MEET THE READER: A Response

A few weeks back, Chad Gervich created quite a stir when he wrote an article for this website advising aspiring screenwriters not to use script coverage services. As I am a professional script analyst who—in addition to assessing scripts for producers, production companies, and screenplay contests—works for a coverage service (ScriptXpert, which is owned by Final Draft, Inc., the company that also owns this website), I had some strong reactions to Chad’s piece. I posted some of them in the article’s comment section, but wanted to offer a more detailed and thoughtful response here.

For those that don’t know, coverage is the name given to the 3-5 page reviews written by script analysts (also known as readers) of the screenplays submitted to their employers (producers, production companies, studios). These reviews assess a script’s strengths and weaknesses in a number of areas (premise, story, characters, dialogue, writing), as well as its suitability for production (a judgment arrived at by considering the quality of each script along with the needs/interest of the production entity—for example, if the producer wants to make a horror film, then a reader obviously wouldn’t recommend a romcom). Coverage is an internal document used by a production entity’s development staff and principals as a guide when deciding whether or not to proceed with a particular screenplay. It is usually confidential and not distributed to the writers of the script or anyone else outside of the production entity.

Readers come in all shapes and sizes, but most have some sort of screenwriting or production background (either through education, industry experience or a combination of both). Some studios have teams of analysts on staff, although it is usually a freelance position with individual readers often working for several companies simultaneously. An analyst is usually the first person in a production entity’s development chain to read a screenplay. If the reader recommends the script, then the development staff will give it further consideration and then, if they like it, it will be passed along to the company’s principals, who make the final decision as to whether or not to proceed with the screenplay (to develop it, produce it, use the writer for another project, etc.). So, while the analyst is by no means the most important person in the script-vetting process, he/she does serve a very important, gatekeeping function. This makes the reader a key person for a screenwriter, because if the analyst likes your work, it can set things in motion; if he doesn’t, then that can be the end of it (at that particular company, anyway).

A number of years back, somebody conceived the notion to hire professional analysts to cover the scripts of aspiring screenwriters looking to break into the business. The idea was to give aspirants a sense of how the readers at the production entities that they hoped to submit their scripts to might respond to their material so that they could identify and address and problem areas before they exposed their work to industry scrutiny.

I thought it was a good idea then and I still think so today. As we all know, screenwriting is a highly competitive field and most writers only get one shot to submit their material to a given outlet (it’s extremely rare that any producer, rep, or executive will give a script it has passed on a second look, even if that script has been completely revised and improved), so I think anything that can help a writer make the best first impression possible and stand out from the thousands of so-so scripts that are floating around out there vying for readers’ attention is a good thing. Obviously, a lot of other people did too, because that first coverage service was very successful and before long a number of others had popped up as well (the company that eventually became ScriptXpert was founded in 2000. I have been with them since the beginning).

Gervich, however, does not think that script coverage services are a good thing and he has a number of reasons why, which I would now like to address:

1. Chad dismisses coverage services because “they can almost never give you what you need to succeed,” but then goes on to admit that his experience is in television, whereas most coverage services tend to work with screenplays rather than teleplays. The script assessment, acquisition, and development process in television is very different that of the feature world, so one of my big problems with Gervich’s article is that he is making assumptions about the usefulness of coverage services in a world he knows little about.

2. Chad doesn’t like script coverage services because most do not disclose the names of their analysts. This is true and there are several reasons for this. One is that—because reading is mostly a freelance position——reader pools tend to ebb and flow. Not all analysts are available at all times, so most coverage companies prefer to emphasize their overall service rather than specific readers. However, the primary reason that most coverage services do not reveal the names of their analysts is that this allows the readers to be completely frank. As mentioned above, industry coverage is usually confidential, prepared by a reader solely for the perusal of her/his employers and not meant to be shared with the writers of the script under review. Knowing this gives the analyst the freedom to assess a script as candidly as possible, without having to temper his opinion in order to avoid hurting the feelings of the author (not that anyone is intentionally seeking to say mean things, but every script has its flaws and a reader is no good to his employers if he pulls his punches in identifying them).

