PRIMETIME: Why You Shouldn’t Use a Script Coverage Service

Today’s question comes from Anthony, who responded to my March 4th post, “Why Winning a Contest Rarely Gives Your Script an Edge.” Anthony writes (I’m abridging for time/length)…

Let’s say a writer takes things seriously… studies the books (Trottier, Snyder, Field, etc.)… signs up for a few classes on the Writer’s Store to be evaluated by professionals.

[He] writes a screenplay… sends it in for coverage from a professional coverage service. Revises it based off their notes, sends it in again and gets a \recommend\ grade.  Maybe he even pays [a script coverage service] to develop a killer log line.

How does he let people know this is a writing sample he is trying to use to get more work? Once you have written something that a professional service considers great, how do you get people to know this is your writing sample and you are a writer?

This is one of my favorite recent posts, because it gives such insight into the strategies and processes of writers fighting to break in.

Now… before I answer this, a disclaimer: I am answering this based only on my experience in television, where I’ve worked as a writer, producer, and executive.  I can’t speak for the film world (but I’m willing to bet most of this still holds true).

So, Anthony, let me first answer a larger question, which you didn’t actually ask:

STOP USING PROFESSIONAL COVERAGE SERVICES.

They’re a waste of your time, your hopes, your creative energies.

Not because they’re no good; their “readers” and “consultants” may be literary geniuses—it doesn’t matter.

They’re a waste of time because, by design, they can almost never give you what you actually need to succeed.

Here’s why…

1.  You rarely know who’s reading your script.
For $100, I'll read your script.  Trust me, I qualified.

For $100, I'll read your script. Trust me, I'm qualified.

Some coverage services use “faceless” readers and consultants; you send in your script, it comes back with a shiny, professional-looking report.  But you have no idea who actually did the work.  Was it someone who spent 20 years as the VP of Development at Sony Television?  Or someone who spent six months as an assistant for a boutique talent agency?

In some regards, it doesn’t matter.  I’ve known assistants who gave phenomenal notes and coverage… and I’ve known higher-ups who couldn’t articulate a thought to save their lives.

But when you partner, as a writer, with a specific company or producer, at least you’re making that decision with your eyes open.  You may not know they’re going to give horrible notes or guidance, but you knew who you were getting in bed with; you had an opportunity to ask around, gauge their reputation, or—at the very least—look at other movies or shows they’ve worked on.  But many coverage services offer little, if any, information about who’s reading your work.

Some services do allow you to pick your reader, but they don’t give you the person’s real name.  So your only knowledge of the person advising you—on the most important thing you’ve ever written—is a short paragraph… which may or may not be accurate.

The point is… you don’t know.  Your comedy script could be read by an action fan. Or someone who hates period pieces. Or a low-level exec who has worked at a ton of great companies… and was fired from each because he has poor development instincts.

Your script could even be read by the exact right person… or the exact wrong person.

And if you’re going to spend money to have someone help you perfect your script, you should know who’s helping you.  You should find someone who understands you, your writing process, the story you want to tell, how you see the world.  You are, essentially, looking for someone to be a creative/spiritual coach… even if for only a few brief moments.

Going to a coverage service is like flipping through the phone book to find a therapist.  You might get the exact right person reading your script… but I wouldn’t put money it.

2.  It doesn’t matter if they like your script.

Maybe you’re not looking for a “creative/spiritual coach” to get in the trenches and improve your writing. Maybe you just want a quick opinion on the quality or sale-ability of your script.  Would/could your script get through the reader/evaluation process at a network, studio, or agency? Fair enough.

So you send in your script, and the coverage comes back positive. Maybe even glowing. So what?

This means nothing. Why?…

Well, first of all, you don’t know who “liked” (or “disliked”) your script. It may have been read and covered by someone who has never developed an actual project. It may have been read by someone who loves anything about aliens. Or someone who hates anything about aliens. In other words, you have no idea what factors may be informing their opinion. (And while you may not know who’s reading your script when you send it to CAA, or Universal, or Imagine… you’re not paying these people to read you. Plus, you can research these companies, understand their “personality” or what they like… so while you may not know precisely who’s reading you, you can have a sense of what they might respond to.)

But more importantly…

The opinions of a random, generic reader do not reflect what’s sell-able.

In other words, studios and production companies aren’t looking to buy great scripts. They’re looking to buy great scripts of specific ideas they want right now.

When I was an executive (with a company based at NBC Studios and, later, Paramount), we used to have specific areas we wanted to develop in: male-driven romantic comedies, female-driven action shows, aspirational reality, whatever. Sometimes we got more specific: spy shows about married couples, teen shows about girls with powers, family dramedies with a dog.

Sometimes we were basing these “areas” on what we knew studios or networks wanted to buy. Other times they were just areas that interested us; we’d read a novel or seen a play that inspired us. Many times they were just areas particular people had a passion for; one exec loved animals… another was a rock fan… another liked 80s comedies.

It changed all the time… and the only people who knew what we wanted at any given time were the agents, managers, producers, and execs who checked in on a regular basis (just like we did with other companies). Not once… I repeat: not once… did we ever receive a call from a coverage service asking what we were looking for or buying.

This may be a great idea for a script... but is it the great idea someone is looking for RIGHT NOW?

So… you might have the world’s best written horror script about vampire cats terrorizing a trailer park. A hundred “coverage readers” may tell you it’s wonderful; they may even claim to pass it on to great production companies where they have “connections.” But unless they’re so connected that they know what specific companies are actively looking right now… and which specific company wants horror scripts about vampires or animals… all their recommendations are worthless—just like the money you gave them to read the script.

(And FYI– if these people had their fingers on the pulse of what production companies and studios were actively seeking, they wouldn’t be working at coverage services; they’d be working at agencies or management firms or studios. Agencies and studios have people who track this stuff on a daily basis—which is how quickly it changes.)

Now, to be fair, I used to work as a reader at several places (CAA, NBC, and a couple film companies that no longer exist) and rarely did I know exactly why I was reading something. They never said to me, “Evaluate this as a writing sample for rewrites,” or “We’re looking for an action-comedy for Tom Cruise.” I would just go in, pick up a stack of scripts, and go home. However… there had been a vetting process before me. For instance, at NBC I was reading specifically for the movies and minis department; any script I picked up had already been deemed a possibility for a MOW or mini-series. At CAA, scripts were sent to my boss (who would dole them out to readers) for very particular reasons… even if the other readers and I rarely knew what those were. Sometimes, I would learn afterward, agents wanted the script read to see if the script had opportunities for a specific actor– or for CAA talent in general. Other times, the scripts were written by an up-and-coming writer for consideration on another project (I once read an unproduced script by Josh Friedman, who went on to write War of the Worlds and create Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles), and to this day it remains one of the greatest things I’ve ever read (alongside J.J. Abrams’ Alias pilot script; they’re two of the most jaw-dropping pieces of writing ever). But never– not once– did I read a script submitted by a random writer for “general” evaluation; everything I read was being read for a specific purpose… even if I didn’t always know what that purpose was.

(Another FYI—I am not saying coverage services can’t provide insightful coverage on your script. What I’m saying is that they’re rarely tuned in to the market enough to offer relevant “sale-ability” feedback. And while they may tell you whether or not your script is “good,” I refer you back to point #1: it’s usually not helpful just to know whether or not your script is “good.” 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.)

3.  Execs, producers, and agents do not rely on these services.

This may be the most important reason of all. Despite what coverage services tell you, most of them do not have the ear of studios, production companies, agents, or managers.

Sure, they may know people at those companies; they may have friends who work there, or old colleagues… they may even have an “open invitation” to send over material.  But execs and producers do not look at these services as reliable places to find material.  They may occasionally accept “submissions” from these places, but—I promise you—those submissions mostly go into the execs’ “low priority piles;” the piles of contest winners, cold queries, unsolicited submissions, babysitters’ boyfriends, etc.

After all, producers and studios, while eager to find fresh new material, have limited time, energy, and resources… which is why they return to the same wells over and over: the agents, managers, and colleagues who have repeatedly recommended stellar, buyable material. Producers and execs may occasionally try new places (I used to like going to plays… a co-worker would read independent comics…), but these sources rarely yield huge amounts of rewards.

Advising execs and producers throughout Hollywood

Advising execs and producers throughout Hollywood...

Execs and producers—to paraphrase TLC—don’t have much time to go chasing waterfalls, so they stick to the rivers and lakes that they’re used to. Which means they sometimes miss wonderful diamonds in the rough… or brilliant scripts and writers trying to break in… but the truth is: most scripts and writers trying to break in aren’t worth reading. And while yours may be the exception, it’s usually not cost-effective to spend too much time looking for exceptions.

(Coverage services obviously know this… which is why they claim to offer whatever writer wants: insightful professional feedback, a path around the system, etc. But these services aren’t usually a path around the system, and their insightful professional feedback may or may not be that “insightful” or “professional.” Yet like airport security, they offer writers an illusion, the belief that they’re doing the right thing.)

