Hollywood runs off of script coverage -- agencies, management offices, production companies, studios, networks, you name it. It’s one of the first skills an intern or assistant will learn in order to evaluate anything from a new submission to a hot spec. Coverage generally includes a script breakdown with a summary and comments. Think of it like a book report for a screenplay. As simple as that sounds, the industry has a standard that you should learn, and for a good reason.
Understand How a Reader Thinks
Learning how to do script coverage is essential if a) you want to work in the industry, and/or b) you want to write in the industry. When you have to summarize material in a concise way, it forces you to think of the key moments and turning points in a script so that the synopsis is clear. When formulating your comments, it’s crucial to have detailed assertions. You can’t just say, “It was bad. I didn’t like the main character, and the plot was stupid.” No. This is vague and unhelpful. If someone gave you this kind of feedback, it would probably land you in that sweet spot between rage and depression. Be constructive, and back up your opinion with details and the proper terminology.
Once you understand how to evaluate and effectively critique a story, you’ll have the necessary insight to look at your own writing with an objective eye. This means that it will be easier to incorporate other people’s notes, cut out superfluous characters or scenes, and concisely communicate your idea to your audience.
Learn the Language of Script Analysis
There’s an entire vocabulary dedicated to evaluating screenplays. It will help you articulate why something does or does not work in a script. Doing coverage will teach you how to phrase your praise and criticisms. You’ll being to understand how to point out the problems and strengths of a script, while being able to pinpoint where they occur.
It’s one thing to read a list of screenwriting terms, but to gain a deeper understanding of it requires application and evaluation. It’s like learning another language. At first you have to translate everything in your head and keep looking at a reference guide or dictionary, but eventually you will do it without a second thought.
Prepare Yourself as an Industry Professional
You will encounter notes at some point in your career, maybe as an assistant, from your agent, in the form of feedback from a studio, or even a competition. The most important part of entering Hollywood is being prepared. It minimizes mistakes, and it makes you look competent.
Prepare yourself to be a better reader in order to open yourself up to opportunity. Learning how script coverage works is one skill out of many that will help you advance your career. It will service your sense of self-awareness in your own writing and in the writing of every script you read -- the good, the bad and the ugly.
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