Since the purpose of a script coverage service is to provide a writer with an assessment that is as close to the frank coverage of the real world as possible, most grant their analysts anonymity so that they will feel free to give their honest opinions without having to worry about blowback from writers upset at how their work has been received. In this Internet age, it’s relatively easy for an aggrieved writer to track down a reader if he knows that reader’s name. I myself have been contacted several times by unhappy authors who managed to discover my identity. A few just wanted me to explain some of my objections to their work in greater detail so that they could do a better job of addressing them, but some chose to harass me in ways that were extremely unpleasant experiences that I do not care to repeat.

Chad disagrees with the reader anonymity policy—he feels that if you are going to entrust your script to someone and pay them to critique it, then you should know that person’s name and credentials. While I am generally in favor of the anonymity policy for the reasons outlined above, I will concede that Chad’s point is not an unreasonable one (although, to be fair, most prominent coverage services do post their readers’ credentials—or are happy to provide them upon request—even if they don’t reveal their names, which seems sufficient to me) and I would be willing to allow ScriptXpert to display my name as long as sensible safeguards were taken to protect my privacy.

As far as credentials go: I graduated from NYU’s film school and was a screenwriting fellow at the American Film Institute; I have written and co-written a number of produced teleplays and several screenplays (as yet unproduced, although several did get pretty far along in the development pipeline), as well as four film-related books; I served as a story consultant on the situation comedy Brothers, have read for Columbia, Castle Rock, Pandora, and many independent producers and production companies; I’ve also read for several screenwriting contests, including Open Door and Big Break™, and served on the final selection panel and jury for three of them; I have also worked as a script consultant for several independent producers and major screenwriters (whose names I cannot divulge due to confidentiality agreements), as well as for quite a few aspiring screenwriters.

One of the reasons that Chad feels that coverage service customers should know the identities of their readers is so that they can choose the person that will review their script (most coverage services assign readers on a random basis depending on who’s available). I have mixed feelings about this. On the one hand—yeah, sure, it makes sense why people might want to handpick the person that’s going to assess their material. On the other hand, I think that there’s a very good argument to be made that a random assignment of readers more accurately mirrors conditions in the real world, where you have no control over who is chosen to read your script. From this perspective, it really shouldn’t matter who covers your piece, as long as it’s a professional industry analyst, because your work needs to be good enough to impress even someone that you wouldn’t personally choose to critique it.

One of Chad’s positions that I absolutely disagree with is his contention—which presumably stems from the belief that only someone with a deep love for or experience with a particular type of film can identify a good piece of the same ilk—that only readers who are fans of a particular genre should review scripts from that genre.

To be fair to Chad, he claimed in some of his follow-up comments that this isn’t exactly what he meant, but then went on to repeat the same basic argument enough times that it was obvious that it is exactly what he meant. A lot of other people share his opinion, so I wanted to address it.

Basically, I find this to be an absurd assumption. Sure, a person that is passionate about horror movies or has been involved in a lot of them might do an excellent job of assessing a horror spec, but it is just as likely that such a person might also overlook the rote conventions and clichés of the genre because he/she is so familiar with them, whereas an analyst not nearly as immersed in the genre might bring a much more objective set of eyes to the piece. Ultimately, it comes down to the quality of the reader—a good professional analyst can put his own preferences aside and effectively evaluate any screenplay from any genre. For example, I personally loathe the Tarantino-esque crime movie and am bored to tears by the overdone (in my opinion) vampire genre, and yet two of the best scripts I’ve read in the past few years were from these categories. I knew they were good when I read them and I said so (and both have since gone on to do well in the marketplace, which I like to think shows that I have pretty good instincts about these things).

3. Chad feels that coverage services do not provide quality creative feedback because the analysts that work for these services are essentially mercenaries. To quote Chad: “If you want notes, suggestions, guidance, or thoughts on your script’s quality, they should come from someone who understands you, your vision, your goals, etc. – not a random, nameless reader just taking their $100 to write a report…[readers don’t have a] genuine investment in…you, your story, your process.” All I can say to that is: “Speak for yourself, Chad.”