(And for the record… I don’t think most of these services are doing this maliciously; they’re not scams. They’re simply, like the writers they try to help, working outside a system that won’t let them in.)

So, to recap quickly, you shouldn’t be using coverage services because…

•  You shouldn’t be getting “intimate” development guidance from a stranger who doesn’t know—or have a genuine investment in—you, your story, your process.

•  The opinion of a random reader is irrelevant and doesn’t usually reflect the marketplace (a random reader may be able to tell you if your script works or not… but then I refer you back to #1).

•  Most legitimate companies, the kinds of companies these services claim to connect you with, don’t actually utilize or rely on these services.

So then… WHAT DO YOU DO?!

If you’re a struggling writer looking for development notes, guidance, feedback… where do you turn?

1. JOIN A WRITERS GROUP

Find one already established… or, if you can’t find one you like, form your own! This should be a group of professional-minded writers intent on improving their work for sale, production, or publication; it should not be composed or both hobbyists and professional-minded people. The group should consist of people who share and understand the same goals… and are, therefore, looking for a similar experience: to share their material, give each other feedback, and/or offer professional advice.

Ideally, you want people who know and understand you, your work, your goals, your vision, etc. This may mean assembling a group of old colleagues or friends; or it may mean finding people—through work, church, online, whatever it takes—who share your goals and sensibilities.

2.  HIRE A PROFESSIONAL CONSULTANT

This is different than a coverage service. A consultant sits down with you… talks to you… gets to know you, your project, your perspective, your tastes, etc. They’re a true coach, working closely to help improve both your script and your writing abilities.

Beware, however: do NOT hire just “anyone.” This industry is FULL of unqualified “consultants” who have no real experience and no business advising writers or developing projects. Read. Research. Interview. You want someone who has extensive professional experience working with writers and developing projects (similar to yours). People like Jen Grisanti or Carole Kirschner, who have had long careers as bona fide execs and producers, working with writers at all levels.

(DISCLAIMER:  I’m friends with both those women, and I’m not using their names to give them plugs, I’m just using them as examples of people I consider qualified to do this work. They may be completely wrong for your project. For example, I’ve done consulting myself, but there are plenty of projects and genres I just wouldn’t be qualified to do… and a good consultant should tell you whether or not they think they’re right to help with your material.)

You’ll probably spend more money on a consultant than you would on a coverage service, but it’s money much better spent.

Now, if you’re not looking for creative feedback… if you’re looking to know whether or not there’s a market for your script… or for connections and recommendations… again, stay away from coverage services.

(As a general rule, you should never be paying, up front, for someone to recommend or peddle your material. Agents and managers are paid to sell your work, but they work on commission… so they only take clients they believe in… and only get paid when those clients get paid.)

This is where you need to build and utilize your own professional network, so you can get direct, accurate, up-to-date information from your own trusted contacts and relationships.  You can also call on these people to pass along your scripts or recommend you to other professionals… and a recommendation from someone who knows you personally is infinitely stronger than a recommendation from a service who was paid, up front, to pass you along (even if they claim to have a “vetting process”).

  • So, how do you build a professional network? (I’ve talked about this extensively on this blog, so I won’t go into detail)…
  • Get a job in the industry, even a low-level job as an assistant, intern, PA, or runner.
  • Join professional networking groups like JHRTS, HRTS, or Connecting Reality.  (These particular organizations are geared toward TV, but I’m sure there are corresponding groups in the feature world.)
  • Attend panels and special events put on by professional guilds and organizations like the WGA, SAG, PGA, or DGA.
  • Join industry-oriented clubs or groups through schools, alumni organizations, churches, etc.

As your network grows, you’ll identify people who can give you accurate info and helpful recommendations… and these will be much stronger than recommendations, or information, you “buy” through a coverage service.

Hopefully, you’ll also meet people willing to read your scripts, give you constructive feedback, and pass them along to producers, execs, or buyers—which is exactly what you hoped the coverage services would do. Only this is a much, much stronger… and cheaper!… path.

Anyway, Anthony, thanks a million for your question… and I hope this answer was helpful. If you—or anyone else—have other questions or comments, please don’t hesitate to post them in the comment section below, or email me at chad@chadgervich.com

27 thoughts on “PRIMETIME: Why You Shouldn’t Use a Script Coverage Service

  1. Pingback: How To Play The Trombone In 10 Easy Lessons, Or One Hard One | Script Gods Must Die - Chicago Screenwriting Consultant

  2. Script-Fix

    The label “coverage” is getting a bad press, when it really shouldn’t. The phrase “script coverage” is really a catchall to describe a bunch of services from reader reports to story notes to development analysis etc. It’s a shorthand way to allow for the writer to find a script service and for that service to advertise to said writer (few people google the phrase “script development” for instance). Most if not all coverage services offer development notes — it’s just not expedient (lack of pithiness) to advertise that service in that way for the most part.

    The argument that a given script service is unable to build relationships or foster a creative partnership with a writer in the development process of one or many screenplays runs contrary to my professional experience.

    What you derive from all this is a rather thin anecdotal assertion that: “ALL coverage services are BAD … while all CONSULTANTS are GOOD”. And that “usually” a reader remaining anonymous is indicative of incompetence, or it goes to undermine their credentials or qualifications, and furthermore, renders the coverage (whether that be 15 pages of development notes or a 2 page industry-style report) relatively worthless in comparison to say a consultant with a somewhat larger bio page replete with headshot, and a script hotline.

    Really!?

    Founder
    Script-Fix.com

  3. Anonymous (Not That Anonymous)

    I could not agree more.

    A short example for you. My last script was heavily negatively beaten down by a coverage service. I took a few of their suggestions and disregarded the bulk of their suggestions.

    Guess what? I won a nice handful of festivals, placed in most of the remaining festivals I didn’t win, and there was only a small portion of the festivals I entered that I did not achieve anything.

    So I got to discuss my script with some of the festival heads. Basically my question was “why did I win?”. Their answers included some of the very things the script coverage service suggested I change.

    Coverage is relative to a degree. But some of it is not relative such as story structure, proper grammar (a few exceptions in dialogue), spelling , etc. Beyond that again much of it is relative.

  4. Pingback: Best Blogs: Chad Gervich-Scriptmag.com | Script Gods Must Die - Chicago Screenwriting Consultant

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

  6. Brian

    Brian from Screenplay Readers here. I started my online company in 1999, after covering scripts for Roger Corman and others for several years.

    1) My clients are not just screenwriters. They’re agents, producers, managers.

    2) Fully 40-50% of the writers who use my coverage service are repeat customers, yet we do not offer any sort of repeat coverage incentives, nor BAIT them into ordering more coverage.

    3) Script coverage online has been bashed since day one, because it’s the single-easiest way for “script consultants” and “script gurus” to demonstrate how different and better THEIR services are.

    4) Bashing script coverage is an evergreen pool of blogbait, so you’ll see it pop up at least once per year on every major screenwriting blog or forum. No disrespect intended, Chad. I do the same thing on my blogs.

    5) I’ve met 3 writers in 12 years who were able to afford a script consultant.

    6) I’ve never heard of a script coverage company who rips off screenwriters.

    7) I HAVE seen a lot of regular Joe’s throw up a site and start selling script coverage. I have no problem with new merchants setting up shop. It keeps me on my toes, and who knows? They could be better at offering value to their customers than I, so maybe I can learn something.

    Who wants to swap exit traffic?

    Love,
    Brian
    Screenplay Readers

  7. Jim Cirile

    Chad makes some great points here, especially with regard to joining a writers group. But the central thrust of the piece is off the mark, at least as far as Coverage Ink is concerned. Yeah, there are *plenty* of lame coverage services (and just as many overpriced, equally lame consultants. FYI, I wrote the original ‘Analyzing the Analysts’ article for Creative Screenwriting in 1999 that led directly to the founding of Coverage Ink.) And oftentimes with those services you are throwing away your $$$ on a few pages of useless commentary whose opinion isn’t worth a hill of beans, wherein the analyst uses your screenplay as a forum to take out his frustrations over his own lack of screenwriting success. And this is equally true of the cut-rate coverage ‘companies’ (more often than not some intern with a web site) as well as the bigger coverage services.

    None of this is the case with Coverage Ink. I hand-pick every one of our team, and I have fired plenty of guys who continue to work for other coverage services. Our guys MUST have solid development chops as well as the ability to present notes in an empowering way, so that the writer does not feel humiliated for having sent the script along in the first place. And yeah, while typcial studio or agency coverage by itself is pretty useless for development purposes, that’s not what we provide. That stuff is not meant to be seen by the writers and is for internal purposes only. Our ‘coverage’ is a thorough analysis specifically designed to point out the good, bad and ugly and in particular to offer solutions. So the comment about coverage NOT being a great development tool–I take serious issue with this. It’s not only wrong, it demeans what we do. Case in point: thanks to the ‘not great development tool’ offered by my own company, I recently signed with a major management company. My new spec went through literally 17 drafts working hand-in-hand with the Coverage Ink team until it was tight enough to bounce quarters off of.

