What exactly is script coverage?  Is it a good thing to pay for, and how is it different from script consulting?

I’m glad you asked.

When someone “covers” a script, they analyze its perceived strengths and weaknesses, and write up a brief report about them.  The person writing the coverage is unknown to the writer, and is typically young and relatively inexperienced in the business, but trained in what studio executives, producers and agencies are looking for in scripts and writers.

Such companies commission coverage to be written on the vast number of submissions they receive, in order to identify which scripts might be worth their time to look at personally.  Reading a brief report is a lot less time-consuming than a complete script, so freelance or in-house readers are employed to synopsize and evaluate scripts that come in.

When a screenwriter reaches the point where such companies will officially read their material (which usually means they probably have a manager representing them), the result of that read will likely be a written piece of coverage that the writer never sees, but which goes in a file as a permanent record, within that company, of that writer and script.  Which is why it can be a bad thing to get a script covered that isn’t one’s best work.

The vast majority of coverage reports advise a “pass” on the writer and material (resulting in the writer either never hearing back, or getting a generic rejection of some sort).  A lucky few receive a “consider,” and even fewer, a “recommend”.  The latter will move up the chain of command and be read by someone in a position of more power than the lowly reader.

What does this all mean to writers who aren’t yet represented, and whose work doesn’t even have a chance to get covered at such a company?  Another good question!

In recent years, for-hire “coverage services” have emerged, which an aspiring writer can pay to cover their script, then send the coverage back to them (and to no one else), so that the writer can get a sense of what professional readers in the industry would think of it.  (These coverage services tend to use readers who are not only similarly trained to the ones the studios use, but who often “cover” scripts for them, as well.)

The difference between coverage and a script consultation is that with coverage, the writer doesn’t directly interact with the person who read their script, or even know who they are.  The coverage writer has generally not worked professionally as a writer, producer, or development executive.  And they generally do not offer ideas or help in improving the script, or an ongoing process for assisting the writer.  They merely point out what seems to be working or not working.

For this reason, coverage tends to be cheaper than getting one’s script read by an experienced script consultant, who the writer interacts with personally, and who will focus more on guidance and suggestions for moving forward, in an ongoing process.  This is what I do with my coaching clients.

Does this mean I have a negative view of coverage services?  Not at all!  In fact, I often recommend to my clients that they use them.  And there’s a specific place I recommend they use: Spec Scout.  While there are other better known services (most notably The Blacklist), I like Spec Scout’s approach (and coverage reports) the best.

The way they work is that a writer gets coverage reports from three separate anonymous readers who provide both comments and a quantitative score on ten key aspects of a screenplay.  For this service, they charge $297 for a 30-day turnaround (or $397 for a 7-day rush).  And they are now offering a $50 discount to first-time customers who use the coupon code “flyingwrestler”.  (I’ve become friends with the owners, and they say nice things about me, as well.)  🙂

As a bonus, scripts that score highly enough on their quantitative scale are promoted on the site (for free), so that the loglines, scores and other key details are available to industry professionals who subscribe to the site and are looking for material and writers.  While that may or may not lead to anything for a writer, I think the detailed coverage they provide is quite valuable, and is a good complement to working with someone like me as a mentor/coach.

For instance, one could start by getting Spec Scout coverage and then come to me with the results,  and get my suggestions on what to do now, in a potential rewrite.  (Getting coverage tends to overwhelm writers a bit, and it can be hard to see a clear path forward, to improve the script.)

Another thing I’ve done is suggest that clients get their coverage after I’ve worked with them for a while, and helped them get to a draft that I think is pretty solid.  That can be a great time for a second, third and fourth opinion in the form of the coverage reports.  And then, typically, there is more work to be done, using this fresh information on how others are perceiving their new draft.

People sometimes ask me if I do coverage.  I do read scripts and give feedback, and the “four-page analysis” I offer is probably the closest thing to coverage.  But rather than just be the first “bearer of bad news” on what might not be working in a script a writer has spent months or years on, I would much rather help them develop a script, or a rewrite, from the ground up.  My preferred role is not so much “the critic”, but the ongoing resource for moving forward. 🙂

I also recommend my "Ten Key Principles Successful Writers Understand", and my series of audio downloads.    And if you'd like me to read something you're working on, check out my consulting page.
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