Screenwriting

An Excellent Script Coverage Example

By April 22, 2019 May 10th, 2019 No Comments

A lot of writers, like myself, find it taboo to share their ongoing work with others until it’s ready. The flaw is that it may never seem ready. There are professional writers and script-readers out there who can give you advice and examine your story to give you that second pair of eyes you so desperately need to know where your story stands. What you’re looking for is script coverage.

But what is included in that $70 package for script coverage? What is the difference between all of those different priced coverages? Well, the best way to explain is to show with a sample of WeScreenplay script coverage – this one written for The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.

Opening Thoughts

When opening your coverage, the reader will give their first impressions of your script. The most important moment when your film gets to an audience will be the first fifteen minutes making these comments some of the most important. 

“OPENING THOUGHTS

THE SECRET LIFE OF WALTER MITTY is a smart, well-written dramedy with sharp jokes and an earnest, heartfelt feel. Fantastical elements throughout the script help elevate the material to a truly unique tone. Between its exotic global environments, effective character arc, and universally relatable themes, THE SECRET LIFE OF WALTER MITTY has a chance to really capture a wide and imaginative audience. That being said, the project is not quite reaching its full potential in this current draft. With a slightly dragging pace, a lack of dimensionality in some key secondary characters, and a plot that isn’t totally nailing stakes yet, this script stands to definitely improve with future edits.”

It covers all the bases of the screenplay including: characters, plot, themes, and a forecast of how the script will be received by audiences. These are all important parts of the screenplay and this opening is a good way to warm the writer up to what will be addressed next. 

Characters

The biggest hook for any story, the reason why audiences will stay until the end watching on the edges of their seats is the characters. If there’s something amiss with your characters, it will be one of the first things you need to know. Hence, it’s the next step. 

“CHARACTERS:                  

The titular hero, Walter Mitty, is easily one of the most effective elements of the screenplay right now. His arc across the story from timid and lonely to inspired and confident is really strong. His change is easy to track from the many experiences we see him go through in his travels, and therefore very believable. Beyond that, Walter’s arc is quite unique in that he doesn’t necessarily change in a fundamental way to become an interesting person, but rather changes to be more in touch with his suppressed imaginative side and follow his heart.

Fantasy sequences throughout the script like the floating piano help illustrate the “caged bird” nature of Walter’s true essence, which makes him a lot more interesting than an empty, boring person who learns how to be less boring. The online dating profile was a very smart and effective choice to demonstrate Walter’s flaws at the start of the story.

That being said, the multiple phone calls throughout the script between Walter and the online dating representative, while funny and charming at times, did feel a bit excessive and potentiality reductive. The bookmarking of Walter being unable to identify interesting life experiences and personality traits at the start, but later having a profile full of cool details, feels less juxtaposed and revelatory when we’ve been checking in throughout the script and seeing stuff get added. Plus, removing conversations like the one on page 46 would definitely help tighten up the pace of the second act. On the whole, Walter’s character is largely working very well right now.

One character who could benefit from some more work is Cheryl. While there are definitely some sweet moments between her and her son, she largely feels like a flat character who only exists as a prize for Walter to claim once he’s learned his important life lessons. Female roles that serve little function beyond being love interests for the male hero, are something people are particularly sensitive to in 2019, for good reason. It’s understandable that the character is limited by the film’s strict POV structure, but there are surely creative ways to bolster Cheryl a bit. Regardless of the author’s intention, lines like “pretty but she looks like the sort of pretty girl who takes the bus” come off as cliché and not very descriptive. Consider adding more specific character details that would help Cheryl feel distinct beyond being an attractive and kind-hearted single-mother.”

Seen in this excerpt, there are clear issues pointed out with a few specific characters and scenes. It’s not just pointed out, but also expertly explained to give the writer more than just items to look at later, but a perspective to show the reasoning behind the reader’s choices which can help the writer not just fix problems, but perfect their story. 

Plot

Of course, the plot is the next most important thing to look at. In it, the reader assesses the themes and how the actions of the characters shape the conflict that moves the story. Hold the character criticism in your mind and remember how that might affect the pot while we dive into the next segment of the sample. 

“PLOT:      

The plot in THE SECRET LIFE OF WALTER MITTY is mostly very well done. The story starts efficiently, with the company acquisition and Life Magazine’s end serving as excellent catalysts for the story. The script is also filled with loads of satisfying payoffs, like the reveal that Walter is the subject of the final cover image. The author has a knack for running bits of connective thread throughout the story that make for great comedy and emotionally resonant drama in equal parts.

One element that is lacking in the plot right now is stakes. Walter’s motivation for setting out on this enormous journey to find the final photo negative is not clear enough. Walter is fairly certain he will be laid off, regardless of if he finds the photo or not, and it’s not entirely clear why he assumes delivering the photo will help him retain a severance package. The script does a nice job of showing Walter’s financial struggle as a strong character motivator. The thread with his mother’s piano, as well as small details like him paying for his sister’s braces, are really effective ways of getting the audience to empathize with Walter’s struggle.

The plot would be a lot more engaging if there was a more direct line drawn to why finding the photo negative would definitely be financially rewarding; and inversely, why failing would render his situation even more dire. The emotional stakes could also be stronger for his mission. Perhaps Walter is partially so committed because he feels a sense of incomplete pride for having historically done a good job at work, and handling this final task would allow some closure. This idea can be somewhat inferred, but might be stronger if it was demonstrated more directly and clearly in the script.

