Writing is usually a solitary experience. In a school program, you may have peers and mentors who give you helpful notes on your work. Some people are lucky enough to maintain those relationships and trade comments on scripts throughout their careers. For most of us, this is not the case. We toil alone with sticky notes, whiteboards and white space. There may come a time, however, when an outside perspective is necessary and vital to your story development process – and not just helpful encouragement from someone we know, but objective analysis. Story problems, and indeed solutions can be difficult to find without another pair of eyes. Notes can also give you renewed drive to write new scenes, delete old ones, or edit specific character arcs that are underserved. Of course, there are a lot of different kinds of notes, analysis, and coverage you can get. The question is what will be most useful for you?
For the Script vs. About the Script
If you or your agent have sent scripts to development companies or studio executives, chances are your script already has coverage. Knowing who wrote the coverage (whether an assistant, an intern, or a professional reader) is a whole different story. Regardless, you will never see this coverage. These comments aren’t for your script they’re about your script – simply an opinion for internal company purposes. To get notes for your script, you usually have to pay someone with experience and skill. You could enter your script into a screenwriting competition, either a standalone one or part of a festival of some kind. Many competitions and fellowships charge a moderate entry fee and provide a couple of pages of feedback on your script. These tend to be more general comments on quality rather than critique. As with anything, shop around before purchasing and read up on pricing and benefits. In the end, these competitions are usually focused more on the winners than on feedback for all entrants. Also, many competitions offer optional in-depth feedback for an additional fee.
You’re Allowed to be Picky
If coverage is all you want, then your options pivot to a host of services available online. The coverage provided by different companies varies. Make sure to stick to companies whose hiring practices focus on experienced readers who have written coverage in the industry before (oh hey, like WeScreenplay). Whatever service you use, it’s a good idea to figure out what kind of writers they have writing their coverage so you can ensure you get value for your money. Some online services even allow you to request a specific reader. If you’re looking for someone with television experience to comment on your pilot, feel free to email before purchasing to request a recommendation. Script feedback is a valuable tool for you to get the objective sounding board you need, so be as clear and specific as you want before you purchase a coverage package.
The World of Script Doctors
An alternative to using a script coverage service is to find someone who specializes in story analysis and script development as their main job. Script doctors with years of experience in the business do exist, though their rates tend to be higher than companies with a stable of readers at their disposal. More famous script doctors can have tight schedules and slow turnaround times, so factor that into your decision-making. Luckily, many script doctors have books, lectures, articles, or even scripts of their own that you can find online. Read up as much as possible before you decide who to hire.
In terms of pricing, you’ll probably see the cost go up with page length. Notes on a TV pilot will cost less than notes on a feature film script. Some companies and analysts will even cap the pages they will accept, so if your script is more than 120 pages you might pay a surcharge. Anywhere from two to ten pages of notes is possible, and some readers will offer to answer follow-up questions via email or conference call. If there’s something specific you want in terms of feedback, chances are it’s out there.
Make Sure You’re Ready
And finally, be sure your script is ready for coverage before you spend your money. If you feel there are changes you can and should make yourself, do that before you show it to anyone else. Polish, proofread, maybe even stick it in a drawer for a couple weeks. Whatever helps give you clarity on your writing is worth doing. Including getting coverage on your script.
Shaun Leonard is an experienced writer, editor, and assistant. He is available for story consultation and script editing. Follow Shaun on Twitter @shaun_leonard