WHAT IS SCRIPT COVERAGE?
Script coverage is a tool used in the development of screenplays for film and television production, in the attachment of agents and managers as representation, and in the process of selling a screenplay. In the past, script coverage was developed internally by production houses, agents, and managers for internal use. Today, screenwriters bear a greater share of the responsibility for developing their screenplays, marketing them to agents and managers for representation, and selling them. Because writers are playing a greater role in how film scripts and television scripts are produced, script readers and screenplay development service providers are making script coverage more directly available to screenwriters.
Script coverage can be provided for feature film screenplays, television pilot scripts, short film scripts and even film treatments, and it typically includes four basic elements. First, a script reader will generally provide the “vital statistics” of a screenplay in their coverage. Such information generally includes the script’s title, the script’s author, the date of the script’s coverage, the screenplay’s page count, the genre of the script, and a script’s coverage often includes a rough estimation of the screenplay’s production budget. Following these details of the screenplay, film or television script coverage will usually provide an overview of the screenplay’s content. In most cases, this overview includes the logline, a list of the main characters of the screenplay and their defining characteristics with regard to casting, and a short synopsis of the screenplay in question.
Following a script reader’s breakdown of the content itself, script coverage almost always includes the script reader’s own perspective on the material. Because screenplay coverage is written primarily as a tool for producers, agents, and managers, the script reader’s assessment is generally focused on setting expectations for whether conditions the screenplay is suitable for development in the first place, how a screenplay needs to be developed to be produced or sold, what risks and rewards are involved in developing the screenplay for production, or selling it, and how that screenplay can serve the interests of the producers, agents, and managers who might be reading the script coverage. Finally, a script reader will generally include a rating system in their script coverage, by which a screenplay’s value and excellence is graded across a spectrum of criteria.
Almost every piece of script coverage will rate the script’s concept, the script’s structure, the script’s characters, and the actual writing of a screenplay by one metric or another. Such ratings systems are a representation of the script reader’s assessment of a screenplay, in terms of its value to managers, agents, and producers. In almost every case, a script reader’s script coverage will conclude with a recommendation on how agents, managers, and producers should proceed with the screenplay. Such recommendations, which specifically pertain to the question of whether agents, managers, and producers should represent the script through the process of selling the screenplay, or developing the script for production, are almost always a variation of:
“RECOMMEND,” which is a suggestion from the script reader that the agent, manager, or producer proceed with representing the script through production or selling it outright…
“CONSIDER,” which suggests that there may be some conditional value for an agent, manager or producer in representing the screenplay through production, or selling it, and…
“PASS,” which is a recommendation to the agent, manager, or producer not to represent the screenplay, either with regard to selling the script or with regard to developing the script for production.
Taken as a whole, script coverage is meant to provide an overview of the challenges that producers, agents, and managers will face in selling a screenplay, or developing a screenplay for production, as well as the benefits of seeing that development or sale through to completion. Think of script coverage as a snapshot of the value and the work involved in developing or selling a screenplay from the perspective of a producer, manager, or agent. Good script readers understand and anticipate the needs of producers, agents and managers, and good script coverage parses the information provided by the screenplay in a way that makes it accessible to the producers, agents, and managers who are considering that script for production or representation.
DOES SCRIPT COVERAGE HELP SELL SCREENPLAYS, OR FIND AGENTS, MANAGERS, AND PRODUCERS?
Receiving favorable script coverage is exciting for a screenwriter, for the obvious reason that reading a “recommend” and some encouraging notes on a given piece of script coverage validates a screenwriter’s creative vision and their craft as a screenwriter. At the same time, even the most insightful and favorable piece of script coverage does nothing to guarantee that a screenplay will sell, or that it will navigate the production process. Presented to producers, agents, and managers, positive script coverage serves as a script marketing tool. Screenplay readers are essentially meant to serve as third party experts that can help direct a producer, manager, or agent’s attention to the screenplays that most directly serve their professional development. If a piece of script coverage speaks to the needs of an agent, manager, or producer with professionalism, insight, and efficiency, then that script reader’s recommendation is more likely to carry weight with regard to how that screenplay can sell, or how it lends itself to production.