Are there mercenary analysts out there that do a half-assed job? I suppose—there are slackers in every field. But I think Chad is being unfair when he implies that they are in the majority. Most of the readers that I know are like me— a conscientious professional that works very hard to do the very best job and provide the very best creative feedback that I can on every single script that I read, no matter where it is from (production company, agency, or ScriptXpert) or what I am being paid.

To do this, I do not need to understand the writer or his goals or his vision because none of that is important—at the end of the day, the only thing that matters is what is on the page. When I assess someone’s work, I react to the script that is in front of me–—to its story, its theme, its characters, and to how effectively it’s written. I spend a lot of time working to understand the script at hand—it’s narrative, it’s intentions, and its possibilities—and an equal amount of time crafting thoughtful suggestions to help make the piece the best it can be, but the writer is getting my response to what he/she has written, not what he/she intended to write or hoped to write or wishes they had written. I do this because producers, development execs, managers, and agents don’t care about a writer’s hopes or process—all they care about is if the screenplay in front of them is any good, which is all they should be caring about.

In his article, Chad recommended that writers use script consultants instead of coverage services, on the grounds that a consultant can give you more in-depth and personalized attention. He’s right—they can. By nature of the arrangement and working method, a consultant can take the time to really get to know you; to discern your intentions and how they may have been diverted on the way to your final production, and devise ways to implement recommendations that are harmonious with your specific process and technique. This is all well and good, but ultimately none of it matters unless it results in improved work on the page. Also, these services usually cost a lot more than coverage and can often be beyond the financial reach of beginning writers (to fill the gap, some coverage companies also offer consulting services—ScriptXpert has from its inception).

Don’t get me wrong—I think consultants are great (as I mentioned previously, I do a lot of consulting myself) and can be very helpful, but that doesn’t mean that the input you get from a script coverage service isn’t. I just wish Chad had been able to celebrate the former without trashing the latter.

4. Chad feels that reader’s opinions about a script are worthless in part because many of them have never developed a project. To me, this is a little like complaining that a doctor isn’t a good doctor because he’s never flown an airplane. If you define development as the process of reworking and refining a script after it has been acquired by a production entity to ready it for presentation to a studio and ultimately for production, then Chad’s is correct—most readers probably have not developed a script because they are readers and not development executives. Luckily, this doesn’t matter because coverage services are not offering to develop your screenplay, they are offering to give you a sense of how your script will be received when it is first submitted to a production entity (which, of course, has to happen before a script can be acquired for development in the first place). This is something that readers are well-qualified to do because it’s what they do every day.

5. Chad complains that coverage service readers aren’t qualified to tell you whether or not your script is “sell-able” because they do not have the inside knowledge that producers, agents, and managers have as to what sort of material the studios and networks are looking for right now at this very minute.

Leaving aside the fact that no one —no matter how inside—ever really knows for sure what studios and networks are looking for (because—as Gervich himself points out—it changes constantly), Chad is once again making a very broad assumption. Remember, most of the readers that work for the better coverage services also read for the same producers, managers, and agencies that Chad claims have the inside track as to what’s selling, so it’s safe to assume that a fair number of them are going to have at least a general sense of what’s “hot” out there. But even if they don’t, it doesn’t really make any difference, because, in the end, the only person that can really tell you if your script is “sell-able” is the producer or executive that decides to buy it. Anyone else’s opinion, no matter how inside, is only an educated guess.

Besides, most specs aren’t “sell-able” these days anyway. Why? Because we’re in an era when most of the major studios aren’t very interested in original material. Their primary concern these risk-averse days is developing projects based on pre-existing properties (hence the tidal wave of sequels, remakes, movies based on comic books, old TV shows, toys, and games), which is one of the reasons why spec sales have hit an all-time low in recent years. What studios are interested in is finding good writers that can transform these “branded properties” into exciting screenplays.