    As the writer of this article likely knows, I also write for Script, as well as Creative Screenwriting, and for ten years I have been giving back everything I’ve ever learned about the business to writers in the form of articles, columns, videos, newsletters (www.coverageink.blogspot.com), and yes, coverage, at a price writers can actually afford.

    In conclusion, definitely some good advice here. DEFINITELY, let the buyer beware. Absolutely do your due diligence. There were 73 coverage companies at last count. there were FOUR when I started Coverage Ink! But there’s a reason we were named “Cream of the Crop” in the 2010 Creative Screenwriting user survey. All coverage companies are not created equal, and all coverage does not suck.

    As for this article, let’s go with ‘consider with reservations.’

    Cheers,

    JC

  8. Chad GervichChad Gervich Post author

    And the point goes to… Not Selling Or Promoting Anything!

    I am nothing if not long-winded and repetitive, and besides… what’s the fun of having a blog if you can’t make people read your same recycled thoughts over and over and over again?!

    Having said that… your post isn’t entirely accurate or fair, either.

    The bio on my website DOES gloss over details of my early experience… but there’s a difference between condensing info about early, entry-level jobs (where you “cut your teeth”) and glossing over later, more current info… including where you ended up. I don’t expect anyone to detail their full biography, but I DO expect people to A) use their real names, and B) be forthcoming about where they work now—or worked most recently—and/or the most relevant projects or companies they were involved with. And my bio specifies that. (To be fair, it needs to reflect “After Lately,” my current show, but other than that, it’s up to date.)

    (Also—yes, those early jobs are assistant, reader, PA, and C.E. jobs.)

    If someone’s ONLY been an assistant or reader, that doesn’t mean they’re any less intelligent or qualified… it should just be disclosed. And contrary to what you suggest in your post, I DON’T think people need to “seek out a consultant at the SVP level.” I do, however, think paying customers have a right to decide for themselves who they want to hire… and if someone WANTS an SVP-level consultant, they should have that right. Their goal may be a bit misguided, but at least their misguidance comes from themselves. (FYI—one of the best TV note-givers I know is an aspiring writer who’s only worked as a reader and low-level reality producer… but I LOVE getting his feedback. He gives better notes than most upper-level execs I know. And while, granted, he’s a friend, so I know him personally, I’m not under any illusions about his professional level. It doesn’t make a difference, but I KNOW.)

    As for having “my finger on the pulse of the feature world,” I was pretty upfront in the blog post, that I DON’T have my pulse on the feature world. In fact, here’s my quote: “I am answering this based only on my experience in TELEVISION… I can’t speak for the film world.”

    I do, however, know enough about features to know you’re right about something else… SVP’s do not “coddle” professional writers or have conversations about their vision and process. But I never said they do. That’s not an execs’ job. I do, however, believe it’s A GOOD CONSULTANTS’ JOB… no matter what level they’re at.

    Lastly, it misses the point to say “there are many valid reasons why a ‘valuable’ reader may not want to disclose their identity” on coverage/script-reading sites. Or rather, that valuable reader may have his/her “valid reasons” to remain anonymous; my advice to writers is “IF YOU CAN’T RESEARCH SOMEONE EFFECTIVELY, DON’T USE THEM.”

    You wouldn’t use an anonymous plumber. Or an anonymous surgeon. Or an architect who didn’t tell you what else she’d designed. Or a lawyer who glossed over his past experience. So why a consultant?

    In other words, I get why a consultant might want to remain anonymous… I just don’t get why a writer would want to use them.

    Now, maybe some writers don’t care about researching their readers or consultants. Personally, if I’m hiring someone to help me—even briefly—with a career-changing piece of work, I want to hire the person most suited to that piece. It could be an SVP or it could be an intern… I just want to A) make the decision with my eyes open, and B) feel I’m selecting the exact right person. And I’d advise ANY writer to do the same.

    Okay… I’ll stop there. (But I’ll repost these same thoughts later, longer and slightly reworded!)

  9. Not Selling or Promoting anything

    Chad, how many times are you going to reiterate what you’ve already said in your article and multiple comments? Geez! If your development notes at Warren Littlefield’s company were often this long-winded, it’s no wonder you found more success in reality and non-scripted television. According to your bio, that does seem to be where the majority of your expertise lies. (for the newbies out there, these are VERY different mediums from scripted TV and of course, film – which require a different set of skills).

    Actually, it’s somewhat amusing that much of the finer details you’d like to see these coverage services disclose, are details that are missing on your website as well. For instance, “Prior to being an exec, Chad cut his teeth in development and production at NBC Studios, CBS Productions, and 20th Century Fox, where he worked on such shows as Malcolm in the Middle, Girl’s Club, The Wanda Sykes Show, and Star Search.”

    How were you cutting your teeth exactly? As a PA, an intern, an assistant? In what capacity did you work on these shows? If people are PAYING for your services or even just your book – don’t they have a right to know the EXACT details of your entire professional history?

    My point of contention on that is that many readers at the reputable services are similar to you…long resumes, with varying experience at each company, some of which is less relevant than others. There are many valid reasons why a ‘valuable’ reader may not want to disclose their identity on these sites. If YOU truly had your finger on the pulse of the feature world, you might understand that. MANY execs. are out of work these days and not all were well payed enough to sit back and enjoy unemployment while the economy works itself out. Not all want their peers to know what they are doing for extra cash.

    The worst thing you could do for writers looking to get an ‘inside’ opinion (at the very least) – is chase these exec.’s (or ex-exec’s) away.

    And what you are suggesting they do as far as seek out a consultant at the SVP level (I know, I know – that’s not what you said verbatim, no need to rewrite your article again) – is ludicrous for most people. It would be cost prohibitive.

    Not to mention, a person at that level would never even give the kind of attention you are talking about – if the script was optioned at their company! Get to know the writer’s vision and their process? Are you kidding? The professional writer is not coddled like some gifted child – they have to deliver revisions with multiple people’s notes. If they are lucky enough to get paid to do it again with the next draft – they get to rewrite their script to get even more notes. At which point, another writer is brought in to do the next revision on ‘their’ script.

    Come on. It’s not that much money. It’s coverage. This is what happens to their screenplays anyway, once they do get that ‘lucky’ contact to hand it off to their neighbor exec. who just gives it to the intern to read and cover. It’s not a bad idea to know if their script will be trashed before submitting it. In fact, it’s not a bad idea to get coverage from several different sources.

    I’m fairly sure you don’t really think an LA based coverage service is secretly outsourcing to readers who’ve never left New Hampshire. I think you were just trying to cover your butt when the other comments got heated :-_).

    I realize my post got very tedious and long, as well. Just couldn’t stop once I got going.

    Cheers!

  10. Chad GervichChad Gervich Post author

    Hey, folks—

    Hadn’t checked in in a few days… but loving this discussion!

    PRESTON—hilarious post! I have to say, I tip my hat to Final Draft, “Script,” and ScriptXpert. I’ve worked for places that WOULDN’T let this discussion go on, but I think it’s awesome that they have. (I once worked for a Fox TV show that would erase all negative comments from the show’s posting boards. People quickly stopped posting at all—and the show eventually died. Now, I definitely don’t think the died BECAUSE people stopped posting or had their comments erased, but it certainly wasn’t a way to encourage fans.)

    I think “Script” realizes the value in becoming the go-to place for screenwriters to openly discuss all things screenwriting, good or bad… and they’re doing a great job of that by nurturing discussions like this.

    SAM—I totally agree; the size of the company… or the level of the reader… has little bearing on whether or not someone is a competent, articulate consultant/reader/advisor. My point isn’t that consultants or readers should only be of a certain level… or come from a certain size company… it’s that consultants or coverage services should be FORTHCOMING with information so that clients and writers can make their own decisions. One writer may not care what level his reader is at… but someone else might. Another client—for whatever reason—may only want someone who has been an SVP… or worked at a company specializing in kids movies… or has had extensive experience in low-budget indie films. I’m not saying one of these is better or worse than the other… I just think the PAYING WRITER/CLIENT should be given the power to decide. And when consultants and script coverage services publish gray, nebulous, nonexistent or too-short bios… they’re robbing clients of that choice.

    Unfortunately, Hollywood is FILLED with shady, unqualified consultants. Are there some great ones? ABSOLUTELY. But it’s all too easy for consultants or coverage services to pump up, spin, or whitewash readers’ bios… especially when they don’t even use full or real names… or list projects and shows readers have worked on (and in what capacity)… and that makes it tough for screenwriters to separate the worthwhile services from the worthless. I’m not pointing out good or bad services, I’m simply saying, “If you stand behind your service, you should be upfront about who you are, your history, and what you can realistically offer, allowing your paying clients—not you—to decide who and what is best for them.”