At the same time, not every script reader, producer, agent, or manager agrees on what makes a screenplay sell or what it makes a script viable for production. Agents, managers, and producers come from all different types of backgrounds, in a wide spectrum of industries, and the film industry’s leadership is supported by a patchwork of standards and practices when it comes to screenwriting as a result. One script reader’s idea of what makes a screenplay likely to sell, or more likely to survive the production process, can differ very widely from another script reader’s understanding of the same script. If both of these readers were to write script coverage on the same screenplay, both pieces of script coverage may be equally correct and equally valid in the objective sense. Any given agent, manager, or producer may find one script reader’s coverage more valuable than the other script reader’s coverage, based on their own background, business practices, and creative values when it comes to screenwriting.
Of course, the same problem exists when pairing a script reader with any given screenwriter. If a screenwriter has a very clear creative objective in writing their screenplay, and if that screenwriter achieves their objective in a way that demonstrates their craft as a screenwriter in every way the screenwriter believes is important, that doesn’t mean that a given script reader will apply the same standards of craft when writing their script coverage – nor should they. If a script reader has a clear definition of what makes a screenplay likely to sell, or likely to see production, then they are responsible for ensuring that any agents, managers, and producers who are reading their script coverage are protected and supported in their careers by the script coverage they read. In other words, giving a screenplay a “recommend” is only a good idea when the script reader believes, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that selling or producing the screenplay in question will benefit the careers of the agents, managers, and producers involved.
For this reason, it’s very common for a screenwriter to receive a “pass” or a “consider” in script coverage. Obviously, receiving these recommendations lessens the value of that coverage as a marketing tool to agents, managers, and producers. At the same time, such a rating may suggest that the screenplay still has work ahead with regards to script development, regardless of whether a screenwriter’s intention is to sell the screenplay or to produce it themselves.
In industry where agents, managers, producers, and even script readers are working within such a wide spectrum of professional standards with regard to screenwriting, how is a screenwriter supposed to know whether a given script reader’s coverage accurately reflects the likelihood of their script to sell, or to find success in production? In cases where a script reader has written script coverage that recommends a “consider,” or even a “pass,” the question a screenwriter needs to ask themselves is whether the script reader’s assessment of the script seems informed by the screenwriter’s own professional goals and professional standards with regards to screenwriting. If an agent, manager, or producer were to read this script coverage, and if they decided to trust the judgment of the script reader based on the assessment included in the script coverage, is that an agent, manager, or producer that the screenwriter would want to work with? If an agent, manager, or producer were to read the script coverage in question, and if they found the script coverage credible, what would that say about the judgment of the agent, manager, or producer in question?
Consider that a script reader’s own standards and practices inform the script coverage they write. For a screenwriter, reading a piece of script coverage just to see how the script was rated is going to diminish the value of their investment in having that script coverage written. Look at any given piece of script coverage as a breakdown of the script reader’s own values and expectations in terms of what will make a screenplay sell, or what will help a screenplay through script development and into production. If that script reader’s understanding of the process of selling or producing a screenplay seems reasonable and prudent to the screenwriter, then that script reader’s coverage can start to serve as a template for script rewrites.
Most script readers also offer more extensive script notes, as well as screenwriting mentorships and script doctor services. If a given script reader’s script assessment offers insight when it comes to what a screenplay needs to sell, or to find production, then it might be worthwhile for a screenwriter to ask about other script services by which that script reader can assist them in the development of their screenplay. Most script readers are experienced screenwriters in their own right, and most of them are eager to see their clients sell screenplays or have them produced.
In showbusiness, the two pillars of any successful career are the strength of a person’s craft, and the strength of a person’s community. When it comes to selling screenplays, or having them produced, the strength of a screenwriter’s craft is the objective measure by which their screenwriting can be said to be “good” or “bad.” When a screenwriter reads script coverage that identifies problems in the screenwriter’s craft, and when the screenwriter agrees that those problems can hurt a screenplay’s likelihood to sell or to see production, then it’s worth considering whether that script reader might be an ally in the process of script development. Depending on the script services that script reader is offering, it may be possible to get help in mastering the specific screenwriting skills that will maximize, even by their own standards, a screenwriter’s chances of selling screenplays or of getting them produced.