So the primary purpose of the modern spec script is not to serve as the basis for a potential film, but as a writing sample for its author to help him/her get hired on another project. In truth, this has always been the main function of an original screenplay. Even at the height of the spec boom, very few of the original scripts that sold for astronomical prices were ever actually made and, if they were, very few were shot as written. Instead, the original writers were usually discarded almost immediately and their scripts retained only as starting points for an endless series of rewrites by more established and better-known writers.

If you want to be one of those writers, then you need to write a dynamic original screenplay that will demonstrate your unique talents and perspective (every producer, executive, and rep in town will tell you that what attracts them most to a script is an “original voice”). That script needs to be the best that it can be and the feedback from a good consultant, from a good agent and/or manager, and yes, from a good analyst— whose entire professional purpose is to recognize quality work—can help you achieve this.

6. A number of coverage companies promise that if their readers recommend your script, they will then pass it on to industry contacts—producers, managers, agents, etc.—who have promised to give these submissions a look. In another of Chad’s broad assertions, he suggests that coverage services are pretty much lying when they make this promise.

He says that coverage services cannot get the ear of the industry because execs and producers and reps do not consider coverage services to be reliable sources of quality material. He’s right —– these folks don’t consider coverage services to be a steady font of solid scripts because they’re not. Coverage services work primarily with writers from outside the industry—scribes that are just starting out and have probably only written one or a few screenplays and so have not yet sufficiently developed their talents and abilities —so the odds of finding a fully-realized gem from these services are pretty low, but they do come along every once in a while.

And when they do? I can only speak for ScriptXpert, but I can assure you that if one of the service’s readers comes across a script that he/she thinks is worth recommending, then the company does indeed have a number of solid industry contacts that are willing to give it a look. ScriptXert does not promise that these contacts will buy the script or produce it or even like it——only that they will give it fair consideration, which they do.

Chad says that even if industry insiders agree to read a script submitted by a coverage service, they won’t make it a high priority. He might be right——all I know is that at ScriptXpert, almost all of the submissions the company has made have received a reasonably prompt and considerate response and that some of these responses have led to some very good results—representation; options; a few assignments—for the writers.

Are there coverage services out there that exaggerate their ability to get material read in the industry? I suppose there might be, but I have seen enough good things happen to feel that it’s not fair for Chad to issue such a sweeping denunciation.

In Conclusion:

So, should you utilize the services of a script coverage company? When it comes to creative endeavors, there’s nothing that you “should” do— as always, it’s a matter of individual need, process, and sensibility. But I do know that getting good feedback is essentially to crafting a solid screenplay. There are many ways to get such feedback–—you can give your work to friends and colleagues with professional experience or, as Chad suggests, you can join a writers group or employ a script consultant. And you can also give it to a good script coverage service.

Should you give it to just any service? No, of course not. As in any field, there are good companies and bad; honorable services and ones seeking to take advantage of those on the outside looking to get in. You should always be an informed consumer—research the people and companies that you are seeking to employ and get recommendations from fellow writers that have had satisfactory experiences with specific companies. The best coverage services will never claim—as Chad suggests that they do—to be a path around the system. Instead, they will provide you with solid feedback, some helpful advice, and possibly a few contacts.

That seems like a good deal to me.

21 thoughts on “MEET THE READER: A Response

  1. Pingback: The Value of Coverage – Addendum | ScreenCrafting

  2. My Own Advice

    I’ve written extensively for film & TV, worked as a story analyst for major studios, as a dev exec for a production company, and taught screenwriting for a almost a decade. The comments here from everyone is clearly well-intentioned, and I think in a way everyone is right. The simple truth is that not all notes are created equal. Some are brilliant, some are not. They can be incredibly helpful, or they can be far less than helpful. And unless you’re familiar with the source there’s no way you can be sure whether they’ll be worth your time or not. There’s a punchline to an old Talmudic story that, reworked a bit, can apply to both getting notes and giving them. “Do not do unto anyone else’s script that which you would not do unto your own – the rest is commentary, go and study.” Find someone you trust – be it a service or an individual – who will not use your script as a way to vent their own frustrations – but will rather critique it with the care and constructive attitude that they would want for their own work. But even if you find that – even if you get the best notes one can imagine – you still have to know how to execute them. How to make those thoughts come alive in your next draft. And for that, the best thing to do is to step outside the Hollywood wannabe runaround for a while, and work on your craft. Go and study, as the Talmudic sage said (it was Hillel). The more experienced you become, the more helpful anyone’s notes will be – because you’ll be better able to realize them.

