How To Become a Script Analyst
What Does a Script Analyst Do?
Script Analysts are “the gatekeepers to Hollywood,” says Mark Chandley. Currently working for both HBO and Red Ampersand, Chandley’s typical day begins with receiving the material, which might be a script, book or another type of media.
After reading it, he’ll then begin on his coverage. Coverage usually consists of a logline, story synopsis, and notes. The logline is a one to two-sentence description of the story. The synopsis is a more in-depth summary of three to four pages. And in the final section of notes, running about a page, Chandley lists both the strengths and weaknesses of the material, including its marketability.
Depending on the length of the material, Chandley might have anywhere from a week to a day to complete his coverage. He states, “There are thousands of scripts flowing through Hollywood, and it’s the job of a Script Analyst to find the diamond in the rough.”
Chandley admits that his path to becoming a Script Analyst isn’t a typical one. In fact, while in college, he studied security and risk analysis. He always had an interest in law enforcement but realized that intelligence analysis wasn’t the path for him.
Knowing that he wanted to one day come to Los Angeles, Chandley began sending out his resume and landed at an unscripted production company where he started in its social media department. He soon transitioned into the role of Production Assistant and then Associate Producer. He also took on a job as a Script Reader.
Through this position, Chandley was able to accumulate strong coverage samples that eventually leveraged him into the role of Script Analyst at both HBO and Red Ampersand. Says Chandley, “I fell in love with story analysis and development.” And while he didn’t professionally pursue his college major, he notes that his ability to think critically has been a benefit in his current field.
Education & Training
When it comes to what kind of education could best benefit someone with aspirations to become a Script Analyst, Chandley emphasizes that “the best thing you can do is be a voracious reader.” Chandley recommends in particular reading as many screenplays as possible—both good and bad.
He adds, “I don’t believe you need a formal education.” That being said, it’s important to develop both critical thinking and creative writing skills, as both help in determining what makes an effective story.
A formal education can help in sharpening a person’s critical thinking and creative writing skills, but beyond a traditional four-year college or university, someone thinking of becoming a Script Analyst has options. Especially for individuals already in Los Angeles, programs such as UCLA Extension or On The Page offer classes that can enhance one’s ability to critically assess a script and explain that assessment through coverage.
What Skills Do You Need?
Outside of the classroom, Chandley recommends that someone wanting to do script analysis have production experience. He so highly values this specific type of experience because it gives insight into what kind of films are usually made and what will work or not work. Seeing firsthand the making of a movie can help a Script Analyst better evaluate the viability of a script since budget constraints are typically always a consideration.
To get production experience, Chandley states that entry-level positions like Production Assistant are a great way to start and gain that invaluable insight.
Chandley admits to being an extrovert by nature, yet he also states that he’s “not sure if there’s any one type of person who makes a good Script Analyst.” But an extroverted personality can be a boost when it comes to the networking side of the industry. Especially for someone who might one day want to have more involvement in film development, Chandley notes that “you have to get out and meet people.”
Because it can take some time to work through material such as books, patience is also key for someone looking to enter script analysis. Also important is having a critical mind that can work through the viability of many kinds of media.
The lifestyle of a Script Analyst can vary greatly. That’s because some Analysts may pursue this work on only a part-time basis, whereas others might make it their sole professional career. Chandley currently falls in the former category. His role as a Script Analyst is in addition to his traditional nine-to-five job. That means mornings before work, evenings after work and weekends are often devoted to reading and analyzing scripts.
So for someone looking to enter this field, they might need to prepare themselves to put in more than the typical 40-hour workweek. He also juggles his work with evening events and meetings, both of which are important for making and furthering industry connections.
As far as who Chandley most often collaborates within his role as Script Analyst, it’s typically department coordinators, including the Coordinator for Drama and the Coordinator for Comedy at HBO. Red Ampersand offers a bit more autonomy, but in both cases, Chandley notes that his job does not require him to come into an office. The vast majority of his work is done remotely.
