You loaded up your latest draft of your script, took a soul searching breath then hit Send. With your precious cargo now in the hands of a script reader, you wait. And fret.
“Is it funny enough?”
“Does the B story work?”
“Did I mess up my homophones!?”
Then the day finally arrives: the script coverage you spent a pretty penny on appears in your inbox. Three words - pass, consider, recommend - could be the difference between having a kick-ass or suck-ass day. You skip right to the grade and feel either all is lost or you slayed the monster. But are you giving it too much hype? Prolly. Here’s why: Script coverage is only as important as you see fit. Let me explain:
Before you crack open your coverage, you should get clear on what stage your script is in. If you sent out an early draft and you’re bummed you got a Pass, your expectations for the coverage may have been unrealistic.
I once got in a tizzy because I got a Pass on a Page-1 rewrite simply because it felt like a final draft. (I had been working on it for several years, laid it to rest, then resurrected it.) But it was basically a first draft all over again, and everyone knows how pret-a-porter first drafts are. (Psst. They’re not.)
My expectations were so high, the comments seemed almost condescending. Once I realized I let someone see an embryo instead of a cooing babe, I relaxed. The rewrite solved a lot of problems—problems that were not mentioned in the coverage. This was a victory in itself. The pass, which was really a big duh when I thought about it, was inconsequential. Be realistic and the coverage will serve you.
It is such a joy to get coverage from someone who knows how to be objective. They can tell you your story is the biggest snooze-fest they’ve ever read without actually saying it. Instead, they’ll give you helpful notes on pacing and scene length. They’ll compel you to trim the fat and get to the heart. They’ll help you see the core that you buried in the pursuit of bedazzling.
Subjective readers are a little harder to read. If you’re like me, something weird happens when you get coverage. You start to believe everything the reader says. But don’t. Sometimes their opinions are masked as fact. Just because they said it, doesn’t make it true.
How to spot subjectivity?
“I” statements, all caps, exclamation points, and judgmental tone can be red flags.
Here’s an excerpt of some coverage I got years ago:
“Angie of course is no saint either. She sleeps with Nolan knowing how much Nicole cares about him. Cold! And later she sleeps with him AGAIN because she feels sorry for his suicide attempt. Still feels like she is satisfying her own agenda here. And later she drags Nicole into her scam to steal the pendant. So, she is putting her best friend, who she betrayed, in danger? Again, cold!”
Although the reader did not explain this rant about my character, I think he was “subtly” letting me know that he thought Angie was…uh…cold, and that was most definitely unsatisfactory to him. Fine. Now if you agree with the reader’s opinion, by all means make the change, but if you don’t, don’t. Consequently, I did re-examine Angie’s flaw (aka coldness) and made some changes. So subjectivity has its place, only if you agree with the reader’s opinion.
Readers are human. They have good days and bad. They're prone to bad moods, hangriness, boredom and distractions.
Despite training and good intentions, such afflictions can concoct a cranky critique.
Professionalism goes out the door and your script becomes the kicked cat. Years ago, one of my first scripts took a verbal blow from a rude reader. Among other things, he said, “The writer has somehow managed to make every one of her characters unlikeable.”
Yes, likability is a consideration, (Blake Snyder named his book franchise, “Save the Cat” after this concept of likability after all), but sounding like some snarky film critic hurling insults and rotten tomatoes was unnecessary. Not to mention he didn’t bother to tell me why, which could have been helpful. After I wrote a complaint about the rude review (and got complimentary coverage as a result - yay, more torture!), I was sure to scrutinize each character’s like-o-meter and found a couple unnecessary off-putting behaviors.
Lesson: Sometimes you have to look for that nugget of gold in a dung heap. (Is that a thing?)
Some coverage contains advice. And when it comes to advice, you need to determine whether it’s sound or severely lacking.
Good advice resonates.
Bad advice puzzles.
I recently got coverage that advised me to inflate a jam-packed Act II with unnecessary detail. (Lemme ask you: Would you want to see a character make several phone calls to plan a funeral? Me neither.) Although I knew that the advice was poor, I still got a second opinion and a third. Giving the reader the benefit of the doubt, we all racked or brains trying to figure out why I should dedicate expensive screen time to such a boring activity. We chalked it up to bad advice. The lesson? Readers don’t always deserve the benefit of the doubt. If it quacks bad advice like a duck then, you know, that would be weird.
Sometimes I get coverage that sounds like someone from a writer’s group workshopping. Not to knock workshops, I have received iridescent pearls of wisdom, but I’ve also received some duds.
You can spot a dud in the form of a droning dissertation on what one could assume is the reader’s pet subject or peeve, perhaps a writing feat the reader struggles with.
One of my readers devoted a half page to explaining page count. The reader thought the script was two pages too short. That’s all that needed to be said, but the reader felt compelled to talk about the finer points of scripts that are too short AND too long (even though mine did not suffer from bloat). I found the whole to thing to be rather ironic, given the high word count he used on that petite point.
The point is, if the reader seems a little obsessed about a single issue, he might be projecting his own crap onto your work. Just be aware that the importance placed might not be that important to your story.
Readers aren’t perfect. They can be grouchy, biased and plain wrong. They can be extremely smart and helpful too.
When it comes down to it, you need to do a gut check. If aspects of the critique do not resonate, and you cannot find truth in the message, you can let it go. Remember: Although coverage can feel like a punch in the face, it’s not a personal attack on you. It’s an attack on your script, which doesn’t have feelings. Your job is to cut through the crud, seek truth, and make your script the best it can be. I recommend it!
Got an entertaining coverage story? Please comment below!
Holly Lancaster is a client-focused, optioned screenwriter who successfully develops content for directors, filmmakers, executives, producers, and visionaries. She is skilled in translating and delivering the client's vision and message. She has an English Writing BA from the University of Colorado, Denver and has completed ScreenwritingU’s ProSeries. Holly is also an editor and a published author, short story writer, poet, and columnist. In addition to her own projects, Holly is currently co-writing a feature comedy with Australian director (and AACTA winner) Paul Andersen. Holly specializes in comedy writing. She lives, works and plays in the foothills of Colorado and is currently taking writing assignments. Visit her blog at hollylancasterblog.com.
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