THE CRAFT: Considering Screenplay Coverage

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THE CRAFT : Considering Screenplay Coverage by Lee Jessup | Script Magazine #scriptchat

Why pay good money for a stranger to tell you what’s wrong with your script? There are several good reasons.

For most writers, the term “coverage” drudges up their worst insecurities: Will the reader hate my script? Will he prove that I’m really not very good at this whole writing thing? Will a professional reader’s coverage strip my screenplay of its greatness and leave me naked and exposed, much as a little boy once did to the Emperor? Or else, a writer will think: What does a reader know, anyway? Who cares if he hates my script? If only I could get my screenplay to Steven Spielberg, to Ron Howard, to Harvey Weinstein, I’m sure they’ll get it. But in today’s industry, the person standing between Spielberg/Howard/Weinstein and a great screenplay is the industry reader.

Despite the fact that coverage reports provide the writer with a thorough and gut-wrenching critique of his work, access to industry-grade coverage allows the screenwriter a unique peep-hole view into the reaction his work would garner in today’s competitive marketplace. How much better would it be to know why your screenplay got turned away from an agency, management or production company, rather than receive the standard letter that states: “It is just not right for us at this time”? Not only does coverage explore the strengths and weaknesses of your material, but it also allows you a temperature reading regarding how your screenplay would fare in today’s industry climate. The elite coverage services allow you access to the opinions of professional industry readers who generate coverages for leading entertainment companies, the same coverage which determines whether a script will graduate onto an executive’s desk or disappear forever in the recycling bin.

Therefore, when selecting a coverage service, it is imperative that each writer confirms that the readers who review their work are indeed plugged into the industry. In recent years, coverage services have sprouted up like cheap slasher flicks in the new millennium, making it nearly impossible to separate the professional from the fl y-by-night just by glancing at a website. There’s nothing worse than spending your hard-earned money on coverage only to find out that the person providing you with critical insight has only worked on the fringes of the industry, and that person’s opinion has never been relied on by anyone of relevance. Writing is a profession with unique demands, one of which is the element of belief-in-oneself. How else could a writer come back to the computer night after night, week after week, month after month to craft the cinematic saga that will put him on the map? However, when the final “Fade Out” is typed on the page, it’s time for the writer to put his faith in somebody else. Somebody who does not read the screenplay hearing the writer’s familiar voice in her head, who is a bit more qualified than a mere film fan, and who is not trying to spare anyone’s feelings. Don’t get coverage if you want your brilliance validated. If that is what you seek, go to your mother, your partner, or your best friend. But if you want to find out how to get your script ready for the industry, how to prepare yourself and better your chances in a market saturated with writers, stories, ideas and ambitions, it’s screenplay coverage you want to get.

 In the end, script coverage is not there to confirm your brilliance or destroy your dreams.

For today’s writer, there are two reasons to get coverage: to find out what could use improvement in the screenplay so that you can correct it, or what others perceive as a weakness in the material so that you are aware of it, and, when the time comes, are able to intelligently defend it. A third reason to submit your screenplay for coverage would be to qualify for scouting services (which only a few coverage services provide) in which your screenplay would be introduced to agents, managers and producers on the lookout for fresh talent. However, keep in mind that only two to fi ve percent of scripts submitted for coverage are ever strong enough to qualify.

You, the writer, are the owner and guardian of your story. No matter the analytical skills of your reader, he is not privy to the story you aspired to tell. He can judge the script only by what has made it to the page. Therefore, when receiving your coverage report, consider the following: Did the analyst perceive the material as intended? If not, why not? (The answer “My reader was an idiot” does not qualify. If you selected your coverage provider diligently, the analyst who reviewed your material is an established professional with proven analytical skills.) The onus is on the writer to ensure that the story is received in the way it was intended, and that significant story elements are easily graspable. Did the analyst feel that this is an effective, timely and unique enough story to make it onto the screen? A professional coverage should be direct, constructive, and leave no room for misinterpretation.

Often, writers are unsure how to process the comments provided in their coverage in which criticisms are voiced and fixes suggested. An analyst may propose a change in a particular character’s arc, or that the writer reconsiders a major plot point. As the screenplay’s champion, you, the writer, are under no obligation to abide by every suggestion. It is recommended that writers implement as many of the comments made in their coverage report as best serve, advance and crystallize the story they are trying to tell. Equally, it is important to remember that no comments section is ever all wrong, or, for that matter, all right for the unique screenplay that you are trying to write.

In the end, script coverage is not there to confirm your brilliance or destroy your dreams. Rather, it’s a unique and valuable tool meant to help you prepare for the industry. A smart and savvy writer is one who not only writes a good script, but also takes advantage of every bit of help available to him.

Originally published in Script magazine September/October 2007

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