A Typical Script Coverage
Share this Post
So, now that you know what tools you need to get started, it’s time to get started on the fundamentals of script analysis and writing script coverage.
So, what is script coverage? What does a typical script coverage look like? What’s it made up of?
Basically, script coverage is basically just a 2-4 page book report, so to speak, on a screenplay, written by you, the script reader. You provide this script coverage to the screenwriter, or the agent, or whoever has commissioned it, or ordered it, or thrown a screenplay in your face and said “Get to work.”
How do people use script coverage and why do they want it done?
Remember, screenwriters use the coverage to improve their script, or to give it a “dry run” before they submit to contests and agencies, etc.
Agents use the coverage to see if they should bother to read it, or to figure out if, for example, a recommended writer or script is a fit for them.
Producers may use the coverage to see if they should bother going through all the trouble of making the script into a movie.
And so on. There’s a lot of reasons people want scripts read and covered, and a lot of different uses for it, but the main ones I just mentioned will make up the majority of script coverage orders / assignments.
As a script reader, your job is to not only read the script, but to write script coverage. But what if you’ve never written script coverage before?
If you know how to compose an email, and can think critically, and have a solid foundation in screenwriting you’ll have no problem writing script coverage, as I’ll show you momentarily.
So, what goes into a script coverage?
An Overview of Screenplay Coverage
The COMMENTS SECTION
The ANALYSIS GRID
and The RECOMMENDATION
So let’s break those down:
THE HEADER is the section usually at the top of the script coverage.
It usually includes:
The author’s name, the script title, the page count, the genre of the script (western, comedy, romance, etc.), the name of the person or company who submitted the script for coverage, and the name of the reader who is reading the script.
Then right below the header is THE LOGLINE.
A logline is basically the entire story of the movie, squashed down into one or two sentences.
So, for example, one possible logline of the movie JAWS could be something like:
A massive great white shark stalks a beach community. A city cop teams up with a professor and an old drunk fisherman to hunt it down.
Or something like that.
Loglines are very important, and they’re the part of the coverage that probably requires the second most amount of thinking, after the, Comments section, which I’ll describe in a moment.
The next section is usually THE SYNOPSIS.
This Synopsis is generally 1-2 pages long, and it describes, story point to story point (or, as we say in the film industry, beat-by-beat), what happens in the script.
Check out the sample coverage I’ve included below to get a feel for how a synopsis is written.
A synopsis shouldn’t get too detailed, or too long, pagewise, as that defeats the purpose of its short-form nature. A synopsis generally only includes the major action, major events, major turning points, major characters, major themes, and major conflict. That is, if you’re writing minutiae in your synopsis, you’re probably doing it wrong.
The next, and arguably most important section is THE COMMENTS.
This is where you, as a script reader, offer your subjective observations and analysis and critique of the script.
Some examples of critical questions you might answer in your comments section:
Did it have interesting characters?
Was the conflict strong?
Is the dialogue well-written? Or is it flat and hard to read?
Does the story have a great concept, also known as a strong hook? Or have we seen this concept a billion times before?
How was the pacing? Were there unnecessary scenes? Did they drag on forever?
Were there flashbacks? Were they, like many flashbacks, confusing as all hell?
Did the writer use too many words to describe action? Was the script difficult to get through as a result?
And so on.
A comments section is generally also between 1 and 2 pages, single-spaced.
A few quick additional notes: If you’re doing a script coverage for an agent, or a production company, or even a script reading company, they may have their own proprietary styles and standards for you to follow, with regards to how your coverage looks, and what you focus on in your comments section as well.
For example, some companies may ask you to give your opinion on whether or not the script is a good fit for Nicholas Cage, or, whether or not you think this script is a marketable film for teens or seniors. Or Hispanics, or African Americans, or families, or kids under 12.
The next section of a typical script coverage is the ANALYSIS GRID.
Now, not all script coverages have Analysis Grids, but some companies require you to use them.
An Analysis Grid is simply some sort of grid or scoring system, containing all the categories that the company wants you to rate the script in:
Such as, dialogue, conflict, originality, format, spelling, budget, etc.
They usually ask you to assign a RATING to each box, whether it’s FAIR, POOR, GOOD, EXCELLENT, or even on a scale from 1-10, or 5 stars, or 1-100.
Grids like these are used by many companies, so you want to be aware that they exist, and be ready to use them.
And finally, the last section you’ll find in a typical script coverage is THE RECOMMENDATION (or Rating)
The Recommendation of a script coverage is usually the first thing anybody reads, when they pick up your coverage.
And sometimes, it’s the only thing they read.
And the standard rating system for script coverage is this:
PASS (for scripts that aren’t so good, or which, need a lot of work)
CONSIDER (for scripts that need a little work, but generally have more redeeming qualities, such as a good hook, or great dialogue.)