  3. Brigit

    Most story analysts or “readers” are underpaid and overworked. Some are truly insightful, but others dash through scripts as quickly as possible. I worked as a story analyst for 10 years and it was one of the toughest jobs I’ve ever had. I wasn’t the fastest reader in the bunch, but I was dedicated and unusually thorough. I’ve read thousands of scripts and still get a thrill when that rare great one comes along.

    Unfortunately, there’s no money in script reading and as a result, readers tend to burn out quickly. If you have the extra money, I’d opt for a script consultant over script coverage service.

  4. Preston

    re: doug

    Why is it that Steven Spielberg is always the guy we have contact with in these far-fetched hypothetical scenarios?

    And until I do get to chat with Mr. Spielberg, a respected reader will work just fine for me. Validity aside, all opinions are not equal in terms of their strategic value. I’d much rather get a “consider” from a good analyst who has industry connections and a proven record than a “recommend” from one of my writing buddies.

  5. Ray Morton

    Hi Anthony,

    When you get similar responses to some aspect of your script from a number of sources, that’s a pretty good indication that that aspect is working or not working (depending on whether the response is positive or negative). If you get varying opinions, that usually indicates that the reactions are matters of taste — the aspect of your script in question works for some people and doesn’t for others. And in those cases, you have to trust your own voice and do what you think works best for your script and that best expresses your vision. To help judge dialogue, I always recommend that writers should hold readings — have people read the dialogue aloud and hear for yourself how it sounds. You’ll know pretty quickly if it flows or not.

    Good luck,

    Ray

  6. doug shear

    If you get coverage on a single script from several different sources, the opinions are so varied and contradictory as to be almost worthless – sort of like calling different IRS agents at tax time. That being said, you will learn something useful: trust your own judgement, because ‘expert’ opinion are no more valid than your own. Unless you are talking to Steven Spielberg, in which case, shut up and listen!

  7. Anthony Falcon

    I have to address Whatever and Mr. Morton, I agree with both. I actually just got coverage back from ScriptAWish today. And let me say it was great, it seemed very well thought out, and I know the guys over there are very professional with great credentials.

    I also sent the exact same script over to scriptxpert coverage, through final draft, also an extremely reputable company.

    At the end of the day both coverages were detailed and explained a lot — and the notes they agreed on, I won’t even give a second thought to. If two people are reading my script and they easily agree on the same thing to me, this is a problem that I need to address in my script. So I agree, Mr. Morton, sometimes, if there are more than one reader and they both get confused in the same area, I have to fix it.

    But here’s my other issue and it’s quite comical.

    Scriptxpert gave me feedback that I had great dialogue that flowed. They told me my characters had distinct voices. He said my dialogue felt film noirish, and on our telephone call he told me how much he liked the dialogue. It was some of the best he’s read in a while.

    Now ScriptAwish told me most of my characters sounded the same, the dialogue need major rewrites and it completely lacked subtext.

    Now, as a writer, who has sent my work into two very reputable services, for one to tell me the strongest part of my script was great dialogue that flowed, and that I write very distinct character, to then be told by another that it lacks subtext, needed major rewrites, and they all sounded the same — what does a writer do?

    Change the dialogue one loves for a hope the next loves it? How can I write characters with distinct voices yet be told by another all my characters sound the same?

    It seems like this coverage thing is more complicated than I thought.

  8. Pingback: The Pros and Cons of Script Coverage Services | LA Screenwriter

  9. Ray Morton

    Hi Folks,

    Thanks so much for the thoughtful comments and questions.