Working with screenwriting mentors and script coaches can be just as useful in building the community it takes to sell screenplays and to get them produced, as it is with regard to developing the craft. Film, and entertainment in general, are collaborative industries. When a script reader finds a screenwriter who meets or exceeds their own definition of excellence, that script reader is as likely as anyone else to share the screenwriter’s scripts with the agents, managers, and producers who support their career. In an industry where any one person’s success can impact the community, supporting the agents, managers, and producers in a script reader’s professional network by offering them great screenplays is a practice grounded in common sense.
Again, whether or not a script reader might be willing to share a screenwriter’s screenplays depends largely on whether that script reader believes the screenwriter’s craft and their creative contributions make them necessary to the community in the first place. Unquestionably, the best way to find out what a given script reader thinks about any given screenplay… is to read the script coverage! Reading script coverage can obviously give a screenwriter insight into the standards of the script reader who wrote that script coverage. Having that insight, a screenwriter is in a better position to make judgments about whether that script reader may be in a position to help them develop their craft and their community, and to help them through the process of script development.
To be very clear, asking script readers for assistance in meeting agents, managers, and producers, or in selling or producing screenplays, is typically considered very bad form. When a script reader has been paid for writing script coverage, that script reader naturally expects that providing script coverage will fulfill their obligations to the screenwriter in question. Using script coverage services as a means to try and query a script reader for access to agents, manager, and producers, or for assistance in selling or producing a screenplay, even when that screenwriter has received a “recommend” on their script coverage, is often a violation of the terms of service provided by the script reader. Even if that script reader is a manager themselves, the screenwriter isn’t paying the script reader for representation.
On the other hand, most script readers are interested in helping other writers succeed in the process of script development. If and when a screenwriter finds a script reader who’s notes challenge them to improve their screenwriting, and which offer them a new and valuable standard by which to judge the likelihood of their screenplay to sell or to find production, then investing the time and money to learn those screenwriting skills from that script reader can lead to a relationship where sharing access to producers and representation like agents and managers becomes a reasonable and necessary thing to do for the script reader in question.
Hiring a script reader to write script coverage on a screenplay is a professional interaction, and it’s a professional interaction that reveals details about the script reader’s professional standards and expectations with regard to screenwriting. If that script reader works for an entertainment company, then the script coverage they write may also speak to the standards of the entertainment company they work for, and by extension any agents, managers, or producers responsible for maintaining that entertainment company’s brand and approach to screenwriting. If the script reader in question works for representation of some kind, then the agents or managers at that company rely on the script reader’s script coverage for a reason. Whatever the script reader is writing in their script coverage, it serves the interests of those agents or managers in some way. Otherwise, the agents and managers in question would have found themselves some other script reader to write script coverage!
When a script reader works for a producer, that producer has hired the script reader in question because the script coverage they write reflects the producers needs and values. Whoever that producer is, the script reader they’ve hired is writing the script coverage they want to see. Always assume that the script coverage you read as a screenwriter reflects, in some way, the organization through which that script coverage was produced. Script readers get hired by agents, managers, producers and others because someone likes what they have to say in their script coverage, in other words.
Anytime a screenwriter receives script coverage on their screenplay, the details that script coverage offer to the agents, managers, and producers who might be reading it speak to the values and practices of the script reader and the entertainment company that script reader works for. Looking past the assessment and the recommendations of the script coverage itself, a screenwriter can use that script coverage as a basis for understanding how the script reader who produced that script coverage understands the process of selling or producing screenplays. By using script coverage in this way, a screenwriter can better assess which companies, producers, agents and managers they want to work with in their efforts to sell and produce screenplays. While it is always a bad idea to ask a script reader to help sell or produce a screenplay, or to help find representation like an agent or manager for a screenplay they may have written script coverage for in the past, understanding how script readers and the producers, agents, and managers they represent view the process of writing, selling, and producing screenplays can help a screenwriter figure out who they want to invest their time in, and how, when it comes to building their craft and their professional network for script development.
HOW CAN I USE SCRIPT COVERAGE TO SELL SCREENPLAYS, AND TO FIND AGENTS, MANAGERS, AND PRODUCERS?
