One of the key takeaways I wanted to emphasize at the Oct. 5 talk on screenplay coverage is: you can’t worry about who is doing the coverage — chimp, elephant, college intern, disgruntled writer, or otherwise.
Those of you who attended the Northwest Screenwriters Guild free event at Couth Buzzard Books also may recall I stressed how trust between producers and readers is paramount, and readers who provide inadequate coverage are recognized just so.
Don’t think of readers as gatekeepers, think of them as advisers. Sure, producers and creative executives rely heavily on readers to help sort through the stacks of screenplays delivered each day, but at the end of the day, the executives are the ones making the decisions.
As you can see in the image above, writers and projects are rated separately. An intriguing concept could be a “Recommend,” but if it is poorly executed, the writer would receive a “Pass.” Likewise, a good story could get a Pass if it’s not a fit for the production company. That’s why, prior to pitching your material, you want to use the Internet Movie Database to target productions companies working primarily in the same genre as your material.
But getting back to coverage…
Yet another reason not to fret about the level of experience of the person covering your screenplay, because, as you can see, coverage reports primarily are objective. There are some elements of interpretation in the form of readers’ opinions, but mostly it’s like the book reports you did in school:
- Who is the story about?
- What happens?
- What’s the theme?
Because we are in show business, other elements, naturally, come into play:
- Will this story attract top talent?
- Will this be easy to market?/Is this the right time to make this film?
- Does this need to be a film? Would it be better as a stage play? Short-form television?
- Will profit expectations justify the production budget?
- Is this story complete, or is more development needed?
Again, regardless of the reader’s opinion on such matters, the executives are the ones who make the decisions. And if you’ve written a concise, compelling screenplay that could appeal to top talent and be produced at a reasonable budget with the expectation of marketability, well, congratulations: you are your best gatekeeper.
Coverage reports serve one purpose: to help producers make business decisions. They are not to be confused with the in-depth analysis you might receive from other sources. When I do coverage for producers, I use the coverage template specific to their production company.
When I do screenplay analysis for writers, I use the custom ranking grid pictured above. I don’t mean to suggest producers don’t care about all of those items, but, when they’re making business decisions on whether to invest in concepts, their primary concerns are business-related, because their investors need some expectation of a return on profit. Does that mean producers don’t care about story? Of course not. Producers are in the business of producing. But they also need to make a profit so they can stay in the business.
In my talk you’ll recall I differentiated between screenplay coverage and analysis. In-depth screenplay analysis is designed to help you improve your work — it’s what helps you get in the door. Whereas coverage is what happens behind the door. It’s what helps producers make business decisions.
George Thomas Jr. is a board member of the Northwest Screenwriters Guild.