RECOMMEND (for scripts which are ready to go, or extremely close, or just have a lot of good things about them, which warrant a read by the next person up the food chain.)
So as you might imagine, PASS is the most common rating, and RECOMMENDS are the least common rating because there are so few really decent spec scripts floating around out there (an axiom which is probably going to stay true for the indefinite future.)
So, PASS, CONSIDER, AND RECOMMEND are basically the “grades” that you as a script reader give to the script you read.
Now, of course, keep in mind, that that recommendation/rating you give a script has to generally “match up” with the critical things you point out about the script in your comments section
In other words, you probably shouldn’t rave about how great the script is in your comments section and then give the script a PASS, in your rating. That should just be good ole common sense.
Keep consistent what you’re transmitting to the intended reader of your script. Confusion in a coverage, as in a screenplay, must be avoided at all times.
So without further ado, let’s jump into a sample script coverage right now so you can get a feel of what one looks and smells like. We’ll use a script coverage template from my company, Screenplay Readers.
A Sample Script Coverage
Thriller / Political / Modern Day
It’s a dream come true when Mexican drug thug Juan takes an interest in producing Jerry’ screenplay, but the production soon turns deadly.
JERRY, a screenwriter and BARRY, an award-winning actor, flee for their lives in the Mexican desert, chased by Mexican drug lord JUAN and his armed men.
Flashback to the beginning: we learn that down-on-his-luck screenwriter Jerry has messed up his big chance, and he feels so low he tries to kill himself.
Friend LARRY turns up at the opportune moment to announce that he’s found someone who wants to make Jerry’ movie. After reminding Jerry that he wants to succeed at all costs, Jerry reluctantly gets in the vehicle with the Mexicans.
At Juan’s luxurious home, Jerry crosses paths with the beautiful HERMIONE. His bliss soon turns to horror when he discovers Juan is a psychopath who plans to kidnap the leading actors for the film.
Terrified actors arrive, but Barry ends up enjoying the experience after falling in love with Jerry’ script. The filming begins, and the actors all do as they’re told, especially after witnessing Juan ruthlessly killing five men.
Jerry is torn between his love for the filmmaking process and Hermione, and the voice of reason, which ends up coming from a terrified Larry. Desperate to leave, Larry makes an attempt at escape only to be killed.
Jerry only really realizes just how trapped he is after Hermione makes him aware. The filming ends, and all that is left is the wrap party, after which Juan will have no need for any of them.
Barry comes up with a plan to run away disguised as women, and they succeed after having managed to fool the fat and stupid guard CARLO. They run and hide in the desert.
Juan soon realizes what’s happened and after killing the remaining actors goes after Jerry and Barry. Jerry hides in a hole he’s dug but Barry is caught and tortured.
Hermione searches for Jerry, and is relieved to find Barry dead and not him. Brother Juan is furious with her for loving Jerry and this makes him more determined to go into the mountains after him.
In the mountains, Jerry goes under a transformation, becoming one with the land and attracting the support of wolves. He concocts some explosives from materials he finds.
Jerry and Juan battle to the death. Hermione arrives and keeps Juan from dealing a fatal blow to Jerry. Wild wolves descend on Juan to finish him off. Hermione and Jerry ride off.
At an awards ceremony, various cast members receive awards; the film, as well as the film within the film, was all just a film.
WHAT WORKS / WHAT DOESN’T / SUGGESTIONS
With a concept revolving around a filmmaker’s attempt to make a movie for a dangerous Mexican cartel leader, ARIZONA DREAMIN’ promises to be a unique and entertaining story, quite different from other “behind-the-scene” movies. However, with a jumbled narrative and uneven tone, the script still needs a lot of work.
The plot, when boiled down to its basics, is quite promising: Jerry, a struggling filmmaker in Hollywood, is given a chance to turn one of his scripts into a movie with the “help” of Mexican cartel boss Juan Blanco, but it soon turns into a hostage situation where Jerry scrambles to finish the movie to save his life.
The main problem with the script is that, despite this fairly straightforward plot, the narrative isn’t well-defined enough to move the story forward. The script has too many scenes with very little tension in them, or do not contribute to the overall conflict (all the scenes of Conrad Benjamin III performing Hamlet, for example), which slows down the entire script.
In a nutshell, the tone of the script keeps changing, the protagonist is unsympathetic, there are parts of the piece that are overdramatic, and the ending is unfulfilling.
But another reason the script reads as a bit all over the place is the fact that it never makes it explicit what Juan’s threat toward Jerry and the cast is (is he going to kill them? Keep them prisoners forever?) so the stakes aren’t clear enough. This also means that Jerry doesn’t have a clear plan of action: how is he planning to escape? Does he want to escape at all? Is he trying to make the movie just to mollify Juan, or is he doing the best that he can for his art? This leads to a lack of direction in the plot development, making it rather clunky.