    Also—I think it’s great that Craig Mazin and other pros are reviewing pages at DoneDealPro. And this is different than what many consultancies or coverage services do. Anyone who wants to send their pages to Craig can research exactly who he is and what he’s done; he’s giving writers a choice many consultancies don’t. Having said that… I don’t know, ultimately, how valuable it is to have just three pages of your script reviewed by ANYONE. If it’s the first three pages, they may be able to tell you whether or not someone will keep reading… and they may be able to make a cursory assessment of your dialogue or style… but reading three pages of a screenplay is a bit like making a full-body diagnosis by looking at somebody’s toe. While it probably depends on what stage your screenplay is at, I think it would MORE beneficial to have someone review a three-page outline than three pages of a complete script. (I’m not criticizing Craig or the other pros for this… I think it’s angelically generous what they’re doing. I’m just saying that—as a writer submitting—I’d be careful not to put too much stock in a review of only three pages… regardless of who it’s coming from.)

    MICHAEL FERRIS—Thanks for the post and continued discussion… and thanks for the apology about assuming and misquoting.

    And for the record, I don’t get “touchy” when people disagree with me. I LOVE it when people post and disagree with me… it’s what makes these conversations fun and interesting! But I DO get “touchy” when people grossly misquote or misread me, which you did. You also apologized—so thanks.

    Having said that… you still seem to be misquoting and misreading. For example, you claim to be “pointing out exceptions to my blanket statements”… like when you take exception to my saying “undergrad film schools are a waste of time.” Yet again… this is NOT what I actually said.

    Here’s an exact quote from that particular post: “There’s nothing wrong with being a film major, but I think it’s more beneficial to not be a film major.”

    I then go on to say college is the one time in students’ lives where they can explore, experiment, investigate, and learn things they may NEVER have another chance to do… and while it’s fine to be a film major, I think taking advantage of these things, living as much life as possible, is MORE BENEFICIAL than being a film major. …Which is a FAR cry from saying “undergrad film schools were a waste of time.”

    I will concede, however, that this post, about consultancies and coverage services, is a blanket statement. As I said to Sam above, there are certainly some good services out there—I even pointed out a couple in the post itself.

    You’re also right that I did not read your website. I have no need to read your website. Everything I’ve written is in response ONLY to what you’ve posted on this site. I’m not writing specifically about you or your business. Yes, I’m writing about certain practices I find unfair and “disingenuous” of consultancies or “coverage services” (not disclosing full bios, etc.). Are you guilty of these practices? I have no idea. If so, then yes—I think you’re being unfair and disingenuous with clients. If not, then you have nothing to worry about.

    If you’d like me to visit your site and comment on what I find there… I’m happy to do that.

    The first point of this piece is that COVERAGE is not usually a useful development tool, no matter who it’s from. Even if it is official coverage from CAA or Paramount… it’s not meant to be used for development (which is why most agents don’t show clients their coverage when they get it; even if it’s well-written, it’s one person’s opinion and may not reflect the actual strengths or weaknesses of the script).

    So my message to writers is: COVERAGE is not what you’re looking for… and even if it’s got good insight, it’s rarely all that helpful or worth its cost. Writers may THINK it is in the moment, but there are better, more productive ways to get feedback—like forming an astute writers group. (I also think many writers know agency or studio coverage is instrumental in whether or not their script advances, so their goal becomes to “beat the coverage,” not improve their script. By offering “coverage” to writers, consultancies and readers prey a bit—intentionally or not—on writers misguided desire to “beat the coverage.”)

    And while you claim I “wrote an entire article that threatens your ability to put food in the table,” I specifically, in the post, RECOMMEND writers hire a consultant!

    You seem to be most upset that I say COVERAGE itself is not a worthwhile development tool… which I stand by.

    I also stand by the idea that consultancies and coverage services should be disclosing exactly who’s reading people’s scripts, where they’ve worked and on what projects, etc.—giving clients/writers full power in deciding who they work with. But if your company doesn’t do this, you have nothing to worry about!

    Thanks again for posting, everyone—keep ‘em coming!!

    Chad

  11. Preston

    Now that the folks over at ScriptXpert are scratching their heads–and since we’re being so candid about everything we aspiring writers don’t need–I’m just waiting for this guy Chad to do an article article about how we really don’t need screenwriting magazines, either.

  12. Sam

    Currently, Craig Mazin and a number of other professional screenwriters are reviewing three pages on the Done Deal Pro message boards. Their “coverage” so to say judges the content of the pages as at a pro’s level of craft or below, providing helpful notes for those in the latter.

    I have used professional coverage services in the past and some experiences have been better than others. Unfortunately, I don’t think anyone can really know how helpful a coverage service will be unless they use it. While one can use references in order to understand the “pedigree” of the notes so to say, I have known many people who have worked at big companies who are not half as intelligent or articulate as those who work at smaller ones.

    Ultimately, I think the difference in coverage vs. consultancy is that a reader will say what they found lacking while a consultant will try to understand the script from the writer’s perspective and see how it can be improved. Apples and oranges, but both are fruit.

  13. Michael FerrisMichael Ferris

    Chad,
    I just read back my comment and I think it might come off as sarcastic, but I wanted to clarify that I truly was sorry for assuming several things that I shouldnt have. You know what they say about assuming.

    At the end of the day, you’re a TV producer. Thats how you make your livelihood. People like me? I make my livelihood helping writers, and I work hard at it, and according to them, I provide a really good service. And I’m no fly-by-night operator like the ones you write about – so when you write an entire article that threatens my ability to put food in the table (and the livelihood of others who are great at development, yes, there are others of us out there), it is natural to want to defend my hard work – hell, defend getting to work at all.

    Your strong opinions have both exceptions, and consequences. That’s all I was trying to point out with my comments.

  14. Michael FerrisMichael Ferris

    Chad,

    Wow, touchy touchy. I now know how other writers feel when they question you and get reamed in your own comments section. It’s a good thing I’m a professional peer and have the confidence to know whats true or not in this industry. And really, there’s no reason to talk down to me.

    Thankfully, I’m going to rise above, and first say that I’m sorry and you are completely right on several things. I didn’t read your article carefully enough. The thing about cost in particular I was wrong about, and I apologize. I should have read through twice before responding, so my bad.

    I think all this silly hubbub and back and forth can be explained very simply – I read your website and you didn’t read mine. On my website it very plainly states the writers whose careers I’ve helped launch (black list writer Travis Beacham, of PACIFIC RIM, for instance), how in depth my notes are (3-5 pages of comments for coverage, and 10+ pages for story notes), and there are even samples you can read on the site – all things you seemed to have missed. I dont fault you – you didn’t have an interest and that is A-okay with me.

    On my end, I saw on your website that you offer consulting services for 100/hr. I assumed since you are in the industry, that you would call that service “Professional Consulting”. Sorry for making that logic leap. I also assumed (I guess incorrectly), that while you don’t advertise your services in your blog posts, you were using the blog to advertise your expertise and drive traffic to your site. I thought (again incorrectly), that taking the time to write these blogs for free wasn’t just about moving a couple extra books, but promoting your other services as well. Sorry for assuming incorrectly, I see now that’s a bad flaw of mine.

    I think the other part that makes this back and forth so silly is that you and I agree wholeheartedly that normal coverage (the kind with a synopsis – I mean really, who needs to know about their own script?) CAN be a total waste of time. Especially if you have a bad reader.

    But sometimes you get gold in them there hills – I remember one time I got coverage from an intern of mine that blew me away with the astute observations for the script. I also agree that 95% of the time coverage is not used as a tool of script development, so we are hand in hand on that.

    But there are companies like mine, who do specialized coverage that integrates both how to improve the story, and how to make it more commercial and studio friendly. Maybe I shouldnt call it coverage. Maybe I should call it mini-story notes, since I dont waste writer’s time with synopsis and other crap they dont need that is in normal coverage. And I also know that my ability and desire to pass along the good scripts to my contacts is unique to only a few other services (like ScriptPimp and ScriptShark) – but that 90% of other coverage services do not do that, which is what you were pointing out in your article.

    At the end of the day, this is really just about pointing out exceptions to your blanket statements. Just as in your blog about how undergrad film schools were a waste of time, there are schools like the one I went to that were vital to my success. Having a school set up like a mock studio system from day one gave me a huge leg up on the USC and UCLA grads who also interned at my first job, and it was my undergrad training and environment that set me up to succeed and leave them in the dust.

    So, just exactly like last time with the undergrad piece, all I’m saying is your blanket statements have exceptions that are important to point out to those who seek our guidance. As experts, I feel it’s important to talk about all sides. And I think you agree as well, as your posts do a great job of going into many different branches of a subject. But alas, we can never know all the exceptions out there, right? So that’s all I was trying to do. Not step on your toes or impugn your integrity.

    There’s more than one way to give writers “no bullshit advice” – and running them over with a truth truck is just one of them. I choose a different method – and thats fine. To each his own. You obviously know what you’re talking about and you give great advice, so more power to you – no matter how you do it.

    At the end of the day, we both care about writers and helping them reach their goals – why else would we be writing these blogs? So let’s each go forth and lend a hand.

  15. Anthony Falcon

    In response to Filmslate magazine’s publisher — would you really consider a great writer someone who finds their voice? Forgive me for saying, but that’s as simplistic as saying a good script is all based on a great idea.

