Screenwriters have high expectations when it comes to reading script coverage of their own screenplays — as they should — but it’s important to know what you should and shouldn’t expect from it in the end.
There are two kinds of script coverage — the kind written by studio, agency, management company, and production company readers and the kind that you pay for through a consultant or service.
The first is very difficult to get your hands on. Those types of Hollywood entities don’t like to share what’s behind closed doors. And even if you could get your hands on it from a generous development executive or producer, most of the time it’s better not knowing what the reader said about your script. Direct coverage like that isn’t written for the writer. It’s written for the Hollywood boss. Sometimes ignorance is bliss.
The second kind is going to be the most helpful. Consultants and consulting services — which include coverage you pay for through major contests, competitions, and fellowships — are developed for the writer, written under the specific guidelines of offering constructive criticism (see below) so that you can make your script better.
That said, here are the true expectations you should and shouldn’t have when it comes to getting script coverage done for your screenplays.
It Is a Tool, Not a Crutch
Despite its worth, script coverage should never be used as a crutch. Too many screenwriters spend too much money purchasing coverage package after coverage package for each draft of each script they write.
Script coverage is an excellent tool, especially if you pick the right consultants and services. When you have industry professionals writing coverage for your script, you’re getting a plethora of knowledge and experience from an individual that has likely read hundreds of screenplays and has a keen eye for what works and what doesn’t.
This is valuable information that you can utilize to better your work.
So use it — as a tool. It’s helpful and can make a huge difference. But use it wisely and never rely on it as a crutch.
It Is an Opinion, Not the Definitive Answer
In the end, yes, the coverage is just an opinion — no matter how experienced the reader is. Iconic screenwriter William Goldman once said, “Nobody knows anything.” It’s so true. Remember that all studios passed on Star Wars, Raiders of the Lost Ark, E.T., and Back to the Future.
So always remember that whether the coverage is favorable, unfavorable, or somewhere in between, it’s just an opinion in the end. But that opinion may have some fantastic points that you should consider.
Too many screenwriters believe the coverage they pay for is the be all, end all. If the reader says it’s brilliant, that doesn’t mean you’re sitting on a surefire hit. If they say it’s horrible, that doesn’t mean you’ve written a piece of s**t.
But you always have to ingest what they say — good and bad — and see for yourself, as a writer, whether or not certain points made make sense.
It Is for Pointers, Not Proofreading
Don’t expect a word-by-word and line-by-line proofread with your script coverage. That’s not what the reader is there for. They are not proofreaders looking to “mark your script” with every grammatical, spelling, and format error from cover-to-cover.
The essential details are the concept, story, characters, plot, characterization, pacing, tone, atmosphere, marketability, and catharsis, to name a few.
Less important are the homophones you missed, the words you spelled wrong, and the formatting you used incorrectly. To be quite honest, those issues should have been taken care of before you sent the script out to anyone.
However, the reader is there to point these issues out in a broad stroke notes. But if you want a full proofread, ask a friend or hire an editor.
It Is for Constructive Criticism, Not Glowing Reviews
If your script is that good, they’ll let you know. But don’t have high expectations that most novice screenwriters have — that the reader will dazzle them with kudos about how good the writing really is.
Most screenwriters believe their work is brilliant when they start out. The smarter and more prepared ones think otherwise and know that they’re paying for coverage so that they can get constructive criticism to help them evolve into better writers — and to help develop their scripts into cinematic experiences worth glowing reviews.
If you can’t take the heat in the script coverage kitchen, don’t pay to be in there in the first place. But understand that the ability to take notes and feedback is vital to your success as a professional screenwriter.
It Is for Inspiration, Not Answers
You can’t rely on any ready to fix your screenplay for you. Many have high expectations that the reader is there to do just that.
This is the pitfall that screenwriters fall into when it comes to coverage being the aforementioned crutch. They hold the reader and the coverage so high, to the point that every negative thing written in the coverage has to be fixed and the only person that can fix it is a professional reader. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Readers are there to point out what works, what doesn’t, and how the market may react based on current trends and expectations. And beyond that, they are there to ask questions and offer some minor options that writers could be inspired by to find the answers they seek.
You may not agree with everything they write. They may not understand everything you write. But they are there to help guide you on the many possible paths that your screenplay could take.
If you read any coverage that outright dictates where the story should go and what the characters should say and do, run like the wind and find a better consultant or service.
The best coverage offers an educated opinion and dangles a few possible solutions.
Read ScreenCraft’s How to Write (and Assess) Amazing Screenplay Coverage and Feedback!
Script coverage is a reliable tool that you can utilize to better your writing. You just need to manage your expectations to get the most out of it.
Ken Miyamoto has worked in the film industry for nearly two decades, most notably as a studio liaison for Sony Studios and then as a script reader and story analyst for Sony Pictures.
He has many studio meetings under his belt as a produced screenwriter, meeting with the likes of Sony, Dreamworks, Universal, Disney, Warner Brothers, as well as many production and management companies. He has had a previous development deal with Lionsgate, as well as multiple writing assignments, including the produced miniseries Blackout, starring Anne Heche, Sean Patrick Flanery, Billy Zane, James Brolin, Haylie Duff, Brian Bloom, Eric La Salle, and Bruce Boxleitner. Follow Ken on Twitter @KenMovies