While there are comedic moments to this piece, Juan is too violent and dangerous. The kidnappings are harsh, but still darkly funny. Juan killing a bunch of his crew isn’t humorous in any way. This takes away from the tone of the piece.
The sequence that follows, with Jonathan unable to act, could be amusing, if the massacre hadn’t just happened. Juan killing the dog is way over the top. This gives the script a very ambiguous tone.
It’s a bit coincidental that Jerry finds all the ingredients he finds and that he knows how to put them together to make gunpowder. This and his sudden transformation into a warrior who can make wolves walk away with their tails between their legs are extremely hard to buy. If they’re intended to be over the top for the sake of humor, they don’t come across that way.
The surprise ending that this was all a movie is a bit campy and predictable. It’s not an original concept and it defeats the whole purpose of the story, since it was all just a movie anyway.
Also contributing to the script’s muddled feel is that at times, it is not clear what genre it’s meant to be. The opening scenes certainly have a comedic tone, but as the story progresses, it becomes more of a thriller, only to become slightly surreal toward the ending. It could certainly work as a comedy thriller or a spoof (especially with all the surrealist elements in the third act such as Jerry’ battle with the wolves), but both the humor and the suspense need to be amped up a lot more and be consistent throughout the script.
In terms of characterization, the script could use more focus as well. Jerry is a sympathetic and identifiable protagonist, but as mentioned above, his character suffers from the script’s lack of direction. He doesn’t have a clear-cut, tangible goal, which may make it difficult for the audience to follow him on his journey. His character arc could also be clearer as well: does he start out as a man willing to sell his soul to the Devil just to get his movie made, and end up learning his lesson?
To wit, Jerry seems intended to be the protagonist, but what he should be striving for: getting himself and his cast free from Juan, he doesn’t have any interest in.
Instead, all he cares about is getting his film made. This makes his goal one that the audience isn’t going to be able to get behind. What’s at stake for him if he doesn’t make his film is he won’t have a career. Considering what else is happening in this story, that’s extremely trivial.
While this should be a story about Jerry trying to heroically free his friend and his kidnapped cast against extreme odds, that’s not the story that’s being told here.
This gives much of the script very little conflict, despite the extreme circumstances and violence. Until the end, Jerry simply wants to make his movie and he’s making his movie.
When Jerry tries to kill himself, it’s marginally comical. But ultimately, it just makes Jerry come off as weak, and uninteresting.
The dialogue is a bit flat and over the top, but it works for a zany comedy. However, since much of this script gets too serious to be a zany comedy, the dialogue sometimes feels out of place.
Juan’s dialogue is especially unclear. At times he seems intended to be comical because he’s so over the top, but at other times, he seems intended to be menacing.
For example, on p. 102, Juan says: “Who are you?! Geronimo!? You think I can’t see the bloody tracks?! Huh?! Conjo! Move!” This could be intended to be humorous, but given what Juan has done and is doing, a comedic moment feels out of place.
The rest of the cast is serviceable to the plot, but they could be more well-rounded. Their relationships with each other and with Jerry would go a long way in making the characters more memorable and believable, but right now it’s either all on the surface (such as the relationships between Jerry and Barry Conrad, or between Jerry and Larry, while a lot of interesting parallels and contrasts could be drawn from them) or nearly non-existent. Juan himself could also be more effective as an antagonist, as he comes off as a one-dimensional psychopath, without any depth to his character.
In conclusion, there is a good idea behind the concept this screenplay, but it currently suffers most from an unfocused execution. The script needs to decide if it wants to tell a dramatic story (think Sunset Boulevard) or a comedic one (think Bowfinger), in order to appeal to he audience.
Concept is fresh and/or original: 65
Concept is/contains a strong hook: 60
Theme is well executed/interweaved well: 63
First 10 pages set up the story well: 59
First 10 pages are compelling: 58
Script is well structured: 75
Every scene in the script feels essential: 61
Scenes are the appropriate length: 68
Stakes are clear: 69
Characters’ choices drive the story forward: 55
Pacing is strong and the story keeps moving: 67
Story is not overly complicated or hard to follow: 82
Story is not bogged down by exposition: 68
Tension builds/escalates throughout: 63
The climax/resolution is satisfying: 69
CHARACTER / DIALOGUE
Protagonists are likable/compelling: 70
Supporting characters likeable/compelling: 68
No characters were extraneous: 56
Dialogue reads naturally/believable: 72
Dialogue reveals character: 74
Format adheres to industry standards: 79
Spelling, punctuation, grammar, and usage: 74
Action text is concise, not overly descriptive: 80
Action text “shows” instead of “tells”: 76
Overall readability: 78
AVERAGE SCORE: 68.36
And that’s a coverage. I should say that’s one way of doing coverage. There are many different methods to skinning the proverbial coverage cat. Let’s break this coverage down, section by section, in the next chapter.
Share this Post