script coverage

Script Coverage: Why You Need and Where to Get It

Content is king, and you know it — that’s why you wrote a script. But if you don’t get script coverage before you send your baby out to prospective buyers, you might not be putting your best foot forward. If you just wrote your first screenplay, you already know script writing is a great place to get started in the film and television business. It costs nothing and all you need to invest is your precious time… (and perhaps some cash on script coverage — but we’ll get to that). That said, it’s an incredibly competitive field and the number of scripts that are written vastly outnumber the scripts that get produced. You need to stand out. If someone requests to read your script, you might just get one shot to show them what you can do. If your idea is great but it is poorly structured and under-developed, you might be perceived as a hack, and be quickly dismissed. On the other hand, if you hand in a polished beauty of a script and they aren’t hot on the idea, they are more likely to look at something else you have.

By now you’ve probably done your homework. You’ve read every book on script writing, you’ve listened to podcasts, you’ve given birth to a draft, and have suffered through many re-writes. You’re so close to success you can taste it. But until your script has an audience, you really have no idea if it is working or will have your intended effect on people. This is why you don’t want to send it out, yet. You don’t want a very busy Script Analyst, Producer or Manager who holds the key to your future to be your guinea pig. Let someone else do that, someone who will give you constructive feedback and make your script better. And the best person to do this is a professional – someone who analyzes scripts for a living. But before you dole out money for script coverage, I would take a look at other ways to get feedback on your script before you spend the big bucks.

In this article, we’ll look at the following options for script coverage:

  1. Writers groups
  2. Film festivals like Slamdance and Blue Cat Screenplay Competition
  3. Websites that give feedback like The Blacklist and American Zoetrope
  4. Script coverage services like
  5. Writer career sites

Writers Groups

The safest place to get feedback is from your friends. They are so supportive and want nothing but success for you. They also rarely tell you the cold, hard truth. They will focus on the good stuff and not mention what isn’t working for them. So you may want to start there, but move on quickly!

The best way to begin the torture of getting criticism is to find other Writers. Even if they are not seasoned professionals, they can tell you if something isn’t clear. If you are open to it, they can also suggest something that might help make it better. It might not be something you agree with, but it might lead you to the right solution. Make sure you choose people who have the same sensibilities and are equally as motivated as you. You won’t get everything you need here, but it’s a great place to warm-up.

There are loads of script coverage services out there. Here’s what you need to look for: have these people, indeed, worked in the industry doing studio coverage for industry insiders? Have they worked in development? Are they in the Editor’s guild as a story analyst? Check their credentials before you fork over hundreds of dollars.

Film Festivals

Another place to get objective feedback is through film festivals. Two of the most popular places where they offer decent feedback are Slamdance and Blue Cat Screenplay Competition. It may not be too detailed, but it will be anonymous, which has its benefits. They don’t know you, so their critique is formed solely by the words on the page. These people, however, are rarely industry professionals, so it won’t be as constructive as in-depth coverage. Nevertheless, it’s a great stepping-stone that costs less than script coverage services. Screenplay competitions otherwise don’t do much to advance your career so be careful about spending money in this arena. There are exceptions, but do your research. By choosing festivals that offer feedback it’s easier to justify the fee. At $35 and up a pop, I’d submit to a few and save your money for something that can be more beneficial to your writing career or getting your script in tip-top shape.

Websites That Give Feedback

There are two kinds of websites where you can get feedback – peer critique and industry critique. Both have value. You just need to take the feedback with a grain of salt. There are a number of these sites, but two of the most popular ones are The Blacklist, which is industry review and American Zoetrope (of Francis Ford Coppola fame), which is peer criticism.

The Blacklist website was designed to give writers “industry access.” There are a number of sites like this, so make sure you know what you are getting into. They often dangle a carrot: if you sign up with them and your script is up to snuff, it could get the attention of Producers or Managers, who can search the site to see if anything grabs their attention. This might happen, but don’t hold your breath. The Blacklist touts that six scripts have been produced in three years… out of 55,000 scripts submitted!

American Zoetrope is a peer review site, which is an expanded version of a writers group. In order to get reviewed, you must give a review, so it’s a bit tricky. You don’t know how experienced the Writer who gives feedback on your script is, and not everyone is good at constructive criticism. You have to have tough skin with these sites. They both can hit you in the gut.

First of all, it’s ok to disagree with a note. I have a five-time rule. If five people say it, I need to think about it.

Script Coverage Services

There are loads of script coverage services out there. Here’s what you need to look for: have these people, indeed, worked in the industry doing studio coverage for industry insiders? Have they worked in development? Are they in the Editor’s guild as a story analyst? Check their credentials before you fork over hundreds of dollars. Also, check out what they offer. Some will just give you “studio coverage,” which is the kind of coverage they would give to their bosses; others give you more constructive criticism. I prefer the latter. Studio coverage will get in the weeds and let you know what is working and what is not, and give you a “recommend,” “consider” or “pass” grade, but detailed feedback will give you more tools to jump into a rewrite. See if they offer a phone consultation so you can clarify things and ask questions.

Writer Career Sites

Another resource for Screenwriters are sites like the International Screenwriters Association or Roadmap Writers. There are others, but these are the most popular. Both of these sites offer coverage, but also offer ongoing support for Writers. Roadmap Writers, in particular, will work with Writers not only on developing great scripts, but they also help Writers develop their careers. They, too, offer to hook you up with industry professionals, but they help you hone your craft first, then pair you with industry professionals they know and who would be a good fit for you. With these sites, you get more attention and they offer a solid sounding board for Writers who toil away alone in the dark. They can also be your champions. The more Writers they shepherd to the top, the better their reputation is and the more business they get.

What to Expect With Notes

First of all, it’s ok to disagree with a note. I have a five-time rule. If five people say it, I need to think about it. Also, sometimes people will respond with their taste. If it’s not their favorite genre, they may not be hot on your story. Or if the character is someone they don’t like, well, you’re out of luck – with them. Let it roll off you and move on.

However, there are times to pay attention. If something isn’t clear, make it clear. It might make sense in your head, but not to a reader. What information did you forget to put on the page? Character notes are also important. If the character is misunderstood or has no depth, you really need to take heed. We watch movies to identify with characters so dig into these notes to make sure you have created a character an audience can latch on to. The same goes with the character motivation. These things are the backbone of your script.

Structural notes are also important. I’m not keen on the three-act structure, or things happening on a certain page, but if your reader can’t follow the story, that’s a legit problem. One somewhat ambiguous note you might get is, “the stakes aren’t high enough.” To address this note, a good question to ask is, why do we care about what happens to these characters? The more your character has to lose, the more engaged your audience is.

The most important thing about getting notes is to remember that they are not personal. The more you get notes, the more you will be able to decipher what is critical and what is opinion. Don’t let your ego get in the way.

Ultimately your goal is to sell or produce your script. So you absolutely want it to be rock solid or it will be tossed in the garbage after a few pages, or, if you made it yourself and got it on a screen, it will be turned off in two minutes. Your work will get better with notes. Notes are a part of the life of any filmmaker. Quite frankly, the more successful you are, the more notes you will get – Director notes, Producer notes, studio notes…. Get used to them and make them work for you!

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