    I think we can tell from movies such as Hall Pass, The Dilemma, and handful of other ideas that came out this year that scripts are very complicated beast to run. I saw a great amount of movies with brilliant ideas that terribly failed, or had horrible executions. A voice, or an idea, or a character, or great dialogue, or plot is only part of being a screen writer and just as complicated as making an entire movie — with editors, actors, directors, all included. Each piece has to fit perfectly into place, and know the importance of each of those parts. The same way a movie cannot survive without a editor, is the same way a script can’t survive with poorly constructed scene headings, or descriptions, or wrylies.

    That’s as simplistic as saying the director needs no other opinion on how the feature film will be cut. No test screenings, no producers cut, no editors cut — if a director finds his voice he will be a success — the reason that writing isn’t a one man job where someone finds their voice, is because after you have gone through that amazing comedy script you wrote 500 times, and have written and rewritten every joke, and switched so many scenes, added and subtracted, you need a professional pair of eyes to look at it and make sure it’s crafted perfectly.

    I think you do a disservice to writing by thinking that writing is something that can be found. A voice is only a voice — if you don’t train, learn, study, and develop that voice, it’s worthless. Do I agree you need a voice to play this game? Yes. Does having that voice mean you will have any sort of success, I would say not in the least bit. I think the reason there are so many out of work screenwriters is because they are so busy finding their voice on their own, thinking that studying, and services are a waste of time, that by the time someone reads their work, it’s so green, it’s thrown in the trash bin.

    You may have an amazing voice, but voice to me is one part of a script. You need a great idea, a structurally fantastic layout, strong characters, memorable supporting characters, dialogue that put’s people in awe, description that is brief, yet drawing you in, a bunch of other crucially important things, AND a voice!

    Forgive me for sounding somewhat frustrated, but for someone to come and say a good screenwriter is someone who found their voice does a disservice to what I do. I found my voice long ago. I’ve made 4 internet series pilots, 30 episodes of a web series, 6 shorts, and 2 feature films, been through the festival circuit. I found my voice long ago — while it was important to find my voice, it was equally as important to develop that voice.

    The problem was, I was so worried about my voice, that it took me almost a decade before I sat down and said, “Anthony, you’re wasting your time. You have a talent, now when are you going to be mentored to turn it into a great talent.” The things I’ve learned from Script Mag, Creative Screenwriting, Field, Densham, Trottier, Synder, McKee, Truby, and the endless hours I’ve put into studying these website articles over the past year, have dramatically changed the professional levels of my screenplay writing.

    Now I agree with both parties through this article. I would much rather sit down with a consultant that knows my voice, and my goals, and help develop that, but due to financial restraints I am working with coverage services, which in my opinion have been amazing for the level of money I am spending. Final Drafts Scriptxpert has been very helpful, and allowed me to stay with the same reader for my current script, to help actually get it to the point of presenting it as a quality writing sample.

    But to say a professional writer needs nothing more than himself, you might as well take out the word professional. Because if you treat screenwriting like a joke, that’s what it will be. It’s a profession, and should be treated as such.

  16. scotch58John Torma

    Thnaks to all above for your insightful comments.

    As a recent user of Michael’s coverage service I can testify that the notes I received were very useful in developing my script. As a first time writer, I have no place to turn for professional opinions and I rely on these services to help polish my script. Yes, it can be expensive, but I think once I get it in shape and have a better idea of the creative process I can rely less on these services and do the editing myself.

    The comments have been critical in a helpful way, not demeaning or condescending. I have used another service previous and found their notes helpful as well. I am not looking for an easy way in, just a little professional help.

  17. Chad GervichChad Gervich Post author

    Michael—

    Thanks for the blog response… and since you’re in the script-consulting and notes-giving business, let me give YOU some notes that will, hopefully, disabuse you of some facts and notions you get wrong.

    Note #1: Become a better reader.

    First of all, you say I “make the argument that there is a difference between ‘coverage services’ and ‘professional consultant’ for the sheer fact that YOU yourself (meaning me) offer one and not the other.”

    This is FALSE.

    I am not a “professional consultant.” I do not advertise myself as a “professional consultant.” Never on this blog have I referred to myself as a “professional consultant.”

    I make my living as a professional TV writer and producer.

    Yes, I teach some writing classes… because I love teaching. And, as I say in the blog, I “I’ve done consulting.”

    But not only is teaching a far different thing from consulting, the money I make from either wouldn’t pay your rent for a month. And more importantly, like I said, I have used this blog to position myself, advertise, or offer my services as a “professional consultant.” If I did, THAT—to use your word—would be “disingenuous,” because I don’t do enough consulting to own the moniker.

    Secondly, there is a HUGE difference between coverage and consulting… and it’s disingenuous of YOU to claim there’s not (or, if you don’t see a difference, that’s fairly telling as well).

    “COVERAGE” refers to reports used by production companies, agencies, and studios to help determine whether or not scripts are ready for sale, purchase, packaging or representation. They may offer insightful assessment of a script, but it’s for a very specific purpose (usually as specific as finding a vehicle for a particular star, or searching for a low-budget horror film with a female lead, etc.).

    Coverage is NOT a great development tool… and while consultants often USE coverage as a development tool, this isn’t really the purpose for which it was designed. Aspiring writers—and apparently, consultants—often think that just because something offers a critical evaluation of your script, it’s a fair and useful development tool. It’s not. Even if the coverage is DEAD-ON, a one-time report offers very limited helpfulness. I’m not saying it’s worthless, I’m just saying it’s painfully limited. It’s the equivalent of saying, “My marriage needs work… but rather than go to a therapist who will sit, talk, work closely with me over time… I’ll go once, let them write up a report, then use that to make my marriage work.” This MIGHT give you some insightful gems… but it’s surely not the best way.

    Good “CONSULTANTS,” on the other hand, form a relationship with the writer. They’re not just offering a one-time evaluation, no matter how in-depth, they—like a good producer, exec, agent, or manager—make a long-term investment in the writer or project. They have conversations about the story the writer wants to tell, how the writer sees the world, why this story is personal, what kind of tone the writer wants, how certain arcs, themes, or jokes can be improved, etc. They guide. They nurture. They listen. Things coverage can never do.

    That’s a huge difference, and no… both are NOT “just as valuable.”

    Next… You say, “Writers are smart and can decide for themselves if they will get good notes, all they have to do is read the testimonials about the service to see if the company has talented readers.” ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME? That’s like saying, “Writers are smart and can decide for themselves which soda to buy… all they have to do is watch the commercials and see if the soda companies have good recipes.” Testimonials, whether in books or websites or on product packaging, are solicited and hand-picked by the consultant himself; they’re part of an advertising campaign. This isn’t a criticism, it’s just a truth. (I have a book with tons of testimonials inside the front jacket; they were all selected by the publisher and me. This doesn’t mean they’re not true… just like the testimonials on a consultant’s website… it just means they’ve been filtered by the person hoping to get your business.)

    More importantly, writers CAN’T “decide for themselves if they will get good notes” when consultancies DON’T OFFER FULL TRANSPARENCY about who their readers are, their backgrounds, etc. When companies offer coverage from anonymous readers, or only publish brief, sketchy, nebulous bios, it’s IMPOSSIBLE for writers to research or determine what kind of notes they’ll actually get.

    You go on to say, “Writers can figure all that out for themselves.” But again… they can’t if companies aren’t up front about who’s working there, how they operate, etc.

    Next: Writers “don’t need big blanket statements made about the invalidity of what others do” – maybe they do, maybe they don’t. If what others do is “invalid,” then yeah—people need that. But I haven’t said ANYONE is “invalid”… I’ve simply said I don’t find coverage services—which, again, are different from consultants—to be helpful… especially anonymous ones. (I also don’t make a “big blanket statement”; I explain, fairly methodically and rationally, why they’re not valuable.)

    In fact, Michael, despite your bashing, I actually recommend IN THE BLOG that writers HIRE a professional consultant… as long as they A) are able to fully research who they’re hiring, and B) get genuine consulting, not coverage… which, as I’ve stated, I don’t find helpful.

    And when you suggest I’m making “big blanket statements” about the “validity of what [I myself] do,” I would simply say… WHERE? Where is that big blanket statement validating what I do? I’ll repeat what I said earlier, since you seem to read only what you want, but NEVER NEVER NEVER have I positioned myself here as a consultant… or offered any consulting services.

    This is because I am NOT A CONSULTANT. I don’t make a living as a consultant. Have I occasionally done consulting? Yes… but not only do I not talk about that here, I don’t advertise, and it’s not how I make a living. (Also, when I have consulted, I have been completely up front about where I’ve worked, what I did there, specific shows I’ve worked on, etc. This is all public and Google-able.)

    You then say: “You make the argument of you or your friend’s professional consulting being cheaper.”

    Uh… I don’t, actually, and—again—I think you’re reading what you want.

    First of all, I don’t talk about “my consulting” at all, and secondly, I said the exact opposite; here’s my quote: “You’ll probably spend MORE money on a consultant than you would on a coverage service, but it’s money much better spent.”

