Pass, Consider, and Recommend: What a script reader means when they give you one

In the late 1990s, I worked for legendary B-film maverick Roger Corman, who made Bucket of Blood and the original Little Shop of Horrors, and whose film company gave some of Hollywood’s greatest filmmakers their first shot at directing – Ron Howard, James Cameron, Joe Dante, Martin Scorsese – the list goes on and on.

Bottom line, Corman’s development department (consisting primarily of the legendary Frances Doel) was always very busy, and a lot of spec scripts flowed through there;  a good chunk of which I had the pleasure to take home and read…  and to provide script coverage for.

And those script coverages boiled down to one of three typical ratings, adhering to the standards of script coverage which are still largely used industry-wide: PASS CONSIDER RECOMMEND.

Also known as the PASS, The CONSIDER, or The RECOMMEND.  

Here’s what they mean, in brief:

The Elusive “RECOMMEND” 

This is the highest rating, and it’s also the rarest.  Last year, my company Screenplay Readers gave only two of these.  When I read for Corman, if I rated a script with a Recommend, it meant I was saying to my boss and the others responsible for greenlighting scripts to get made into a movie should actually take this script home and read it.

So naturally, while I worked at Corman, I never gave a Recommend.  Then again, I never really read anything while employed there that was stellarly recommendable. And I certainly didn’t want the attention of my higher-ups if they wasted their time reading a script I recommended.   And yes, I thought about submitting one of my own scripts to Corman and giving it a Recommend, but quickly dismissed the idea, as I knew such a ruse would be ridiculously transparent.

The Considerable “CONSIDER” 

This is the middle/mediocre rating.  It means the script either has some interesting characters, or a good concept, but just isn’t great in other areas.  

Maybe the plot was confusing, or there were too many minor characters, or the dialogue stunk.  CONSIDER is what I’d give to a script if I wanted to give a script a high mark, because I could always say “Hey, I didn’t Recommend this. So don’t come after me with salad tongs if you don’t like it.” 

A CONSIDER is sometimes just as good as a Recommend, depending on the ratio of crap scripts to quality scripts a company ordinarily receives.

And then, the lowest, but most common rating,

The Noble “PASS” 

This rating is what the majority of scripts being read and covered at studios and production companies receive. But I would suggest that the PASS is actually noble rating. That’s because when a screenwriter’s script receives a PASS,  it means the reader found a lot that needs work, and hopefully, ideally, has laid out a smorgasbord of things to improve in the next draft. Of course, if the coverage is written in a real-world / live scenario (say, at a studio, production company, or agency), it could mean that the screenwriter’s work has joined the vast, ever-growing pile of movies that will never get made. 

Impatient readers (like younger me in the late 1990s) would give a PASS to a script after just two pages.  Some, after just one page.  Because most readers can tell right off the bat whether or not the writer is a complete and utter drooling pinhead or has anything to say that’s worth their time.  And yes, to some readers (like younger me in the late 1990s), they’re all drooling pinheads, and no, nobody has anything to say that’s worth anybody’s time.  They’re all bad.  All scripts.  All the time.

Heck, sometimes readers give a PASS when the script is good. Who knows why?  Maybe they’ve got a similar script idea and they don’t want yours competing with it.  Yes, it’s a vicious world. Oh, and by the way, waiters spit in your food, too.

How much you should worry about these ratings?

A little. Remember: script coverage is mostly an internal-use document. When most film industry people ask about script coverage, it’s in the context of something like “Did this script get coverage yet? How did the coverage come back? Favorable? Not so much?” In some cases, script coverage at Agency A might make its way to Agency B, but that’s usually only if the script is good and it’s generating some buzz amongst the folks at Agency A and they somehow end up chatting about it with the folks at Agency B. Or if word reaches Agency B in some other way.

Generally, script coverage is going to be kept in-house, and even then only really kept at all, or indeed, created at all, at mid-size or larger agencies and production houses or studios. And even when the script coverage is saved/stored by a company, only a few of them really do a decent job of tracking that coverage. Many rely on ad hoc spreadsheets or lackluster databases to track their coverage, and like I said, that’s if they track it at all.

So in some select situations, your PASS, CONSIDER, or RECOMMEND could end up on your “permanent record,” but it’s more likely just going to be in a company’s poorly-kept database, if at all. To be sure, some companies keep really great records, and once your script gets a PASS, you might not get another read, but that’s not something that should keep you awake at night. After all, getting any sort of read, for a new screenwriter, can be a good thing. That said, this is the reason my company, Screenplay Readers, exists — to help writers make sure they get their scripts into tip-top condition before sending them out to agencies and production houses, where they might be covered and logged, and their scores carved into stone forevermore. (Kidding!)

Smart writers use PASS, CONSIDER, and RECOMMEND to their advantage — don’t let the PASS stop you. Don’t get too flustered or confused by the CONSIDER. And finally, don’t let a RECOMMEND go to your head. Every company defines these metrics somewhat differently. And remember — they’re just that: metrics. Arbitrary metrics. They’re not supposed to be the end-all-be-all judgment of your draft.

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