The 6 Script Coverage Components In Detail
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So let’s break that whole coverage down and let me give you some notes on it.
I’ll go ahead and re-paste the same script coverage above, but this time, I’ll make notes for you as I go:
First up, the logo. You’ll notice this is the logo from my company, Screenplay Readers. Not every company you work for will have a graphic or logo at the top of their coverage template, (some example script coverage templates can be found here) but they generally look nice and give the reader of the coverage something to stare at and/or drool on should the coverage itself not be that interesting to read.
A heads-up: some companies you work for may provide you a coverage template, such as a Word document, but fail to include the graphic of the logo itself within the Word document, so make sure you’re not missing any graphics.
The Header Section
Take a look at the header info from the coverage sample:
Paco and James
Comedy / Triller
Title, writer, length, genre, and date should all be self-explanatory, but let me mention a few others that aren’t included in my company’s coverage template, but are commonly found in many other coverage templates you may run into:
If you see “SUB TO:” in a script coverage, it generally indicates whom the script was submitted to. In the case, it was submitted to the company, Screenplay Readers.
If you work for Amblin Entertainment, and the script was submitted to Amblin, you’d write SUB TO: AMBLIN or something similar.
If you see “SUB BY:” in a script coverage, it generally indicates who submitted the script.
CIRCA indicates the general time period of the script. Is it a western? If so, is it 1830’s or 1870’s? Or some other date?
In our example above, we include GENRE and CIRCA on the same line (“COMEDY/THRILLER”) but don’t list a circa. Some script coverage forms won’t, but if they do, the header is where to include it.
CIRCA can be a general set of dates, or it can be a more vague time period, such as “Revolutionary War period” or “Far future.” Generally, don’t get bogged down in dates if you can help it. The goal of script coverage is to give the reader of your finished coverage a quick idea of what the script’s about, and that includes the time period.
“Format” in a script coverage header simply indicates what form the material is presented in. For example, the format may be “Screenplay,” or “Treatment,” or “Short,” or even “Novel.”
ANALYST is simply the name (or initials) of the script reader. In this case, it’s reader RT2. Which may stand for “Richard Thomas.” This is where you put your initials.
Next up, the LOGLINE:
The Logline Section
It’s a dream come true when Mexican drug thug Paco takes an interest in producing James’ screenplay, but the production soon turns deadly.
Note how brief the logline is. It doesn’t go into details, but paints a super-quick picture of what the story is about.
It’s important that you keep this logline exactly that: a line. Or two. Maximum! If it takes more than 3 lines to describe the script, go back and rework it. Don’t waste your client/boss’ time with a long logline. It’s got to be brief.
The Synopsis Section
And now the synopsis:
JAMES, a gay screenwriter and JOHN, an award-winning actor, flee for their lives in the Mexican desert, chased by Mexican drug lord PACO and his armed men.
Flashback to the beginning: we learn that down-on-his-luck screenwriter James has messed up his big chance, and he feels so low he tries to kill himself.
Friend AL turns up at the opportune moment…
I won’t reprint the entire synopsis here, as you can just go back up to the previous page or two and re-read it.
The most important aspect of the synopsis is brevity and readability.
Put simply, a script coverage synopsis must briefly summarize the story in a way your client can comprehend immediately and without a lot of reading. Admittedly, that’s often a tall order, especially with terribly-written screenplays whose plotlines and themes are all over the place.
Your job with the synopsis is to filter out what’s not important and include what is important. Focus on the main story (if there is one), and don’t go down the rabbit hole.
Remember, keep your reader/client/boss in mind. They want the story beamed into their brain quickly. They don’t care if the script was completely convoluted. Your job is to transmit clarity, even if you’re just transmitting clarity about how convoluted the script is.
Synopsis Writing (Part 1)
The fundamentals of writing a script coverage synopsis. The basic specs, format, and guidelines. (6:37)
Synopsis Writing (Part 2)
Learning to know what’s important enough to include in the synopsis and what’s not. Also: paring down descriptions, subjectivity, and “breadcrumbs.” (12:25)
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The Comments Section
Now the COMMENTS section, or what my company calls…
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, PACO AND JAMES 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…
Again, I’ll cut the comments off here, and you can reference the full comments on the preceding pages.
The main idea with comments is to keep it professional, keep it as objective as possible, and to not bash the writer, but not fill his head with fluff and drivel at the same time.
In fact, I’m of the belief that the best way to write comments is to leave the writer out of the comments entirely.
So stuff like:
“You should trim up page 14”
…should generally be avoided, as you’re addressing the writer.
99.999% script coverage you’ll be asked to do at an agency or production company or studio will be of the cut-and-dry, no b.s. variety. And that precludes addressing the writer.
Why is that? Most agents and execs and producers don’t have time to hold the writers’ hands and help them improve their scripts. They only want to know if the script is something they should get involved with.
That being said, if you’re interested being a script reader who starts their own business in order to provide that educational route for your clients, by all means, please do. There are many services that provide a similar personal touch.
The Analysis Grid Criteria
Finally, our script coverage template includes the Analysis Grid.