    (As a professional consultant who probably gets paid more money for long-term consulting than coverage, I’d think you would appreciate this… not rail against it. Did you read this part?)

    You follow this up with: “I am surprised at how this article fits in nicely with what you do, and trashes what others do.”

    Again—how does this fit in nicely with what I do? I’ll repeat: I’m not a consultant. And I’m not “trashing what others do,” although YES—I do not think getting converage is a helpful writing tool.

    However, as I write IN THE BLOG… working with a CONSULTANT, someone who forms a relationship with you and invests time and energy in you and your projects, can be very helpful.

    Lastly, you write: “You seem to thrive on controversy and stirring things up.” NO. I like to offer straightforward, no-bullshit advice to writers trying to make it an industry where there’s plenty of bullshit.

    This industry, or the fringes of it, is FILLED with people claiming they can help you perfect your script or circumvent professional paths. Some of them can. Most of them can’t. And for writers desperate to break in, these “alternative paths” seem like golden rays of hope. It’s difficult to distinguish which avenues are real… and which are bogus. And like I said above, it’s all but IMPOSSIBLE for writers to determine which is which when companies don’t fully disclose who works there, how they operate, their professional histories, etc.

    You say you “spend [your] time helping all writers not only with story notes, but actually passing good scripts along to my contacts. How is THAT not worth their time?”

    It may be TOTALLY worth their time (I’ve never said it wasn’t)… as long as writers are able to determine—before paying you money—what kind of notes they can expect, where your relationships lie, what your developmental strengths or specialties are, etc.

    If writers CAN’T determine those things beforehand, then it’s not fair to them—and YOU, like many other “coverage services” are being disingenuous.

    Chad

  18. Michael FerrisMichael Ferris

    Chad,

    Your article has a tinge of disingenuousness. You make the argument that there is a difference between “coverage services” and “professional consultant” for the sheer fact that YOU yourself offer one and not the other. There are people out there like me who provide both, and both services are just as valuable.

    Having been a lit manager helping clients shape their scripts, I now spend my time helping all writers not only with story notes, but actually passing the good scripts along to my contacts for them. How is THAT not worth their time? You calling what you do “professional consulting” doesn’t make it better, it’s just a title. Coverage from someone like me offers the same level of story notes, idea development, and writer’s assistance than if I called it “professional consulting”.

    I do agree that there are straight coverage services out there that aren’t as unique as mine – but if they give good comments that help a writer rewrite the script to where it needs to be, how is that a waste of time? Sure, there are a bunch of coverage services out there that aren’t good, but there are some that are. Writers are smart and can decide for themselves if they will get good notes, all they have to do is read the testimonials about the service to see if the company has talented readers. Writers can figure all that out for themselves – they don’t need big blanket statements made about the invalidity of what others do, and validity of what you do.

    Finally, you make the argument of you or your friend’s professional consulting being cheaper, but in actuality if a writer finds a good coverage or story notes service, that will end up being cheaper. Again, the linchpin being finding a good service (and I’m not saying mine is any better than anyone else’s, I’m merely saying there are good ones out there).

    I’m not surprised by your article – you seem to thrive on controversy and stirring things up. You like to create firestorms of comments. But I am surprised at how this article fits in nicely with what you do, and trashes what others do.

  19. Gino Balcacer

    I have to say the responses going back and forth have been very informative, and it goes to show how important emotions are to the writing process.

    One thing I would like you professionals to discuss within this topic, is the matter of how much does it matter if the reader’s experience mostly comes from TV or films. Most of the highly regarded consultants I have heard mention in these blogs have been TV people, and they are very experienced TV people. But, I have a romantic comedy feature script that I need help with. How dose the media experience factor into whom I should choose?

    Again, this article and the responses have been outstanding! I would like to see more of it in these blog pages….Thanks!

    END:

  20. Chad GervichChad Gervich Post author

    Ray—

    Thanks for another great response, and I look forward to a longer response in your next column. Lemme know when it’s up, and I’ll link to it in the regular blog.

    I also won’t write much here (I obviously have to save some for your column), but just to respond quickly to your post (and “quickly” on Planet Chad is still pretty long)…

    1) YOUR SCRIPT CONTRIBUTIONS. (And before I begin this, let me just clarify: I’m not questioning your credentials or contributions, I’m only challenging you to divulge more to paying clients and writers.) Honestly, your answers above DON’T give me much information. First of all, I think readers/consultants should divulge what companies or projects they worked for. You say you’ve made script notes and contributions and worked with writers/producers/agents/managers… okay, so what?

    Were you working with major studios like Paramount or Universal? Independent production companies in Montana or Oklahoma? Big-time producers like Scott Rudin? Your best friend’s start-up? Mid-level agencies like Paradigm or APA? TV production companiess based around overall deals? Were the films big-budget WGA movies? Small, non-union projects financed by grants? WHAT?!

    These are important questions, not because specific answers make you more or less qualified (although they might), but because if I’m a paying client, I deserve to know the tastes, sensibilities, inclinations, and professional credits of my consultant.

    And yes… the places you’ve worked DO say something about your credentials and qualifications (again, not necessarily yours specifically, but “yours” meaning script readers in general). I don’t know, quite honestly, that a consultant working with small indie start-ups in New Hampshire is as experienced as someone working with major studios or producers in L.A. Is that geographic snobbery? Maybe… but I also know that most commercial movies are made here in L.A., and I’m assuming—rightly or wrongly—that people working here have access to, and are working with, a much larger number of working film professionals. In fact, take the geography out of it; I don’t know that that someone who’s only read scripts for small production companies ANYWHERE is as qualified, or has had as much experience, as someone working for larger companies where movies actually get made and released as commercial films. They might be… I just don’t know.

    In your specific case, Ray, I assume you HAVE been a consultant to major studios and producers… but paying clients have know way of KNOWING this… which isn’t fair. (And in defense of YOU, if you don’t tell them this… there’s nothing distinguishing you and your qualifications from a less qualified consultant. Based on your bio and answers, you COULD be someone who’s only worked on small indie films in Alaska… which doesn’t mean you’re not intelligent or qualified… it’s just that people have no way of knowing.)

    So yeah… I think consultants should list, if not the specific projects, the specific companies and producers they’ve worked for.

    2) WHAT IS “DEVELOPMENT?” I don’t consider development only the time an agent/manager/producer collaborates with a writer to prep a script for submission. It’s also the time a writer is working ALONE, writing, rewriting, etc. I consider “development” to be the evolution of a script.

    And no matter how you slice it… NO—I do not consider one-time coverage from an anonymous stranger, no matter how astute, to be a particularly helpful tool.

    Doesn’t mean the coverage’s assessment isn’t DEAD-ON and insightful… I just don’t think it’s that helpful to a successful writing process (for all the reasons I listed the first time).

    And lastly…

    3) I NEVER SAID READERS SHOULD ONLY ASSESS GENRES THEY LIKE. In fact, I pretty specifically agreed with you; my exact quote was “an astute, intelligent, professional reader should be able to evaluate things not to their own tastes.”

    I did, however, say that people have strengths and weaknesses. I used Andrew Panay and Todd Phillips as A-list professional examples; they’re two successful producers who clearly are very intelligent and have incredible comedy strengths… but I don’t know if they’d be the right readers, consultants, or producers for a dark, gritty, horror film.

    Likewise, I’ve read thousands of scripts over my career and like to think I’m able to give insightful notes in any genre. But the other truth is: my strength tends to be comedy; and while I believe I could give intelligent feedback on, say, a one-hour crime drama, it’s not my strong suit.

    My point is NOT NOT NOT whether a good reader SHOULD be reading certain scripts or genres…

    It’s that paying clients/writers should get to CHOOSE who reads their script.

    Yes, I could give a writer feedback on their dark, spooky mystery pilot… but if that writer had a choice between getting feedback and consultation from ME (who’s worked almost exclusively in comedy)… or my friend Melissa, who writes for “CSI: Miami”… they’d probably choose Melissa. Or maybe they wouldn’t… but at least they’d have a CHOICE.

    THAT is my point…. not whether or not consultants can/should read everything… I have no problem with that notion… I just think writers paying to get the best feedback possible on the most important thing they’ve ever written should be allowed to CHOOSE who that feedback comes from. It may not make a difference to some writers… but it may to others… and if they’re paying, they deserve as much control and participation in the process as possible.

    Anyway—thanks again for your responses, Roy, and I look forward to your response column! (I love discussions and debates like this… especially when I’m right.) (Kidding!) (Not really.)

    Lemme know when your blog is up, and I’ll link to it from here.

    Chad

  21. Anthony Falcon

    I want to thank both of you gentleman. Insight from both sides has allowed me a well rounded debate about the coverage service process. This is extremely helpful for me, especially since I am spending my hard earned money on the attempt to create the best writing sample possible to send to manager/agent/production companies.

    I want to thank both of you gentleman for such an informative discussion. It was extremely eye opening and I look forward to Chad’s later blog entry and Ray’s later blog entry.