The other plot detail that hurts the stakes is when Walter comes back home to New York multiple times in the second act. There’s a dominant storytelling principle that dictates you should always raise the stakes whenever possible in a hero’s journey by removing their ability to “go back home” so to speak. The mission always feels more impactful for a hero when they lose their option to return to the comfort of their same old ways after making the choice to leave (think Luke’s adopted parents dying after he leaves the farm in STAR WARS). In the case of THE SECRET LIFE OF WALTER MITTY, the character is on a literal journey abroad in foreign territory. The plot may gain more urgent and impactful stakes if Walter did not have the time or ability to come back home before retrieving the film negative. The return trips are also a symptom of the plot’s lack of a clear timeline, which always hurts the pace of a movie. Minor edits to give Walter a specific date he must find the negative by, which perhaps in turn prohibits him from spending the time to fly home in the second act, could go a long way in strengthening the plot.”

It’s full of very clear and helpful notes that give concise feedback to the writer about simple changes and how it will affect every aspect of the story, not just the plot. There are emotional character adjustments that could raise the stakes and get the audience more involved.

These are all the suggestions that the writer can take or leave whether they agree with them or not. The evidence and support the readers give their writers (including the reference to Star Wars about “Crossing the Threshold” like in Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey). The readers don’t want to just supply criticism to the writers, they want to make sure they understand and maybe even teach the writer something to help in future screenplays, not just this specific one they were assigned. 

Structure

You have characters and plot now critiqued, what else is there? Structure. Acts, pacing, rhythm, and balance and how they interact with the cogs and wheels of the screenplay. 

“STRUCTURE: 

THE SECRET LIFE OF WALTER MITTY has a nicely disciplined structure. The screenplay is very professionally written with a distinct three acts, as well as a strong inciting incident and effective climax and resolution. The fantasy elements that illustrate Walter’s daydreams are spread throughout the script in a really even way. The only structural flaw here is the overall length is a bit too long. The second act in particular starts to drag after a bit. More details will be given below on what could possibly help tighten script up a bit more (in addition to the plot suggestion above.” 

Seems simple enough, but if this is a place you’re struggling, it’s good to have it pointed out. Whether you stick to the tried-and-true method of act structure or experiment with different ways of storytelling, you can find how it stands up to someone seeing it for the first time. 

Format/Grammar/Spelling

As it sounds, this is the basic of basics. No everyone won a spelling bee and not all spell-checks are reliable. That’s why a fresh set of critical eyes are important. 

“FORMAT/GRAMMAR/SPELLING:

The script is generally formatted very well, with professional standards followed throughout. Occasional format errors included character names not being fully capitalized upon their introduction for the Teens on page 70, and for Walter’s introduction on page 1. The script properly capitalizes character name introductions throughout the rest of the pages.

Grammar and spelling is generally not an issue, although the incorrect “your” was used on page 62 with the line “you’re toy”, as well as on page 113 with “Your the guy”.   

Action lines are occasionally overlong in a way that hurts the pace of the script. Lines like the one at the top of page 11 describing the fact that the oversized photos seem to dwarf the employees physically and emotionally from an achievement standpoint, over-explains the subtext of the imagery. The screenplay would be a tighter read if these kinds of lines were eliminated. Give the benefit of the doubt that your readers will recognize symbolism.

Beyond that, the large blocks of text are slower to read than what is ideal for a script when these tangents do occur. Try to limit action descriptions to four lines or less whenever possible to help keep up the pace of the reader’s eye traveling down the page.

For a detailed look through your script for grammar / spelling / formatting errors, consider upgrading to a PREMIUM COVERAGE.”  

The details are important, no matter how small. It’s clear how closely the readers are following the story with their attention to the details. This is something you can’t get when rereading your eighth draft for the sixteenth time. 

Dialogue

Down to the nitty-gritty. Sometimes the words writers are best with aren’t the ones coming from their characters. That’s okay, but that’s where you might need help from coverage. 

“DIALOGUE:  

The dialogue is fresh and clever here, with each character benefiting from a unique voice. The script nails the balance between comedy and drama with the sharp dialogue. Scenes like the one in the elevator when Walter meets the new acquisitions employee, as well as the scene at the impound with Walter picking up the piano, were big laughs. Small moments between Cheryl and Rich were quite touching. A really nice job overall on dialogue.”

While these critiques are getting smaller, you can always refer to the large sections of characters and plot. If you read between the lines, you can see where those larger topics overlap with these smaller ones. The readers want to make sure you get the most for your money and their time, so repeating themselves does no one any favors. 

Concept

The overall aspect of your story is important, but it’s collateral. This is something that easily falls apart if another pillar collapses. If your characters or plot are suffering, the concept will be blurred. 

“CONCEPT: 

The script’s conception of the central character is quite excellent. As mentioned earlier, the specific journey to find the photo negative needs a bit more distinct stakes to be as impactful as it can be. General speaking though, a man on a journey to recover the final negative for a dying print magazine is clever, topical, and engaging.” 

Overall

Of course, you want to know what the audience leaves with at the end of your script. This is where the overall is important. 

“OVERALL:  CONSIDER

THE SECRET LIFE OF WALTER MITTY receives a CONSIDER with this current draft, thanks to the strong character work for the titular protagonist as well as the sharp dialogue. With a bit of work in tightening the pace and strengthening the stakes of the plot, as well as developing characters like Cheryl a bit more, this script could be a really standout piece of work for the author.”

Is this all? Well, some coverage packages give more detail and add other points like logline and synopsis. Even the smallest coverage like you see here is invaluable to a writer who has been staring at their own script for far too long. If you need intervention, look no further. Readers build a case and present suggestion, they’re not here to rewrite your script for you, just help you, one writer to another.


Beverly Peders is a Screenwriting graduate from Drexel University. She loves all visual writing mediums and has experience in writing plays, comic books, screenplays, TV sitcoms, and video games. World building is her favorite and she obsesses over anthropology and linguistics. In her spare time, you may find her trying to get over her fear of heights at a rock wall or adopting yet another plant because she can’t afford an actual pet.


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