Doing Script Coverage for a Production Company, a few tips... / by Eric Emma

As an unemployed scriptwriter living in New York, I felt it behooved me to at least take an unpaid internship or two to build up my skills as I search for a job and produce my projects. I managed to find such an opportunity writing coverage on scripts and screeners for a small production/distribution company. For those that are unfamiliar with the business, coverage is a report that summarizes the film into a neat, easy-to-read report. It also comes with a grade of the film or screener: “PASS, CONSIDER, or RECOMMEND.”

The difference between coverage for a film or a screener is negligible so I won’t dive into the differences here. This is what the coverage sheet looks like at my company:

Synopsis is a log line and that is the biggest indicator of whether a script or film is going to get farther than “PASS.” A strong driving conflict is what is going to make a film marketable. If the conflict is clearly defined then a person will be able to understand the whole film in one or two sentences, which instantly makes it marketable. If the film meanders around a bunch of different plots, then how is the marketing department supposed to be able to market it? Also when you’re the guy that is sitting there with a stack of shitty scripts/films to get through, one of the worst things is having to describe an incoherent plot in 2-3 sentences. It’s worse than the crack heads that piss on the sidewalk outside my apartment in Harlem.

Another fun thing that I realize is that this document is all my supervisor reads of a script or film and if the coverage is favorable/interesting, she’ll explore it further. Even if I think a script has wonderful across the page or colorful dialogue, that won’t get written about till the section on my thoughts. Also, these reports are to be as short and succinct as possible so that my supervisor can cover as many films as possible. It became abundantly clear that a script or film cannot rely on me to make up for its short-comings because the system simply doesn’t allow it.  At the end of the day, the only thing selling a script or a movie is its raw story structure. If a character is not making interesting choices or those choices don’t make sense, that shit is going to sink. After I’m done with the coverage, I enter the film's information into a spread-sheet and write in that I covered the film or script. Finally, I put a Y/N in the columns of “Marketable” & Should We Acquire: Y/N” to make it even quicker/easier for my supervisor. That’s right, an entire script/film is deduce down to a simple “Y/N”… Not even the full word.

So two things surprised me by this internship. The first was due to my own hubris, but I was super slow on completing coverage. On day one, it took me an entire day to read a script and write up coverage on it. On the second day, I was a little bit better, I watched two films and wrote two coverage reports. Part of it is figuring out how to streamline the beat-sheet section of the report. In the coverage report, I need to summarize all the events that happen in the film in a page or less. It is fascinating to view a script like this because you’re forced to view it purely on character actions. So the worse a film/script is, the longer it takes me to write coverage because I need to figure everything out because there’s nothing intuitive about it. Trying to cram a messy plot into two or three sentences takes time. Trying to track a bunch of nonsensical plot points and put it into a neat summary takes time. And ultimately, it makes me eagerly look forward to writing in all caps, “PASS.”

The second thing that took me by surprise is that I excelled at figuring out the marketability of a project. I am a huge movie dork so much so that folks refer to me as a walking IMDB.com. So when I do coverage, I immediately identify genre/similar films and I don’t even have to look any of it up, and I can write these succinct arguments why a film works or doesn’t work, and the historical data that says it’ll do well or not well. My job isn’t to write whether a film is good or bad, but can it make money. It surprised me because of how anti-mainstream my own writing/films are and how I very rarely think like that about my own work.

In spite of all I just wrote, there is a randomness that supersedes all of this and it’s randomness that is fueled by the industry’s own superficiality/arrogance. On my second day, my supervisor asks me to watch a screener on the bottom of the pile because an agent is hounding her about it and since it was in Sundance, it has to be good. It was unbelievably awful. One of those “dark comedies” that seems to think not being funny is part of the joke. I google search the film, it wasn’t in “Sundance”, but a film-festival called “Slamdance” and my supervisor misheard hence why she had it bumped to the top. Hilarious. Don’t worry, I “PASSED” on it.