What Is Script Coverage?
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Script coverage has become a vital component of the motion picture and television industry.
It’s not hard to see why, when you think about it: a script reader who reads a spec screenplay fresh out of the laptop of a screenwriter is essentially that movie’s first audience.
Will she laugh? Will she cry? Overall, will she be entertained? Will reading the script be a breeze? Or a pain?
Will she embrace the script and pass it up to her boss? Or will she throw it across the room and stomp on it with her steel-toed boots?
That is, will that spec script get made? Or will it join the huge pile of other spec scripts that don’t get made each year?
Without script readers, filmmakers, studios, small production companies, actors, agents, directors, and producers can’t possibly read all those spec scripts to determine which ones are marketable, artistically credible, and/or simply worth pursuing. There just aren’t enough hours in the day.
So the script reader, whether reading at an online script coverage company, or a small production company, a huge studio, a tiny literary agency, or a mega talent agency, provides an extremely vital service to the motion picture industry by acting as sort of a “first filter” on all movies that get made. In other words, a “first audience.”
And whether that script reader is at that small production company or that major studio, the service she provides is essentially the same:
Read the script and write what’s called a “script coverage,” which is essentially a 2-3 page “book report” on the script.
That script coverage is the essential document that busy producers, name actors, directors, and studio execs all read instead of reading the actual script, with the goal being to spend two minutes, rather than two hours, to determine whether a screenplay is worth pursuing, either to buy, option, produce, or attach talent to.
And this is where the script reader comes in.
With the amount of cable channels popping up, and the amount of internet outlets for filmed entertainment growing on a daily basis, the need for original material has never been greater.
But that means that the people and companies who turn those screenplays into films, programs, and series are more inundated than ever with spec scripts sent in by an ever-growing number of screenwriters, pro and amateur.
Which means the need for script readers has never been greater.
If you’re new to script reading and screenwriting and are looking for the quick, bare-bones essentials to get you started, let this book whet your appetite for learning, and taking your first steps towards a fun, rewarding, and flexible side job… or even full time career.
First of all, let’s answer some fundamental questions that are probably on your mind.
To write script coverage, do I need special training?
And the answer to that is yes. Absolutely.
But the good news is, if you already have a background in screenwriting, you’ve already got a head start.
As I’ll outline in this compendium, it’s actually fairly straightforward to get up to speed in a relatively short amount of time and get started on reading scripts within even a few days of reading this book, and applying the techniques and lessons I show you within.
If you’re completely new to the screenwriting field, this might be more of an uphill climb for you, but don’t be discouraged. There are plenty of awesome, free tutorials, courses, websites, and other resources out there that can get you up to speed relatively quickly. I encourage you to absorb as much of them as possible. I somewhat exhaustively detail what I consider to be the several different “ranks” of screenwriter in this article here. If you find yourself at a low level, take heart. You can still read scripts for a living, but your coverages might not read as the most expert or experienced until you “level up” so to speak as a screenwriter.
Bottom line, to be a script reader at any experience level, you don’t necessarily need a college degree or film school diploma, (although it helps immensely). And you don’t need to be a film scholar or the son of a rich producer. You don’t even need to be in Hollywood.
You just need to have (A) a love for movies…
You need to know, (B) what makes a screenplay “work,” on paper and with audiences and from a film business perspective…
You need (C) a word processor like Microsoft Word, or even a free one like OpenOffice, and in some instances, some screenwriting software,
And you need (D) a few free hours in the week to sit down and read a script or two.
And ideally, you’ll probably want to be actively pursuing a screenwriting career, or at least not giving up entirely. (Several typical reasons for which I give here.)
And that’s it.
So your next question is probably something like:
How much does writing script coverage pay?
Pay for script reading and script coverage generally ranges anywhere from $20 to $75 per script, depending on where you work.
The sky’s the limit really, but realistically, the bulk of the script reading work that’s available out there generally pays between $20 and $75 per script coverage.
Which isn’t bad at all, even on the low side, because if you assume that reading a script will take you around an hour, and then writing a coverage should take you about another hour, you’re looking at anywhere between $15 and $40 an hour for this kind of work.
And as you might imagine, rates for private script consultants, or script experts offering more in-depth services, go way up from there.
Where do script readers work?
Script readers generally either work from home, most of the time, or, depending on whom you work for, at an office such as a production company or studio or agency.
Script reading nowadays, thanks to the internet, is largely what’s called a virtual profession.
That is, you don’t need to be behind a desk for eight hours each day, because the scripts are generally in file format, rather than printed out on paper, and those files can be sent via email, super fast, and for free, as opposed to mailing big bulky paper scripts everywhere.
But of course there are those script reading jobs which require you to work in an office, where your duties might include other work such as script development, casting, or even pre-production, production, or post-production. Or even getting coffee.
There are script reader opportunities everywhere in Hollywood, because there just so many scripts to be read. And nobody wants to miss out on a hot spec script.