  22. Ray Morton

    Hi Chad,

    Thank for your response. I’m going to formulate a longer and more thoughtful reply to you column and comments and post them in my next column, but I wanted to offer a few brief reactions here:

    I grant you some of your your points about the disclosure issue, although I also feel my reasons for supporting anonymity are equally valid. I’m going to give some thought to a compromise that would satisfy all concerns.

    You responded to my assertion that I made contributions to script that later went on to become successful films by wondering in what capacity I did this (using as an example your own experience offering notes as a director’s assistant). I thought I was clear, but to be more specific — I made these contributions as a script reader/consultant, sometimes for the writers and sometimes for the producers involved. When I worked with writers, I offered suggestions for improving the script that were adopted. The scripts were then submitted to agents/managers/production entities and accepted. When I worked for producers, I recommended specific scripts based on my knowledge of the company’s interests/requirements along with specific suggestions for improving the piece. The suggestions were taken and then the script then moved up the pipleline. I was not just some guy hanging around the office offering my two cents worth.

    I also think you misunderstand the purpose of coverage services. Many of your points seem to focus on the idea that they are not helpful as a development tool. From you comments, you seem to be defining development as the period in which an agent/manager/producer works with a writer to get a script ready to submit to a studio or other production entity. And I’ll grant you that — I think at that point in the process it’s vital for the writer to work closely with the exec/producer to tailor a piece for the specific, targeted buyers. But what about the period before a manager/agent/producer takes on a script in the first place? I see my services as a creation tool — it’s my job to help a writers get their material ready to submitted to these managers/agents/producers in the first place. We all know that these folks aren’t going to consider any material that isn’t the best it can be. My job is to help writers make their scripts the best they can be before they enter the arena. And I think I do a damn good job at doing this.

    And I still think you are simply wrong about the notion that readers should only assess genres they like — I don’t think that just liking a certain type of film necessarily means that one “gets” it. Good writing is good writing no matter what the genre and I think you demean professional readers/consultants by suggesting (by implication) that they have not versed themselves in the fine points of all genres, even ones that they might not immediately run out to see on a Friday night.

    Again, I’m going to work out a longer and more developed response in my next column, so I’m not going to write any more now.

    Thanks for providing the basis for a spirited discussion.

    Ray

  23. Chad GervichChad Gervich Post author

    Ray—

    Thanks so much for the post… super helpful and informative, a great perspective from the other side. Having said that…

    I am not implying that you, or other readers necessarily “hack it out.” I am also not implying that you’re unqualified.

    My point is: when readers, consultants, and coverage services hide behind veils of anonymity, clients and writers DON’T KNOW if they’re sending their scripts to someone who is qualified or unqualified, a pro of a hack.

    You and other coverage services can use anonymity or not… my message to readers is: DON’T ACCEPT COVERAGE FROM ANONYMOUS CONSULTANTS.

    (Disclaimer: In all fairness to Ray and ScriptXpert… and because I don’t want to COMPLETELY bite the hand that feeds me… I think ScriptXpert is in a slightly different position than many other script coverage services. It’s owned by Final Draft and “Script” magazine, both highly respected, reputable companies that are great at what they do… so it has a certain pedigree that other services don’t have. I still wish they wouldn’t use anonymous readers, but I’d feel more comfortable with a reader from someplace like ScriptXpert than one of the hundreds of shady places out there.

    (In fact, I think it’s a huge credit to Final Draft and “Script,” and a great show of respect for the writers and readers who use their products, that they put differing opinions like ours on this website.

    (Anyway, back to the this response…)

    As a writer working on the MOST IMPORTANT THING YOU’VE EVER WRITTEN, you want the most qualified person possible reading your work. And I’m not saying that you, Ray, are NOT the most qualified person—you may be; I’ll even assume you are—but when services refuse to disclose the identities, backgrounds, or qualifications of their readers, writers have NO WAY OF KNOWING THIS.

    In fact, you list several reasons why readers need anonymity, but must of these are about protecting YOU, the reader… not protecting, helping, or improving the writer or their script. And while I agree that readers need to be protected (I’ve also been on the receiving end of disgruntled writers’ wraths, and I agree—it’s not fun), as a WRITER, my only concern is getting the best notes possible from the most qualified reader around. And you or anyone else might BE the best, most qualified reader—but I, as a paying customer, have little way of knowing that… aside from simply taking your word when you, or the service you work for, say, “Trust us, we vet these guys”… and that’s not fair—to me or my script.

    And while you claim that services (or at least yours) fully vet their readers, how am I, a writer, supposed to know this? By just trusting you, taking your word? That hardly seems fair.

    I’m giving you the most IMPORTANT THING I’VE EVER WRITTEN… don’t I deserve to know, or be able to fully research, who I’m giving it to?

    Which brings me to your next topic: can a reader assess scripts in genres he doesn’t like?

    OF COURSE. As you say, an astute, intelligent, professional reader should be able to evaluate things not to their own tastes.

    But people have strengths and weaknesses. As any agent, writer, or producer will tell you… if I have a Gothic horror film, I probably won’t send it to Panay Films or Green Hat Films, where Andrew Panay and Todd Phillips specialize in broad, male-skewing comedies. This doesn’t mean those guys can’t appreciate a Gothic horror film; it just means if I’m looking for a sale—or even creative feedback—and I’m able to CHOOSE, or strategize, who I show it to, I’d probably RATHER find someone whose tastes and sensibilities match mine… especially if I’m PAYING for it. (On the flip side, if I have a script for a raunchy comedy about fraternity brothers… or married men trying to recapture their youth… Panay or Green Hat are perfect. Bad Robot?—not so much.)

    In fact, agents and producers strategize very carefully when submitting scripts. They carefully plan not only which companies to submit scripts to, but which EXECUTIVES to submit to AT those companies; and they plan these strategies based on execs’ personal tastes and relationships. They know certain execs will “get” certain pieces of material better than others, so they target appropriately; they know this is how to get the best response, the most insightful feedback.

    Writers seeking coverage obviously can’t strategize this way… although it would be more beneficial if they could… especially since, unlike agents, they’re PAYING to get the most help possible.

    For example, you say in your post that you’re qualified because you’ve “written scripts that have sold and have been a reader and consultant for many different writers, producers, and companies, [including some that] have gone on to become decent and successful films. I’m certainly not claiming this was solely or primarily due to me, but I think my contributions helped.”

    I agree with you… I think that probably DOES qualify you… but it may NOT mean you’re the person I want, as a paying customer, advising me.

    For instance, if the movies you sold were (and I’m obviously making this up) “Die Hard,” “Speed,” and Lethal Weapon 4,” I might not choose you as the consultant or reader on my tween romantic comedy. Doesn’t mean you CAN’T do it… I’d just prefer to have someone who “gets” the genre, speaks it language, etc.

    Again, my argument is NOT NOT NOT that you’re unqualified… it’s that you should provide your paying customers with the ability to decide who they want reading their work.

    At the very least, coverage services could/should advertise which of their readers specialize in comedy, which specialize in romance or drama, which specialize in sci-fi, etc. There will obviously always be subjective wild cards at play with any reader—even an exec reading agency submissions at a studio—but at least, just like agents/producers/writers strategizing who to submit to at a studio or production company, this puts a bit more control and planning into the hands of customers paying you money.

    Moving on to the next thought…

    As for your response of my assessment of “the goal of the script consulting process,” I think you’re misunderstanding me a bit here, too. I’m not arguing whether you’re trying to make a script “sellable” versus “good.”

    My point is that I, personally, feel it’s often dangerous, risky, and rarely productive for writers to take brief creative notes from anonymous readers who have no long-term investment in the script or its writer.

    When an agent partners a writing client with a producer or executive at a particular company, they choose that company—and often the exec or producer—carefully. These producers or execs, and even consultants, then work very intimately with the writer over a period of time, having long conversations about the writer’s vision, their process, why things do or don’t work.

    Coverage can’t do this.

    Coverage is a quick, one-time evaluation… usually done out of context of who the writer is, what they’re trying to accomplish, etc.

    And while this is fine for studios or agencies looking for things to or buy sell NOW… it’s not as helpful if you’re an artist trying to perfect a work. After all, true coverage isn’t used as a development tool; it’s used as an evaluation of whether or not something’s worth, buying, selling, representing, etc. So it’s a bit of an unfair bastardization to try using it as a development tool… especially when writers can’t ask questions, probe readers for deeper thought and clarifications, or—yes—even fully know who their reader IS.

    A writer MIGHT get something extremely valuable from a script coverage process, I’m not denying… but the best script development processes come from an invested collaboration process between teams of writers, writer/producers, writer/execs, etc.

    Using a coverage service as a development aid—especially an anonymous service—is a bit like going on “The Dating Game,” getting rejected by the unseen bachelorette, then changing your wardrobe, personality, style, sense of humor, etc. based on her response, the response of one person you’ve never seen, met, or spent real time with—and who barely knows you. The bachelorette’s evaluation of you may be EXACTLY right… or it may not… but I think you’d want to know a bit more about her before making real changes to yourself.