Before sending script coverage to an agent, manager, or producer for review, the first step is to ensure that you have script coverage with ratings, an assessment, and a recommendation that demonstrates the likelihood of your screenplay to either sell or to find production. Ideally, any script coverage you send to a manager, agent, or producer will feature a “recommend” as the script reader’s recommendation. What’s more, any script coverage sent to an agent, manager, or producer should present comments that reflect the creative values of the agent, manager, or producer in question. In a best case scenario, script coverage should present ratings and comments that reflect the creative values of the screenwriter as well, because such script coverage will help that screenwriter to attract the kind of agents, managers, and producers with whom they are most likely to build a long term relationship.
Finding a script reader who will write script coverage that conforms to the screenwriter’s standards of script development is a matter of trial and error. Just like when a screenwriter is seeking partnerships with managers, agents, and producers, finding a script reader who writes script coverage that agrees with a screenwriter’s creative values and business practices requires a wide sampling of script coverage services. Taking the time and making the investment required to find the script coverage, and the script readers, that agree with any given screenwriter’s essential approach to script development is first and foremost a matter of requesting and reading script coverage from as many script readers as possible.
One mistake screenwriters are routinely making is to attempt to please every script reader, and to try writing screenplays that will receive unilaterally high ratings in script coverage regardless of where or by whom their script coverage is being written. The underlying assumption that drives this effort is that every script reader, every agent, manager, or producer is judging the process of script development, and the likelihood of a screenplay to sell or find production, based on the same criteria. As we’ve discussed, there is a spectrum of criteria by which agents, managers, producers and script readers judge script development, and the likelihood of a screenplay to sell or find a means of production. Of course, that spectrum is represented in the script coverage that script readers write. For this reason, finding the script readers and the institutions of script development that write coverage that’s in step with any given screenwriter’s philosophy of script development, of selling screenplays, or of getting them produced, will take time and effort.
When a screenwriter has found a handful of script readers that validate their core beliefs and core values about the process of script development in their script coverage, or when a screenwriter has found script coverage that gives them ample reason to revise those beliefs in the interest of selling their screenplays or seeing them produced, then the next step is to adapt and develop the craft required to meet the needs of those script readers and to receive consistently high ratings in script coverage. When a screenwriter finds people with similar ideas to their own about how to write a great screenplay, how to sell a screenplay, or how to get a script produced, and in particular when a screenwriter finds script readers, agents, managers, or producers who may have a stronger grasp of script development and how to sell a screenplay or get a script produced than the writer has themselves, it makes a great deal of sense for the screenwriter to master those tools.
Using any script development services available through the agent, manager, producer or script reader in question, the screenwriter can develop the skills of writing, selling, and producing film and television according to the needs of the script development community into which they are seeking to integrate their career. By embracing and mastering the tools of script development that may be specific to that script development company, and of writing, selling, and producing screenplays according to the needs and standards of the agents, managers, and producers with whom they seek to do business, a screenwriter can dramatically increase their chances of receiving favorable script coverage from those sources. Of course, the first clues a screenwriter will receive with regard to how those script readers, agents, managers, and producers can best be served will be in the script coverage they receive.
Once a screenwriter has developed their sense of how to solicit favorable script coverage from a given agent, manager, producer or other script coverage provider, the next step in utilizing that script coverage to drive script development, and to either sell or produce their screenplay, will be to ensure that their script coverage ratings are seen by as many script development houses, producers, agents, and managers in the film and television industries as possible. Of course, there are a number of ways to achieve this goal.
Today, most script development houses, as well as many agents, managers, and producers, offer script competitions and screenwriting festivals as a script service to screenwriters. Essentially, these script competitions are screenwriting contests whereby a screenwriter submits their script for script coverage. Based on the ratings provided by the script readers writing script coverage for the script competition, finalists are selected by a panel of the script development industry’s agents, managers. Having selected the winning screenplays, through their panel of managers, agents, producers, and other experts, the script development company hosting the contest will promote the winners and may assist the winning screenwriters in trying to sell their screenplay, or in finding agents and managers for representation, or in other matters of script development and public relations. When a screenwriter has established their ability to draw favorable script coverage from a particular script development company, it’s usually in the screenwriter’s best interest to participate in any screenwriting festivals and script competitions the script development company might be hosting. Having built a rapport with the script readers working for a given script development company, a screenwriter can leverage that rapport into exposure and public relations by participating in any screenplay festivals and script competitions for which those same script readers might be writing script coverage.