    @Kevin: I don’t disagree that, in general, over development and too much rewriting is often (but not always) counterproductive, but as Michael points out, this sort of rewriting happens after a script is acquired for production and usually not by the original writer. However, for a writer creating an original script and getting it ready to send out, I would say that rewriting it as many times as necessary to get it right is a must.

    @Stephanie: I was talking primarily about screenplays. I do think feedback is required to make any script the best it can be, so I think a review of a teleplay by a competent analyst can certainly be helpful. In the case of teleplays, however, I do think you need to make sure that the analyst is familiar with the show in question, since television shows are so dependent on established and continuing story elements.

    @Filmjeff and Anthony: You also have to remember that there is a big difference between projects that are generated and developed internally by filmmakers working for studios and spec scripts by outside writers peddled on the open market. Whatever one’s opinion is of Inception, it was never a spec script offered for sale that had to go through the development gauntlet, including initial exposure to a reader. That is the advantage of great success and a close relationship with studio executives. Spec scripts by outside writers will not have this advantage.

    @Dave: Exactly!

    @Leona: You’re welcome — glad the piece was helpful.

    @Whatever: No mater how good or bad, any kind of reaction — be it from an analyst, a consultant, or an exec — is ultimately just an opinion (hopefully an informed, educated opinion, but still just an opinion). You should use those opinions to inform your thinking about your script (my thought is that if a number of different readers say the exact same thing about your script — especially when identifying problems — then you should pay attention to those comments (since the piece is striking everyone the same way) and address problems accordingly. Ultimately, however, you have to make the final decisions about your work. If you believe in what you have, then you have to stick with it. Whether that connects with buyers or not is, as always, a matter of individual taste, timing, and luck.

    @Michael: Thanks, man!

    @Nick: Glad you have had a good experience!

    All the best,

    Ray

  10. Whatever

    @Michael

    They were all excerpts from various coverage provided from prodcos with studio level deals etc. I have similarly wide and varied reactions to 4 scripts. Everything from recommendations to buy to far from complimentary reactions on the same material. Often completely contradictory on the same points; character, dialogue, plotting, whatever.

    A recommend to buy doesn’t mean the script is good. A tear apart doesn’t mean the script is bad.

    It is a fallacy to think any single source is going to provide anything other than a single reaction. And that single reaction is _extremely_ unlikely to be any more valid than any other single reaction. Once a certain level of craft is achieved, luck is by far the largest determinant in the sale of a script. (And, I’d venture, the only one worth worrying about.)

  11. Nick

    I’ve used ScriptShark three times (twice on one script, once on another) and always felt it was well worth the money. Some coverage services have gotten a bad rap for coddling writers too much and giving them false hope; I don’t see that happening with ScriptShark at all. Their reviewers are brutally honest, not just about the weaknesses and failings they see in the scripts they read, but about the realities of the marketplace and the specific challenges a script might face if it went out as a spec. Since they’ve been retained to judge the TriggerStreet.com “Script of the Month” competition, you can read a number of samples of their coverage on that site. If the kind of feedback they give isn’t your cup of tea, then of course you should steer clear. But I’ve found them insightful and helpful.

  12. Michael FerrisMichael Ferris

    Ray,

    Excellent article! I know both of us kind of made our side of the debate known in the comments section of Chad’s article, but to see you pull everything so succinctly together is great.

    I think the main problem is that for every great, experienced, dedicated, acclaimed screenplay consultant there are about a thousand others with less development ability and care for their clients.

    I think that both of our companies (as well as Script Shark and ScriptPimp) are unique in that we DO pass on scripts to our contacts because every success story helps us as much as it helps our clients. I think it is this uniqueness that separates us from the others that Chad wrote about, and who he thinks of when he thinks “coverage”.

    @Kevin

    I agree that at some point, endlessly rewriting a script diminishes what it once was. The difference is that most of that happens AFTER a script is bought by studios and endlessly rewritten by other writers who don’t share the same passion and vision that was initially there. Services like mine help writers see how to rewrite their scripts so that a studio would want to buy it. But it’s getting it to that point that matters.

