I’m not even getting optioned? I’ll let you know when I figure it out.

One of the benefits of having your script read professionally is the spell checking! Don’t give the industry a easy out as far as your script is concerned. Spelling is just as important as the plot. If a Studio Reader finds a typo in the first 10 pages, you’re done. Next, if you’re lucky, your service will send you a copy of your script with the notes the reader was making in the margins as they read. GREAT TOOL! You can see what they thought of scenes, page by page, sequence by sequence. They will frequently write rhetorical questions which is a clue that you need to answer them!

At the end of the day, Coverage is simply a tool in your arsenal that you can use to make your script a polished, presentable product ready to be marketed to Contests, Agents, and Producers alike.

Now get writing!!!

- G

1 comment:

  1. I have used the word TOOL enough in this Blog to indicate that I may in fact be a tool...

    - G