How Much Script Coverage is Enough?

Does this dress make me look fat? Is the Rudolph-red zit on my nose noticeable? I can’t help but ask these questions even though I know, I just know, I might not like the answers. And I never ask just one person…I ask everyone I meet. They all have a different answer depending on their relationship with me, their personal agendas and whether or not they’re actually interested in my zits.

Recently, I had a similar experience with my script.

After the sixth draft, I knew that I had an entertaining story. But I wanted an entertaining product. So, I did what I always do…I sought an objective opinion. I asked a script coverage service, “does this script make me look fat?” I also asked two other well known services. I waited anxiously for my golden tickets to arrive and then…

I panicked.

Each coverage service had a very different opinion on my dear script. Each one pointed out very different opportunities for improvement. Did I grab my red pen and jump into that rewrite? Of course not. I stuffed it all in a drawer and attempted to learn knitting for the seventh time. I just wasn’t prepared for the onslaught of albeit constructive criticism. It’s hard enough to face one dissenting reader, but how could I reconcile the fact that the readers disagreed with each other? Weren’t these people professionals? Wasn’t there one right answer to making my script a blockbuster?

Well, no, apparently there is not. There is only the inner voice, which I had been neglecting. Naturally, I asked a friend what to do. After noting the irony of my question, she advised me to read the drafts and choose the one that entertained ME the most. In my editing angst, I had forgotten how my masterpiece came to exist in the first place. Last February, I got an idea, a wonderful story idea that kept me awake at night. So precious was this idea that I didn’t want anything to crush it. I eliminated all distractions. I canceled contest announcements. I didn’t read any screenwriting newsletters. I just followed my instincts.

Recharged and ready to rewrite, I sent the family away for the weekend, stocked up on chocolate sorbet, passed my inner voice a bullhorn and opened the drawer of death. After a second read, I realized that I had been taking the whole thing too personally. These professional opinions were tools that I could use as I saw fit to sharpen my story. The choice was all mine.

Despite giving the script a “Pass,” the first service provided the best constructive encouragement for the rewrite. The coverage report included a fantastic tool, which graded the project based on mechanics, character, structure, market and production values. The reader pointed out the problems, and there were many, while still leaving room for me to explore the story that I wanted to tell. I continued working with this service and was rewarded with a hearty “Recommend” and a chance to be scouted by their development executive!

The second service also gave a “Pass,” pointing out a weakness in the script’s choice of genre. I was aiming for a dramedy along the lines of “Juno” and “Waking Ned Devine.” I learned that combining genres means achieving a precarious balance between two tones. More importantly, the balance must be maintained throughout the script, and that’s where I fell short of the target. On the plus side, the reader praised my narrative writing skills, especially where I used my autistic hero’s unique point of view to visually shape the scenes. After a rewrite, they gave me a “Consider,” noting that I had taken my material as far as it could go commercially. A producer later translated this for me to say, “your excellent writing skills made this the best damn indie script possible, but Tom Cruise will never buy it; so move on!”

The third service recommended that I change my title and my main character. Ouch! It was easy to ignore the reader’s advice because several words were misspelled in the report. In the very first line, Asperger’s was rendered phonetically as “Assburgers.” That had me worried, but there was useful feedback about the marketability of my script. I decided to take my “Consider” and move on.

Coverage can be expensive and it demands patience as each report can take up to three weeks. But I highly recommend that isolated writers find a service that inspires and enlightens their work. There is so much to learn and having an ally, even a paid movie mercenary, can elevate a pet project to Hollywood heaven.

I discovered that I work best with the detailed feedback that’s delivered in a neat charted package. It saves me hours of breaking the script down myself. When selecting a service, I first ask how the feedback is framed and how qualified is the reader? Is there a discount for resubmission, and a choice to be read by the same reader or a new one? And there should NOT be a single typo in the report. We’re writers and we should expect our paid readers to hold themselves to the highest standard.

If any coverage services are interested in coverage of their coverage, I’m available, but expensive.