In addition to becoming a Production Assistant, Chandley offers that working as an Intern or Assistant in an agency or management company can be highly beneficial for someone looking to become a Script Analyst. In many companies, the Interns and Assistants are given scripts to read and perform coverage on, which makes these positions invaluable for creating samples that could one day help a person secure a job as a Script Analyst.
Chandley adds that working in an agency or management company can also help an aspiring Script Analyst better understand the workings of the industry and what material is passed on or recommended.
How Much Does a Script Analyst make?
The average annual salary for Script Analysts is approximately $143,400. The salary range for Script Analysts runs from $135,000 to $150,000.
The vast majority of Script Analysts are freelancers. While a group of Script Analysts does belong to the union IATSE, that group is small—less than 100 people—and it works exclusively for the entertainment studios such as Disney, Universal, and Paramount.
Outside of that group, most Script Analysts are contracted to work for a company for a flat rate, which can vary according to the company and project. For instance, doing coverage for a book will typically earn a higher rate than that for a script because it requires more hours to read and analyze.
For someone looking to become a full-time Script Analyst, Chandley notes that it will generally mean working for several companies at a time. It’s possible, but because most companies have limited funds to allocate to script analysis, it’s rare for a Script Analyst to be fully supported through a single job.
Chandley also mentions that rates for Script Analysts have been fairly consistent over the years, meaning that someone who has worked in script analysis for several years will likely earn the same pay as someone who has done it for a shorter period of time.
Unions, Groups & Associations
Chandley emphasizes that an aspiring Script Analyst’s best resource is the internet. That’s because they can find online—for free—hundreds of scripts. And as reading and getting to know scripts is an invaluable skillset for someone in this profession, utilizing the internet is key. Coverage templates are also available online, which can help familiarize those interested in script analysis with this important resource.
Beyond reading as many scripts as possible, Chandley again recommends taking a script analysis or critical thinking class. Some books, including I Liked It, Didn’t Love It, also offer tips on how to effectively critique a script and write coverage on it.
To start on the path of becoming a Script Analyst, Chandley has some tips:
- Search online for a coverage template.
- Find the script of your favorite film.
- Write coverage on that script.
- Look for internships and job opportunities that includes coverage duties.
What is the single biggest suggestion you would give to someone wanting to get into this career?
“Never say no to opportunities,” says Chandley. Especially when someone is first starting out and has no contacts, he recommends taking any available job. It takes time and dedication to be successful in this career, and every job will provide experience that will lead to the next step. Chandley adds, “It will pay off.”
What’s the #1 mistake people make when trying to get into this career?
Chandley notes that some Script Readers come into the industry with a negative mentality, meaning that they focus only on the weaknesses of the scripts they read.
“It’s our job to help Writers,” states Chandley. That means also pointing out what they’re doing right and where they can improve. While giving honest coverage is imperative, the goal is to “help, not hurt” Writers and give feedback in a “positive, constructive way.”
What is the question people should ask about this career but rarely do?
“What else can I do to help?” Chandley emphatically notes. Being proactive is a key component to being successful in the entertainment industry, and even when starting out as an Intern or Assistant, showing a company’s superiors that above-and-beyond work ethic is important.
If you could describe in one word what makes you successful, what would it be?
Mark Chandley is an HBO Story Analyst and Writer hailing from St. Louis, Missouri. After graduating from Penn State University in 2017 with a degree in intelligence analysis, Mark moved to Los Angeles and had the fortune of writing and producing as an Assistant for two Emmy award-winning reality/lifestyle television programs.
He was involved in the development of series that were pitched at MIPTV in Cannes and Netflix. Mark was a script reader for Heidi Jo Markel’s Eclectic Pictures (Lovelace, Olympus Has Fallen) and evaluated incoming scripts as well as those in active development.
Currently he serves as a freelance story analyst with HBO where he reads books to determine suitability for feature or series adaptation. He also reads for Red Ampersand, the parent company of Screencraft, WeScreenplay, The ScriptLab, Coverfly and the many competitions they host.