What is Script Coverage?
Whether you’re a screenwriter or a director, a producer or a distributor, a financier or a development executive, script coverage is something that the lion’s share of film & TV professionals come into contact with on a regular basis.
Script coverage essentially sprung out of a very simple problem: namely important people not having the time to read all the scripts that are sent to them. As a result, these decision-makers pay other people (script readers, read more about them here) to assess all those scripts for them, and send them script coverage now instead.
A script coverage report is basically a document which can be read in under 5 minutes, and which delivers a great deal of information about the script in quite a compressed space (often as little as 3 pages).
Script coverage is basically a document which can be read in under 5 minutes, and which delivers a great deal of information about the script in quite a compressed space (often 3 pages). The executive or producer who has requested the coverage can then learn a lot about the script, without having to read it herself. In businesses as fast-paced as film and TV, time is money and companies feel that paying for script coverage may cost them in hard dollars, but the time it saves them is invaluable and – indeed – necessary. Sometimes, believe it or not, an executive or producer will pretend to have read a script, and even give an opinion on it in a meeting, without having done so. All they’ll do is read the coverage instead, and their opinions will actually be those of their trusty script reader.
Script coverage basically consists of three parts: a “details” section which includes elements such as the title of the project, its genre, who submitted it, how many pages long it is, and other pertinent facts; a “synopsis” section which is a blow-by-blow prose account of what happens in the script (note: this is not a pitch, or a cliffhanger-style teaser, but rather a hard block of text which just tells the reader the plot); and finally coverage includes a “comments” section, which consists of the script reader‘s views on the script, where it’s strong and where it’s weak, whether the plotting is effective, how the project fits into the marketplace and whether there’s an audience for it, and lots more analysis.
When a script is sent in to a company by a writer, it goes through a certain process, outlined below:
WRITER sends script to…
AGENT, who sends it to…
PRODUCER, who sends it to…
READER, who writes script coverage about it…
Once the script reader has read, analysed and completed his or her coverage, it’s sent to the person who requested it (typically an executive in a production company or distributor, a producer, or a very established literary agent), who makes the final verdict on whether to Pass on the script or look to option it for further development. Script readers are obliged to deliver a verdict on each script they read. These are:
- “Pass” (don’t option it)
- “Low Consider” (potentially take a look at it, but with major reservations)
- “Consider” (take quite a serious look at it)
- “Recommend” (read it, and quickly!)
After deciding whether to pass on the script, or take it further, the executive/producer reports to the agent who relays the decision to the writer, as outlined below:
SCRIPT READER, sends script coverage to…
PRODUCER, who decides whether to Pass or not and informs…
AGENT, who must break the news to…
WRITER, who either celebrates or goes back to the drawing board!
Script readers are a pivotal point in this process and are the first ones to decide whether a script is worth developing further as a film or TV series. They’re often the first line on the “script filter”, which separates a writer from a major producer or executive. Script coverage is the document that organizes these thoughts and allows for easy communication between reader and executive/producer.
There are several types of written script evaluations: industry script coverage, studio script coverage, distribution script coverage, television script coverage, and writer feedback aka “script notes“. These types depend on who is reading the script, their purpose in reading the script, and the type of script.
Standard Industry Script Coverage
With industry script coverage, the reader is evaluating the project for a producer, development executive or funding body. This report is generally brief and to the point (c. 3 pages long), containing:
- A synopsis (1 page)
- Some comments on the strengths and weaknesses of the project (1 page) and
- A recommendation for further action (ie. Pass, Consider, Recommend etc). The report is very rarely sent to the writer.
This type of report is often referred to as ʹcoverageʹ and allows the person reading it to make an informed decision about whether to take the project further. Executives and producers tend to favour succinct coverage. Reports should clearly and concisely explain the plot (without getting too bogged down), before cutting to the heart of the script’s strengths or weaknesses in the report section. A typical industry report not only contains spaces for a synopsis and comments, but also devotes a page to a breakdown of the script’s details and elements, a logline, and a grid for a more visual assessment of the project.
Download a sample film industry script coverage template HERE.
Hollywood Studio Script Coverage
While industry script coverage serves as a general template for all production companies, individual production studios will have their own ways of formatting script coverage. Below is a template of the first page of a studio coverage for an unnamed Hollywood studio. The next page would include a synopsis, followed by a page of comments. As you can see, the order of the elements, the content of the grid, and other details are specific to this studio.
Download a sample Hollywood studio script coverage template HERE.
Distributor Script Coverage
Distributor script coverage is used to help a film distributor decide what films to promote and sell to the public. This type of coverage is very similar to industry coverage, except the focus is placed even more firmly on the marketability of the script. Elements such as the target audience of the film and a broadcast of its sales potential are important additions. In addition, coverage for distributors focusses heavily on the “elements” attached. By elements, the companies mean the “names” or talent that are already attached to the script.
Chief among these is the director (never write script reports for distributors without making comment about the film’s director’s potential impact – positive or negative – on the project), any actors attached already, even the producers are DOP will be mentioned sometimes and at least a paragraph of a script report for a distributor needs to be dedicated towards the talent attached to the project. Distributor coverage looks very similar to standard industry coverage but can sometimes include more space for the talent (ie. an extra line on the first page to include any relevant elements).
Download a sample distributor script coverage report HERE.
Television Script Coverage
Reporting on film scripts is different than reporting on television scripts. Unlike film coverage, television coverage usually does not require a paragraph of evaluation or a grid analysis. Television coverage is also more condensed, with a shorter synopsis and comments section, reflecting the shorter page lengths (60/30) of teleplays.
Overall, there are more opportunities for freelance script reading in film than television.
Overall, there are more opportunities for freelance script reading in film than television. This is because while a film production company gets a constant stream of scripts to read and typically lacks the (full time) staff to read all of them, TV companies operate on a superior cashflow model and tend to employ more full-time staff to handle the script coverage in-house. It’s also true that as opposed to feature films – which are stand alone, on-offs – TV shows can run for multiple seasons so while new writers are required to work on the show (and writing samples need to be assessed to this end), it’s not strictly true that a flurry of new scripts are needed because a company might simply go into production on the 2nd series of a successful show.
Download a sample TV script coverage template HERE.
Writer Feedback aka Script Notes
Writer feedback (or just “script notes”, as it’s often known) requires far more detail and a more constructive, less critical tone than conventional script coverage. The other types of script report mentioned in this article are private, internal documents that only the company who requested them, the executive in said company, and the reader themself will ever see. These reports are not sent to the writer who wrote the script, and he or she will likely never know what was written about their script.
The best script editors are like wise old men bearing watermelon and wisdom, on a dry and dusty road. They exist to help rather than judge. Help not judge.
The contrast to these script reports are Notes. There is not usually a synopsis in this type of report (the writer doesn’t need one – he wrote it after all!). Obviously a level of diplomacy is required when discussing a script with its writer, and one of the primary skills of most good development executives is to convey the producer’s feedback (or their own personal feedback) and notes in a manner that doesn’t alienate or offend the writer.
Feedback should be constructive, conveying negatives as opportunities for improvement, and the script editor must dance along a line between being encouraging and inspiring, but equally realistic and tough (if need be). One thing readers pay special attention to is intention vs. execution. They may see what a writer was trying to accomplish, but recognize that he or she did not do this effectively in the script. The format of writer feedback is slightly different for each script reader, but it tends to be much longer than coverage and addresses the writer directly.
Script readers need impressive credentials to be able to deliver script notes and those who graduate from script reader to script editor read an awful lot of scripts professionally. A complete guide to the world of script reader jobs can be found here.
Download a sample script notes template HERE.
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