    @Whatever

    Unfortunately, I think that just goes back to getting coverage from readers without the pedigree, experience, and development ability to know what makes a good script or not. As with anything, there’s a ton of bad apples in a sea of a few good ones. It’s about doing the research into who has the credentials and testimonials (with full names of people, rather than just first name, initial) and deciding for yourself who will help you the most.

    At the end of the day, good coverage will give you detailed and specific notes on what works, what doesn’t, and specifics on how to fix what doesn’t. As well, they should give you solid ideas for adding what’s missing, and blunt assessment for whether it’s a commercial scrip that will sell (or how to make it so), or whether it could be a great writing sample (and how to make it so). In reality, those are the only two types of scripts you’ll want to write if you are interested in working in the studio system.

    Thanks again for the article, Ray!

  13. Anthony Falcon

    I have to disagree with you to a certain extent film Jeff. I easily understand the diff. I personally have made 6 shorts, 2 features, and a web series. My first feature took home 10 official selections across the country and 6 award nominations. I easily understand a script bs finished film and I was talking about inception the script, which is brilliant.

    I think you may make the mistake of assuming famous writers don’t have to put in the time to turn an amazing script, because that’s simply not true. Yor name doesn’t get you an automatic green light.

    This was found out with M Night at the height of his career. After sixth sense, unbreakable, and signs grossing huge amounts of dollars, he turned in his script for lady in the water, the studio said they hated it and he had to shop it around and find someone who would take a chance. I’m not saying that happens all the time, obviously movies like last airbender get made, but it’s not automatic green lights

  14. Whatever

    How about that coverage is random?

    I had a script that was a recommended as a buy at a couple of companies. The same script also received coverage comments such as:

    “… the writing was poor. Overwritten. Relied too much on description that got in the way of the storytelling.”

    “Great script. Solid writing.”

    “Just a middle of the road thriller.”

    “Definitely like the writer. Great characters.”

    “I didn’t get what writer wanted to do; disjointed, no continuity or flow.”

    “I think he’s really a good writer. I want to work with him.”

    Who to believe?

  15. Leona Heraty

    Ray, thanks so much for showing both opinions and allowing us, the readers, to make up our minds on what services are best for us. I was unsure before reading this article about the differences between script readers and script consultants, and now I know the differences and what to expect from each service. Plus, I didn’t know about ScriptXpert, and now I do! Thanks again for showing both sides of the coin and keeping us, the aspiring screenwriters, informed on the business side of writing screenplays.

  16. dave birch

    nice article…guess i fall in the middle somewhere…i’ve had coverage from a service that cost more than the “puppy mill” coverage services and was completely satisfied…the reader was not anonymous…she was very poignant, well versed in the genre, and enthusiastic about spending time with my phone consultation (in fact, it lasted well past the hour included in the service)…i’ve also used (because of another’s recommendation) the low end coverage service and it was exactly as was described in the previous article…”cut and paste” comments…the reader was ignorant of the genre and previous films of the genre (even the one’s that won academy awards!)…i wouldn’t use them again if they were free…so, the moral of the story is do some research and you’ll probably be satisfied…

  17. Filmjeff

    I think Anthony makes the same assumption a lot of people do that you can compare finished films and their scripts. Regardless of the merits of the original “Inception” script and what readers may have thought of it, if you are Chris Nolan with “Black Knight” under your belt, your script will receive a favorable reception. Chris Nolan can probably get a favorable recommendation for an unformatted, misspelled notion for a movie written on the back of an envelope, but none of that has relevance to an unproduced writer.

    I would not expect much beyond a thumbs up/down, where are the big holes? from a reader providing coverage. I expect a lot more from a script consultant and have had nothing but praise for the exceptional notes I have received in the past. You get what you pay for.

  18. Stephanie Moore

    Hi,

    I’m primarily writing specs for television, so I was wondering what your opinion is on using coverage services for television writers. It sounded like you were speaking mostly of screenplays in the article, so I’m curious to hear your thoughts.