Sending favorable script coverage directly to agents, managers, producers and script development companies, in the hope of selling a screenplay or getting a script produced, is a process known as querying. Some managers, agents, producers and script development companies accept unsolicited queries, and most do not. Whether or not to send unsolicited scripts and script coverage to agents, managers, producers and script development companies is a question that every screenwriter needs to answer for themselves, and most of these agents, managers, producers and script development professionals will not take external script coverage at face value. If anything, an agent, manager, or producer is likely to have new script coverage generated by a script reader they know and trust. Even so, providing an agent, manager, or producer with favorable script coverage can get the process of script development moving. In any case, having positive script coverage with which to query agents, managers, and producers can certainly increase the chances of getting a read on any given screenplay. In this way, script coverage can be a powerful marketing tool for a screenwriter to use with agents, managers, producers, and script development companies.
Of course, favorable script coverage can and should be shared by a screenwriter over social media. Getting feedback for positive script coverage online, both from other screenwriters and any script readers that a screenwriter may have in their network, can draw the attention of agents, managers, and producers to the script and the script coverage in question. Online, screenwriters tend to celebrate one another’s successes. Posting script coverage that presents the screenplay in a positive light, so long as the script coverage in question is not proprietary to any particular agent, manager, producer, or script development company, can be the first step in selling a screenplay or in moving that script towards production.
Finally, it is always a good idea to forward favorable script coverage to any agents, managers, producers, or script development companies that may already have a given screenplay. Receiving favorable script coverage is a milestone in the script development process of any particular script, film, or television series, and milestones are a fantastic reason to reengage contact with any agents, managers, producers or script development companies that may have had the script in their reading pile. Positive script coverage suggests that a script’s development is gaining momentum, and letting a manager, agent, or producer know that the script is finding traction can be the thing that inspires them to invest in script coverage of their own, and then read the screenplay.
SCRIPT COVERAGE IS A FUNDAMENTAL TOOL IN SCRIPT DEVELOPMENT FOR SCREENWRITERS, AGENTS, MANAGERS, AND PRODUCERS.
Script coverage is the first piece of insight that a screenwriter, an agent, a manager, or a producer gets into the question of how a screenplay is meeting the demands of the script development process. Finding script readers who write script coverage that meets the standards of a given screenwriter is the first step in using script coverage to a screenwriter’s advantage. When a screenwriter finds a script reader or a script development company that provides script coverage which meets their expectations of how script coverage should read, the feedback that script reader provides can serve the screenwriter as a template for developing their scripts towards the goal of either selling those screenplays or getting them produced.
When a screenwriter is writing screenplays that get consistently favorable script coverage from script readers they know and trust, then that coverage can be used as a script marketing tool to start querying agents, managers, and producers in their effort to either sell their screenplay or get it produced. When a screenwriter knows that a given script reader or script development company is likely to give their scripts positive script coverage, it can be worth that screenwriter’s time and money to participate in any script competitions or screenwriting contests hosted by the script development company in question. Favorable script coverage can also be used by screenwriters as a very effective script marketing tool on social media, with which to attract the attention of agents, managers, and producers to a given screenplay. Finally, notifying agents, managers, and producers that a screenplay has received favorable script coverage can be a fantastic way to get them focused and invested in producing some script coverage of their own, and in engaging the script development process. In all of these ways, script coverage is a vital tool in the process of selling a script or of getting a script produced.
RECOMMENDED READING FOR ALL SCREENWRITERS.
‘Story’ by Robert McKee … considered one of the seminal books on writing effectively for the screen. McKee is probably the preeminent story guru with many accomplished and successful devotees.
‘Save the Cat’ by Blake Synder … a different approach to story and scriptwriting than McKee, by certainly a must read for all screenwriters.
‘Screenplay: The Foundations of Screenwriting’ by Syd Field … covering screenwriting basics with easy to understand concepts and practices.