Let’s take a closer look at it and zoom into what each criterion in the analysis grid actually means. Keep in mind, the specific criteria of any coverage template is going to vary from company to company. That is, some may have some variant of every element I list, and some many have none, or even twice as many.
Concept is fresh or original
How original, fresh, or unique the analyst found the script’s concept to be. A low score in this category isn’t always bad, as many script buyers prefer tried and true concepts. I write about how screenwriters can hone a concept by crafting an “elevator pitch” for their scripts in this post here.
Concept is/contains a strong and/or “buzzworthy” hook
Does the concept have a strong hook? In short, this is a measure of how much an analyst estimates it would cause people who hear it say “I wish I’d thought of that.”
Theme is well executed/interweaved well
Does the story have a strong theme or motif? Is it worked into the story well?
First 10 pages set up the story well
How the analyst feels the first 10 pages help get things in motion.
First 10 pages are compelling
Do the first 10 pages draw the reader and the audience into the story and engage them?
Script is well structured
Does the script have a structure, whether it’s 3-act, 8-act or something completely different? If it sets up a new structural convention, does it serve the story well?
Every scene in the script feels essential
Does each and every scene serve a purpose in propelling the plot, or revealing character, or setting a tone, or engaging the reader?
Scenes are the appropriate length
Are scenes too long, or too short, for what they’re presenting?
Stakes are clear/conflict is strong and/or compelling
Are the stakes high enough? Is it clear what they are? Does the story have conflict?
Characters’ choices drive the story forward
Do the characters’ actions, choices, and reactions drive the story? Does causality drive the plot, or do the scenes unfold too arbitrarily, or too episodically?
Pacing is strong and the story keeps moving
Whether the story is intended to be fast-paced or a slow burn, does the pacing feel right?
Story is not overly complicated or hard to follow
Does the script have too many scenes, characters, plot threads, reveals, or any other elements that are making things too hard for a reader or audience to follow?
Story is not bogged down by exposition
Is the story is explaining things a bit too much? For example, over-explaining via too much backstory, too many flashbacks, too much voiceover, etc.? More of what I mean about bogged down exposition here.
Tension builds/escalates throughout
Does the story build tension? Does it do it well?
The climax/resolution is satisfying
Did everything in the story come to a resolution in a way that makes sense, and will be entertaining to an audience?
Protagonist(s) is (are) likable and/or compelling
The protagonist doesn’t necessarily have to be likable, but they should at least be fun to watch.
Supporting characters are likable and/or compelling
Same thing. Are the supporting characters interesting to watch?
No characters were extraneous
Does every character in your script serve a purpose? Or do we spend time with characters that don’t do much for the story?
Dialogue reads as natural and/or believable within this story
Does the dialogue sound authentic within the parameters the writer has set up for your story? If it’s a modern, gritty cop movie, do the cops sound real? If it’s an alien space adventure, do the alien overlords speak in way that lets us suspend our disbelief?
Dialogue reveals character
When the characters speak, does what they say or how they say it tell us more about them as characters?
Format and presentation adheres to industry standards
Does the script look and feel like what the film industry at large would consider to be a pro screenplay?
Spelling, punctuation, grammar, and usage
How well did the writer manually spellcheck? Did they use “their” when they meant “there?”
Action text is concise, not overly descriptive/prose
Are the action lines crisp, brief, and easy to visualize quickly? Or do they have a lot of extraneous description?
Action text “shows” instead of “tells”
Does the script’s action text and description tell us how a character is feeling? Or, preferably, does it show us by having that character do something?
How easy to read the analyst feels the script would be for an agent, agent’s assistant, contest reader, producer, or other film industry reader. (I illustrate a few important concepts behind the formatting / presentation aspect of a script’s readability here.)
All of these criteria, or some variation of them, are essential for a script to be judged against when writing script coverage. They’re the meat and potatoes of essential screenwriting metrics.
That is, they’re not just questions to be answered in the Analysis Grid or any other numerical scoring portion of your coverage. They’re the level of questions to be asked and issues to be raised and contemplated while forming your opinion of the script as you read it, and serve as the basis for all the critique you include in your comments section.
Note, formats and layouts (i.e. the “look” of the coverage itself) definitely vary from company to company, so make sure you’re using the template/format assigned to you by whatever company or individual you’re working for.
Or, if you’re working on your own as your own boss, feel free to customize the look of your coverage however you feel works best for you and your clients.
You’ll notice at the end of our sample coverage, the reader recommendation the reader gave the script was:
Keep in mind, there can be as many different types of recommendations as you like, but there are really only three standard recommendations that the film industry uses: PASS, CONSIDER, and RECOMMEND. If you missed what these recommendations mean, you can pop back up to the beginning where I go over all of them in detail.
And feel free to modify those recommendations, as long as you can be clear in doing so, and you’re serving the interest of whomever will be reading and using the coverage.
Such as STRONG RECOMMEND, or RECOMMEND WITH REVISIONS, etc.
Stick around for the next chapter, where we’ll dive into how to write script coverage comments.
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