Here's a Bad Example of CoverageComplications Ensue
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Monday, March 02, 2009

This example of screenplay coverage wound up on Digg, and I have to say, it is not what professional coverage looks like.

When I was doing coverage back in the day, the only categories that got checkboxes were: CONCEPT, STORY, CHARACTERS, DIALOG, PACING, STRUCTURE & LOGIC.

These days if I were doing coverage I would probably boil that down to HOOK, STORY, CHARACTERS and DIALOG.

Note how the coverage dissects the story in detail; mostly, it seems, to show off how smart the reader is. They might be useful feedback for a rewrite, though my own personal approach to giving notes has more to do with strengthening the structure of the story -- increasing jeopardy/stakes, strengthening the obstacles/antagonist, making the hero more compelling, giving him more of a problem.

If I were commissioning coverage, all I want to know is: does this have a great hook? If it does, is the story well told & are all the elements of a great story there? Are the characters compelling and fresh? Is the dialog yummy?

I only need these categories because they relate to how much work a rewriter would need to do. If there's no hook, the project is dead. If there's a hook but the story is weak, I can conceivably bring in a writer for a page-one rewrite, but it's going to be a lot of work. (I've done enough page-one rewrites, Lord knows.) If the story is good but the characters are weak, that's a lighter rewrite. If the characters are well defined but the dialog could be punched up and the characters thereby rounded out, then that's just a polish.

The coverage on the Triggerstreet site relates to how well written the script is. Producers don't really care about that in the abstract. They need to know whether the script is worth optioning; agents need to know if they will be able to sell that puppy. A badly written script with a great hook is worth something. I've optioned those. A well written script without a hook is almost useless unless you, the producer, have direct access to bankable elements.

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Yeah, this is for-hire coverage -- the kind of thing a writer pays for to improve his or her own performance. It's useful (I've done it) but the script consulting companies are very clear that this is not what actual studio coverage looks like.

That said, this example seems particularly verbose.

By Blogger Seth, at 1:07 AM  

Hey, a didn't know you were a fellow Digger, Alex. I actually commented on this article there on Digg, thinking that it might be useful to read. I had a tiny feeling it might be suspect, but didn't know it was that bad. Now I feel like a bit of an asshat.

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 1:52 AM  

I'm glad you shared this ... I had one of my scripts covered by the service and was unhappy with the result, not so much because it was critical (that's never fun, but that's what feedback is, right?) but rather because I feel, as you note, the reviewer just missed the boat.

It's good to hear from someone I respect that I wasn't necessarily wrong in believing that.

By Blogger Joshua James, at 9:04 AM  

Maybe coverage that explained the story a bit less would be somewhat less useful to us, since we don't have the script to hand, though? I don't know, I have some sympathy for this coverage. I take your point about which boxes you think need to be checked and why. Your logic about which elements are important because of what they say about the state of the script makes sense, too.

But I thought the reader appeared to highlight the problems as well as the possibilities of the story pretty well, and I'd agree with the assessment about where the story maybe becomes too laboured to be effective. Presumably the exec looking over the coverage could now make a decision about whether to take it any further given the problems?

By Blogger David, at 12:08 PM  

I've written more than 2000 pieces of coverage and read hundreds more, but never have I seen the coverage writer work himself into the comment section as much as this guy did. "About 30 pages into MY BROTHER’S REAPER, this reader wrote the following note"...

Couldn't he just have said "About 30 pages in I noted..." "This reader" this, "this reader" that... I wonder if he talks about himself in the third person? Blecchh.

By Blogger Mr. Word Player, at 6:00 PM  

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