    Thanks,

    Stephanie

  19. Kevin Reily

    Really enjoyed your article, Ray, but I have a different question.
    Endlessly rewriting scripts, I feel, ruins them more than helps them. A very well known journalist, author, and former studio exec, made this statement. And, sadly, I tend to agree.

    When he worked for Paramount and another major, he did a simple test.
    He read the scripts that were originally purchased, then compared them to the finished
    project on the screen In an overwhelming percentage of the cases, the original script
    was better. It’s not called “development hell” for nothing.

    When it comes to development, I feel more often than not, it should be called
    “dismantling”. So many scripts are purchased because they are good, yet
    end up being rewritten and diluted to such an extent no one can remember what they liked about it in the first place.

  20. Ray Morton

    Hi Anthony,

    Thanks for your response. As I said in the piece, I agree you have a right to know who your reader is and I agree with your point that communication is key in any kind of advice-giving situation, since clarity is hard to achieve without it. It sounds like a more one-on-one relationship with a consultant might work better for you at this stage of your process. Be aware too that ScriptXpert offers an option that allows your to talk with your reader to discuss the notes as well. That might be an option for you also.

  21. Anthony Falcon

    Love the article Ray,
    Until recently I have been using scriptxperts coverage service, and until this last time I was extremely impressed. I will agree with you that my last few coverages laid out exactly how the reader took in my script. It gave their assessment, and it was valid.

    The problem I had, was when I rewrote based on the readers notes, and sent it back to the same reader through coverage. The reader was not sure why I made certain choices, and disagreed with some of them.

    But the part that was hard for me, was I was trying to use coverage to help me get the best script possible to use as a writing sample, and it didn’t really work out well.

    I got a lot of repetitive notes vs. addressing the changes I did make. Half of the things added to the script were never mentioned. And here is where I think, maybe consultants may be better suited. I write a certain genre of a film. I write a film that is not completely told linear — now because of the reader’s identity being a secret, I don’t know how well the reader would ever recommend my non linear story.

    Now as you said, a reader SHOULD be able to be professional, but if a person hates movies like “The Pledge,” “Memento,” or “21 Grams” why would it benefit me to have that person assess my script. They may never fully fall in love with those films. I recently read an article where a person was describing how flawed the screenplay for “Inception” was, no offense, but to think that if I ever wrote something as brilliant as “Inception” that it would get a pass from an secret reader is hilarious to me.

    Now to see if the first reader is correct in his assessment of my genre pic, (by the way, I listened to a ton of his notes, because they were extremely well fit, but on story structure and how it’s told, this becomes a very creative art form, if a reader told Nolan to not play Memento backwards, it would not be the brilliant piece it is, if they told 21 Grams it was too confusing, it would have not been the masterpiece I think it is.) I am now seeking someone who reads in my genre who I know their credentials to see if it fits. I must admits, if a guy who loves, or worked on films similar to “The Pledge,” or “Memento” doesn’t like my script of a similar story telling method, I think that says a lot. But I only know that by if I know my readers identity, and to be honest, I am the one paying the fee here.

    The second problem I have is my reader didn’t like a few format choices I made, and in the second script he flat out said “Why didn’t you listen to me on the format suggestions.” That being said, I don’t have his phone number or name to discuss with him the fact that I sent the formatting scenes to Dave Trottier, the formatting expert who writes a formatting column for Script magazine, and the expert told me don’t change a thing. Why in the world would I listen to a guy who I don’t know over a guy who I can read all of his credentials?

    If I had a consultant, and I knew who they were, I would call them and tell them what Trottier told me, and I would not have these obstacles, because I would have the one thing that lacks in a coverage service — two way communication. (Bear in mind, I can pay almost 100 dollars for that communication, but after those prices, and the prices of coverage, why not hire a consultant)

    I agree that coverage services provide a valuable service, I have had great experiences with them, but as far as the nitty gritty of developing a script to go out to market with, I do believe the vail of secrecy of who my reader is creates a problem. I’m not saying I don’t understand why you do it, I do — but it may be the reason I go elsewhere as I had to this time. Communication is key

COMMENT