    Anyway, to wrap up this long-winded response…

    I don’t necessarily think all coverage services are bogus; I think they’re just extremely limited in the amount of helpfulness they offer… and they often advertise a certain degree of “helpfulness” that—try as they might—they can’t actually deliver.

    And to desperate screenwriters who will do almost anything to break in, coverage services seem to offer a shortcut, a stamp of approval, even a helpfulness that they can’t actually make good on.

    Like I said, I have every reason to believe ScriptXpert is one of the good guys. It has auspices and validations that most other services don’t have. Yet while ScriptXpert may be an exception to the rule, the rule still stands.

    Having said that, ALL script coverage services should put their money where their mouth is. Say “Here’s who we are, here’s what we’ve done, here’s how we work. Here are our contacts at companies. Here are scripts that came through our service and got sold based on our recommendations or feedback.”

    If you don’t want to list names of contacts, fine—tell people what levels your service connects with. When you say you can get material to readers at Sony, Universal, Imagine, or wherever… does that mean it’s going to SVP’s… or assistants? When you say you’ve advised on “a number of projects” that “have gone on to become decent and successful films,” what does that mean? (I worked for a year on “Malcolm in the Middle.” I learned a lot… and I gave a ton of notes and suggestions, and I like to think, as you say, that “my contributions certainly helped.” But I would be fudging if I didn’t tell people I was simply the director’s assistant… so my notes and suggestions meant something different than notes and suggestions coming from a Co-EP, a story editor, even a staff writer.)

    And again, for the record—I am NOT challenging your personal qualifications, Roy. I’m just saying… TELL PEOPLE.

    If coverage services truly want to help be as helpful to writers as possible, arm them with information and let them choose the best consultant for their project.

    Coverage services can’t claim to be the best and work behind a shroud of secrecy. They may BE the best… but writers, paying customers, deserve full disclosure on who they’re working with… as well as some choice in how to use the service.

    Chad

    P.S. Anthony—thanks also for your post! I’ll respond to you great questions in the blog itself. It may not be next week, as I have a ton of emails to get to (and thanks to everyone who’s emailed this week!), but I’ll get to them, I promise!

  24. Ray Morton

    Hi Chad,

    I usually enjoy your pieces on this site, which I find to be both insightful and helpful, but I’m afraid I have a few problems with this one.

    I am one of those readers that works for one of those coverage services you are advising people not to use (full disclosure — I work for ScriptXpert, a service owned by the same company that owns this website. I also do independent consulting). And I guess my first objection is to your characterization of me and others like me as people writing reports just to get our $100. I’m sure there are some people out there that do that, but I and most of the readers I know take the job and responsibility of offering quality feedback to writers very seriously. I suppose I could hack it out, but I don’t. I work hard to read a script, understand its intentions and offer constructive feedback and advice to help the writer make the most of his/her material.

    I also think I’m pretty qualified to do the job — I’ve written scripts that have sold and have been a reader and consultant for many different writers, producers, and companies. A number of the projects that I have advised on have gone on to become decent and successful films. I’m certainly not claiming that this was solely or even primarily due to me, but I think my contributions certainly helped.

    Yes, the service I work for does not give out the names of its readers, but I can assure you they fully vet them. And I’m behind this anonymity policy for a few reasons: 1. In this fully online world, it’s easy to track people down and I don’t want the grief from a writer that is unhappy if I don’t give his/her script a glowing review. This has happened before and it’s not fun. 2. I think not putting a name on the coverage forces a writer to pay attention to the coverage rather than focus on the reader — they have to focus on the advice at hand rather than dismissing a note because “so and so just doesn’t like me.” Still, your point that the writer should know who they are dealing with is a good one. Most reputable services will fully vet the people that work for them and happily provide info on their readers’ credentials if not their actual names to prospective clients. When considering using a service, a writer should inquire about the qualifications of the readers the services use. Sure, there might be some people out there that inflate their credentials, but I can assure you that mine are accurate and so are the other readers my service employs (again, they have a pretty strict screening process).

    I also have trouble with the notion that you present that readers are only good at assessing genres that they like. Like all of us, I am a big movie fan fully versed in movies of all genres. I like some kinds of movies better than others, but I am also a professional. I am perfectly capable of reading a script from any genre and assessing it on its own terms without letting my own personal feelings about different types of movies get in the way. Personally, I loathe the Tarantino-esque hit man genre and am bored to tears with the played out vampire genre, and yet two of the best scripts I’ve read in the past few years were in these categories. I knew they were good when I read them an I said so. And both have done well in the marketplace.

    I’m also not sure that you are accurate about the goal of the script consulting process. I don’t claim to be able to make a script “sellable” according to the demands of the market at this exact moment in time (because those demands, as we all know, are mercurial and ever-evolving. What is hot today will be ice cold tomorrow). What I do promise is to give thoughtful, considered advice that will help a writer make his/her script the best it can be as a piece of crafted screenwriting (and if I see ways that the material can be made more “commercial” according to the current needs/wants of the industry, then I will certainly offer it). I think this is vitally important service, because a script first needs to be good before it can be sold or serve as a writing sample used to land other assignments. I can help make it good. Whether that good is sellable is out of my hands (I don’t, after all, choose the subject matter the author chooses to write about or the manner in which they choose to execute it) and neither I nor the service I work for claim otherwise. I think managers (most of whom are also producers) are more in the position to do this and claim to be able to do it more often than most reputable coverage services do.

    While I suppose there are some services out there that claim to be able to do the impossible, I know that the service that I work for does not claim to be a path around accepted industry channels or that it can get your script to all of the biggest names in the business. What it does claim is that it can get recommended scripts through to some solid industry contacts and this it can do and has done, often with very good results for the writers involved.

    I think your advice as to all of the other things a writer should do to break through in the business is terrific and should be followed. But please don’t dismiss the help that a reputable coverage service that employs good professional readers can provide to writers looking to make their scripts the best they can be.

  25. Anthony Falcon

    Chad!!! WOW! Bud, I’m not going to lie, this was huge! And I mean that in the greatest way possible. As a writer trying to establish myself in the industry for quite sometime, this was extremely helpful, but wouldn’t you know it — every answer leads to more questions — and since you are so helpful, I’m going to ask a few more.

    1) My worries with a writer’s group, sounds similar to your worries about a coverage service. The reason I had stayed away from writer’s group is my belief that the people in writer’s groups, if they were qualified to help me get my script to a professional level, wouldn’t their scripts be at a professional level, and wouldn’t they be working? But maybe this was improper thinking?

    2) I think this is the most interesting part of all — I’ve done the reading of great books, am on this site all the time — now the site is owned by Final Draft, the same owner of the actual script magazine. Final Draft runs a site about script writing. Final Draft owns Scriptxpert coverage. Is it foolish to expect the company that runs the best screenwriting software, and produces the best screenwriting magazine in the country, to have anything less than stellar readers for their coverage service? Although I don’t know who is reading, isn’t the track record of what they’ve created, and what they own, enough to know that the information I’d be getting is top notch service like their other products?

    3) I read an article on this site on Feb 17th titled:\ Magic Bullet: How to get your script read?\ And they had listed coverage services as the 2nd most effective way to get your script read after personal/professional contacts … this is a direct quote:

    \What I am going to say is that many writers who lived in other states, countries, and continents have had success submitting their scripts to coverage services that then helped them get their script read by industry insiders.

    This is the next best thing for you because we have a vested interested in helping you succeed – not least of which because the more success you guys have, the more success we have. It only benefits us to talk about your successes.\

    Although this wasn’t their lead way to get read, personal contacts and industry jobs were, they placed it above contest and queries. I also do realize that Michael, a former Hollywood Lit Manager who wrote the article, is also the owner of a coverage service, so biased may be use used here, but I’m assuming you disagree with this?

    4) Still going back to my very original questions — whether I go through a writer’s group, a consultant, a coverage service, peers, teachers — once I’ve developed the script of pure genius — it sounds like my expectations should be to use that script as a writing sample to get me more work, and not to use it as a spec I’m trying to sell. How do I let people know that? Even if I go through my contacts, how do I let my reader know, that my goal is a writing sample, to see if they like my writing, and that my goal isn’t to sell the script persay?

    Lastly, I’m going to look into consultants, although they may be out of my price range. My goal right now is to create a few stellar writing samples with an expectation of nothing short of excellence. I ultimately would like to craft a few top notch writing samples and my goal is to find the most beneficial means of unbiased professional feedback to make my writing better. It sounds like a writer’s group and consultants may be just that.

    I have been creating contacts on who to give the scripts too, and I actually have an interview at Fox tomorrow to develop even greater contacts, and I want you to know that many of us writers are out here soaking in every word you guys print as valuable knowledge, because we are that passionate about the industry… but I also understand you only get one chance with a contact as a favor for a script read, and I don’t want to hand over anything that has’nt been rummaged through and holds up to the toughest critics, even if they don’t like my idea, maybe they’ll see professional stellar writing.

    Thanks again
    Chad

COMMENT