When screenwriters need notes, they ask their peers, their fellow writers, or their writers groups. And when they’ve exhausted all their free options, they often use paid screenplay coverage services.
Forking over your hard-earned cash to a script reader or a coverage company doesn’t come easy to many folks, and I don’t blame them, because there are a lot of know-nothing script services out there that have been known to work with readers who, well, let’s be generous and say, “are somewhat inexperienced.”
But if you work with one of the good services (and if you’ll pardon me lumping my own company, Screenplay Readers, into that mix), you’ll find there are many benefits to working with a screenplay coverage service. Especially if you’ve hit a wall with all the free feedback you’ve received from your peers or writers groups.
Here are just a few of the benefits of paid script coverage, in our opinion. As always, do your research, find the company that’s a fit for you, and make sure you exhaust all your free options before hiring a coverage service.
Instant Relief from the Solo Screenwriting Vacuum
Many screenwriters write in a vacuum. That is, they have nobody giving them feedback or insight on their scripts, ever.
Or, if they’re not part of a writers group, or a community of like-minded peers isn’t readily available in their town, or if they find the notes they’re getting from online forums and the like somewhat lacking, then they’re probably depending on whatever feedback they can from non-writerly friends and family, who may know precious little about the mechanics and art of screenwriting.
Paid screenplay coverage, if done right, can yank you almost immediately out of your “vacuum” and sit you face-to-face with feedback on your screenplay. Again, if you’re part of a writers’ group or similar, you’re already out of that vacuum, hopefully. But for those who can’t seem to find a good group, or are socially averse to joining groups, the screenplay coverage service is a great tool to keep handy.
They’re usually better than friends at catching typos
This alone is often worth the price of a paid screenplay coverage service. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve sent out scripts that are missing an entire paragraph, or have “their” and “there” mixed up in one sentence because I didn’t pay close attention to the spellcheck. Many veteran screenwriters still send out scripts that have glaring punctuation, grammar, and spelling errors, and it’s not helping their script any. Not to mention, it’s unacceptable and completely unprofessional to send out a script which isn’t formatted in the proper film industry screenplay format. If you’re a first time screenwriter, getting script coverage can be a much-needed cold splash of water in the face to make sure you’re making your script look as professional and as error-free as possible.
They show you how an anonymous reader would react
So you’re finally ready to send out your gross-out comedy script to agencies and producers. Awesome! Let’s say you’ve sent out 20 of them to various places across Hollywood. Now let’s say only one of your scripts gets opened and placed on some assistant’s desk. (And 1 out of 20 ain’t a bad success rate!) But uh-oh, the assistant whose desk your script landed on isn’t into gross-out comedies.
But as a screenwriter, submitting out to agencies and producers, you have no idea who’s throwing your script away and who’s reading it, let alone what kind of scripts your reader prefers. But let’s say you did know that your gross-out comedy was sent to 20 agencies, and knew that of those 20, 19 of them were thrown in the trash, and then also knew that one of those agencies actually opened it. Now imagine you have a choice: (A) Tell them “Don’t read it!” Because the script reader doesn’t like gross-out comedies, or (B) Have the script reader who doesn’t like gross-out comedies read it anyway. Of course you’d choose B. Any chance of having your script get read and liked is better than no chance at all.
So that means your script has to be ready for anything, including the reader who may not have a predilection for your script’s genre. When you get your script covered before you send it out, you see how an anonymous reader would react to your script. Maybe they like your genre, maybe they don’t. The true value in the script coverage is the insight you get from having your script get covered in as close-to-real-world circumstances as possible, which includes not necessarily being paired up with a reader who is predisposed to your particular writing style, or your particular script’s genre.
A total stranger synopsizes your screenplay
As a screenwriter, I find it massively helpful to read the synopses of my scripts, as written from total strangers. I discover that entire story beats can be completely missed, entire sections of the script don’t make sense to the reader because they missed a certain part, or glossed over it too fast. I use these opportunities to go back and double- and triple-ensure that the next draft of the script is super clear on these specific weak spots. It’s not the reader’s job to make the script make sense. It’s the screenwriter’s. And if you can use their synopsis of your script as a way to strengthen your script, you’ve already gotten your money’s worth from your coverage.
They can help gauge how your spec script sizes up to others
Script readers who do script coverage on a regular basis read tons of scripts. Tons. And they see tons of movies. They generally have a vast background in all things cinema, and share a massive passion for the movies. So they can tell you where your film falls, relative to other films who may be similar. And that can be a valuable tool to make sure that your script isn’t unwittingly copying or lifting another film’s story, characters, or elements. Script coverage catches unoriginality before you get egg on your face by sending it to an agent. A good screenwriter would love to have the ability to make a tweak or two to her script if she found out she’d unwittingly written a story beat that apparently plagiarized another film. We’re all human and this is bound to happen, but by getting your script covered before you send it out, you stand a chance of catching these unintentional gaffes.
Screenplay coverage is just one of many possible steps on the road to making your script the tightest, most awesome script it’s destined to be. Writers groups, fellow screenwriters, and peers can all provide great notes as well, so make sure you exhaust all your free options before enlisting a paid screenplay coverage service.