So wait – you ask – can’t agents, screenwriters, producers, and managers — can’t they just read these scripts themselves?
Yes. They could. But they don’t. The reason is simple: if they were to read one quarter of the scripts in their email inboxes, or stacked up around their office, they’d never see their families. Some would never sleep. Or eat.
Here’s how big this market really is:
AGENCIES, STUDIOS, PRODUCTION COMPANIES, etc. need script coverage, because, like I said, many they’re too swamped to read scripts themselves, or even their internal staff is swamped as well.
SCREENWRITERS need script coverage because they use coverage as a tool want to find weak spots in their script, with the goal of improving the script before they send it out to agencies, companies, festivals, or contests.
Or, commonly, they’ve written the script by themselves, alone in a room for many years, and now simply need feedback from a stranger with fresh eyes, because the feedback from their writers’ groups, friends, and families, has been exhausted, or proven unfruitful.
Or, sometimes, screenwriters need a script reader because they just want someone to tell them whether or not they’re a good screenwriter, and if they should keep going. Odd, but true.
Other places that require script coverage are screenwriting festivals, who may need hundreds of scripts read and reviewed, or least just briefly rated numerically with a one-page scorecard, for example, so they can choose from a smaller stack of scripts when picking the winner.
All of these venues I’ve mentioned are actively, constantly looking for people to read their scripts. But they don’t just want you to read them. They want you to provide written feedback.
And that feedback is called SCRIPT COVERAGE.
To get started writing script coverage, do I need anything?
First of all, you’ll need to have internet access and an email account. And then you’ll want to make sure you have scriptwriting software.
Some programs you should look into are:
MOVIE MAGIC SCREENWRITER (also known as Write Brothers Screenwriter)
Most programs are available for PC and Mac, and range anywhere from free to upwards of $300. But all of them serve one primary purpose: To format a script as you’re typing it, allowing a screenwriter to focus on what matters about her script, which is its content. (As opposed to its format.)
Most screenwriters will either use one of these apps, or they’ll use something like Microsoft Word or some other word processor. Word is okay for some, but I’ve found it’s a lot more difficult, generally, to get your script to look right in any software that’s not designed for screenwriting.
Another option for screenwriting software is to go online.
Online screenwriting apps/websites are basically the same as Final Draft and Screenwriter, but are hosted online, as opposed to being a software package you install on your computer. But be careful. Recently, a site like this, SCRIPPED.COM, lost all of its users’ data (read: screenplays) when they botched some sort of backup or had some sort of server error. Hundreds of screenwriters lost thousands of man/woman-hours of hard work and in some instances, the screenplays they had stored at Scripped were their only copy.
But back to my point, which is:
As a script reader, you’re going to need to be able to open anything your customers send you.
Most of the time, it should be a simple PDF. (PDFs are near-ubiquitous document files that are generally un-editable (at least without special software) but which open easily on most computer platforms with a minimum of hassle or third-party software installation. For example, the ability to open and view PDF’s is a feature built into Mac OS X, in the form of an app that comes with the operating system called “Preview.”
But a lot of the time, screenwriters or producers just don’t feel like making a PDF (or they don’t know how) so they’ll just send you their Final Draft, Screenwriter, Celtx, or Word file, and ideally, as a prepared script reader, you should be ready and able to open and read any and all of them.
So find the software package(s) you prefer and/or can afford and you can always add to your collection later. For now, you can count on most scripts heading your way as PDF’s.
The bottom line is: You don’t want to lose business just because your customer or boss can’t figure out how to send you a PDF.
I mentioned Microsoft Word. However, while it’s true that there are literally dozens of great word processing apps out there that you can use to craft your coverage, the unfortunate truth is that Microsoft Word (that clunky, tired, old, buggy app from the 1990’s that gets more and more bloated with each release) remains hugely ubiquitous.
So if you don’t have a copy of Word, unfortunately, you’ll probably need to get one.
If you can’t afford Word, or can’t afford a new purchase of Final Draft or Screenwriter, look on Ebay for used copies, or get your hands on a lower-priced academic version. Academic versions usually have fewer features, but those features aren’t generally mandatory anyway.
In the case of Microsoft Word, if you absolutely can’t shell out the cash for the program, you can download an “open source” aka free version of the entire Microsoft Office suite, called Open Office.
It’s basically a fully functional free program suite that does the same thing, generally, as Word does. There are, however, occasional glitches. For example, a table created in a Word document, and then opened in Open Office, may lose some of its formatting, and appear off center, or have rows that are too high or wide. Or a watermark in a document created in Open Office, which may appear at 50% transparency in Open Office, may suddenly blast off the page at only 5% transparency when that same document is opened in Word.
Beside little glitches like that, however, Open Office generally plays nice with Microsoft Word documents, so you might be able to just use Open Office. Do what’s the best fit for you and your pocketbook.
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