Monday, November 23, 2009

Reader questions: Day 1

I'll start off with these questions from Kevin and Kerri, because I get them so many times a week that I really should start an FAQ just to answer them:

Will you read my fucking screenplay?

Nope, sorry.

How much do you charge for coverage?

I don't. Sorry guys, but I don't offer coverage services at this time. Maybe I'll get around to it down the line, but right now I'm a little busy with my regular work and my own writing. There are a few hurdles I'll still have to clear, not limited to working out some kind of legal release form as well as working out some way to accept payment anonymously.

Jen writes in to ask:

Just wondering if you have any books you'd recommend for learning the ins and outs of script coverage? I'm an aspiring TV writer and think it would be helpful to learn more about how readers break down a script and what they tend to look for during the coverage process.

I hate to say this, but I learned more from coverage simply by getting my hands on some samples and diving in with both feet. I'm sure there are books out there with examples, but that's not how I picked it up. Anyone have any suggestions for Jen?

It helps to read a lot of movie reviews, particularly from reviewers who get you to really look beneath the surface of the movies you see. For me, it was reading a lot of Roger Ebert's reviews and columns that really helped. There were also a lot of TV review blogs I read regularly in college. All of that got my inner critic in the habit if breaking down a story.

But the basic format of coverage tends to be: one paragraph intro/overview, one paragraph on plot/concept/structure and one paragraph on characters and character arcs, followed by a conclusion. Four paragraphs, one page.

Purpletrex asked a trio of questions:

Do scripts longer than 120 pages automatically get thrown in the trash?

No... but in most cases they probably start out with one strike against them unless you're a "known" quantity.

Also, what is the "acceptable" number of pages in a spec these days.

Depends on the genre. Comedy definitely hovers somewhere around 100-105 pages. Action is more likely to be 105-115. Horror is usually anywhere from 95-105. Drama's probably somewhere around 105-110. As much as the screenwriting books say that 120 is the typical length, the "average" industry script probably falls between 105-115 pages. I'd say that 95% of the "pro" scripts I read fall in the 105-115 range.

Has any spec longer than 120 pages ever made been bumped up the ladder?

I'm sure it happens, but statistically speaking I'd bet the odds of making it up the ladder go down the longer the script gets. If you're over 120 pages, there had better not be a single scene that feels too long or self-indulgent. Believe me, there's always something you can cut.

More answers later this week, and if you've got a question, please send it in.


  1. "accepting payment anonymously"--had to laugh at that one.
    One of the worst afternoons of my life came after some intern at X big movie company sent not only my coverage but also my HOME PHONE NUMBER to the writer of a script I had not recommended. And nobody warned me! ARGH!
    BTW, I learned to write coverage at UCLA. They have classes in development, and that's how everybody starts.

  2. Lyn, that's terrible! I can't imagine how awkward that phone call must have been.

    It's a universal law that the writers who manage to steal a copy of their script's coverage are also those least capable of dealing with criticism.

  3. There was a question about books that have to do with script reading. There are loads of "beat the reader" books out there and I would imagine that a person with an aim to becoming a reader could reverse engineer techiniques and practices from them. For a more business minded person, there is an excellent book by Derek Rydall called "I Could've Written a Better Movie Than That!"(Michael Wiese Productions, 2005).

    Rydall is a script doctor in LA and the book focuses on the nuts and bolts of starting a career as a script doctor. He talks a great deal about coverage/readership as it is presented as a means of building a client base for future doctoring jobs (a reader might charge 300-500 a script, but a doctor may charge that much an hour). It's a rare book in that it actually has details not just a loose collection of anecdotes as so many industry books do.