Should you get script coverage and if so, when?
In this post we’re going to talk about why you need to get script coverage, when script coverage is worth it (and when it isn’t), and I’ll recommend the best screenplay coverage services.
What is Script Coverage?
Script coverage is a written report that provides analysis of a screenplay.
Script coverage, aka screenplay coverage, typically includes:
- Synopsis of the story
- Comments from the reader
- Rating: Pass, Consider With Reservations, Consider, or Recommend.
Why Should You Get Script Coverage?
You’re a top screenwriter.
You’ve written a script.
You want to know if it’s ready to send out – and if not, how to improve it.
What do you do?
You send it to one of your professional screenwriter friends to get feedback.
But what if you aren’t a top screenwriter with pro screenwriter friends?
You Need Professional-Level Feedback
Back to your real life….
To get the kind of professional feedback you need, here’s what you do:
You pay for script coverage.
But you might be thinking:
Screenplay coverage sites seem shady. How can I tell what companies are legit?
I don’t want to waste my money. When is the right time to pay for screenplay coverage?
Script Coverage Is Worth It If…
- You plan to submit to an agency, production company, or studio.
- The reader has worked at a major agency, production company, or studio.
- You want to get a sense of where your script ranks in comparison to other scripts in the same genre.
- You want “fresh eyes” on your story.
Script Coverage Is NOT Worth It If…
- You cannot verify the legitimacy or professional experience of the reader.
- You are in the earliest stages of the creative process and would benefit just as much from feedback on your script from friends, fellow writers, online screenwriting forums, or communities.
- You are expecting that the reader will help you get you in the door with producers, agents, or managers.
How Is Script Coverage Used?
Script coverage is used by you, the writer, to determine when your script is ready to send out and/or how to improve it.
Script coverage is also used by agents, managers, producers and executives to decide which screenplays they want to read first and which scripts to put on a pile to read later or pass on (reject) without even reading the screenplay.
This is one of the reasons why you get script coverage on your own before submitting. Because the decision-maker to whom you submit your material is going to have their own internal readers do script coverage – and you want to have a good idea of how your script will stack up before you submit in the first place.
Decision-makers Use Script Coverage To Pass
When I was an executive, I passed on hundreds of scripts based solely on the script coverage.
That is standard practice for all agents, managers, producers and executives.
That may not seem fair, but here’s what happens:
Executive’s Assistant: “I’ve got today’s scripts. There are fifty…”
Executive: “Let’s start with the ‘CONSIDER’ and ‘RECOMMEND.'”
Executive’s Assistant: “Okay, there are three.”
Getting positive script coverage is the one of the many “gates” that a great project must pass through to get read by a decision-maker.
Script Coverage Lasts FOREVER
Studios, agencies, and production companies keep screenplay coverage records FOREVER. Here’s an example of script coverage from the film Titanic from 1996.
Just as if you were hiring someone for a competitive job, you’d likely be more excited to meet with someone totally new rather than someone who has already applied and been rejected three times in the past.
Do everything you can to make sure your screenplay will get positive screenplay coverage before you submit it because past projects that have gotten positive screenplay coverage excite the script reader about your new project.
What Coverage Services Do You Recommend?
My recommendation is that you check out the options and see what feels right based on the information on the website, fees, testimonials, and any email interactions you have with the company.
Each service I recommend provides a variety of options and price points.
Here are the script coverage companies I’d check out:
NOTE: I am not compensated for these recommendations in any way.
I have worked with Michael Ray Brown (StorySense) at MGM and I have read Jim Cirile’s coverage (Coverage Ink) because a number of my clients had him do coverage on their projects and it was in-depth and excellent.
Don’t Get Coverage When You Need Coaching
One typical problem is that coverage alone doesn’t really help most writers enough….
When you get coverage, what often happens is that despite their best efforts, the (hopefully) hard-working and intelligent reader doesn’t understand certain key elements of your story.
This happens because they don’t know you, have never spoken with you, and don’t understand your goals, influences, or creative sensibilities.
And then you read your script’s coverage, and you’re like:
“Ugh. The advice was kind of generic, the reader made some good points but also missed a lot of what I was going for… I’m basically right back where I started.”
Coverage is useful when you really need to get feedback from a total stranger.
More often, you need feedback on your material as well as specific strategies and tactics for networking, pitching, and handling high-stakes meetings. If that sounds like what you are looking for, here’s the writing coach I recommend.
Don’t Get Screenplay Coverage From Screenwriting Contests
A number of screenwriting contests offer script coverage.
However, I recommend doing script coverage separately from screenwriting contests.
You want to select the reader who will be evaluating your script whenever possible, and you want to make sure that the reader is taking the time to provide the best script coverage possible. Often, readers for contests are paid far less and, due to the contest deadlines, cannot spend much time considering your script (let alone writing the coverage).
What About The Black List?
I like Franklin Leonard and the Black List. Understanding the Black List is important, and they do provide a legit method for screenplays and screenwriters to get exposure.
However, I don’t recommend their script analysis service over the companies I recommend above.
Four of my clients have had sloppy script coverage where the reader had clearly rushed through and not actually read the script carefully. Unfortunately, readers are only paid $25 per script which makes it hard to spend time to give detailed, thoughtful coverage. To the Black List’s credit, in each instance they redid my client’s coverage without charge. (If you’ve gotten an evaluation from the Black List and it was helpful, I’d love to know because it certainly is budget-friendly.)
Will Script Coverage Services Open Doors?
Decision-makers who have the power to purchase projects and the agents who you really want to represent you are not jumping at the chance to read scripts recommended by a screenplay coverage service (even the best ones).
Yes, a few people have gotten meetings, representation, and sales because they were promoted by a script coverage service and that’s great. It definitely can happen, but this is very rare and should not be your main marketing strategy.
As I’ve said before, actors have been discovered waiting in line at Starbucks, but I don’t recommend that actors spend all their time getting coffee as their main career strategy.
Script coverage helps you know where you stand and can help you get in the room when used as part of an overall strategy. By itself, screenplay is not an effective way to create opportunities.
Screenplay Coverage: A Word Of Caution
Based on the search results when I google “script coverage,” there are definitely some sketchy script coverage operations out there. While I doubt anyone is getting rich off of doing script coverage, buyer beware.
- No one has found the feedback valuable? Run away.
- Get a sketchy feeling from the website? Move on.
- You can’t tell who is running the service? Skip it.
- You send an email but can’t get in touch with a real person? Pass.
- The readers haven’t worked for companies that you recognize? Keep looking.
Here’s the deal:
Hollywood is a business where people don’t hide their credits and accomplishments out of humility.
If someone isn’t bragging, they likely don’t have anything to brag about.
Don’t Get Depressed If You Get A “PASS”
Even exceptional writers get “pass” coverage sometimes.
One of the most memorable days of my executive career was when I got the key to the archives of MGM Story Department.
Inside the filing room (in the basement of the garage) were boxes of screenplay coverage.
I found “pass” screenplay coverage on screenplays by F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Lehman, Billy Wilder, Preston Sturges, and many other legendary screenwriters.
Even these legends wrote scripts that weren’t amazing and couldn’t get past the gatekeepers.
Of course, they kept writing. You should do the same.
For some inspiration, check out this list of best-sellers that were initially rejected.
Want To Write Screenplay Coverage?
If you’re interested in writing script coverage or becoming a script reader:
- Amanda Pendolino’s How To Get A Job As A Script Reader
- The Bitter Script Reader’s How To Become A Reader
What’s Been Your Experience?
What has been your experience with screenplay coverage services?
What’s been worth it or not worth it?
Let me know in the comments.