What is Script Coverage?

Script coverage has been a part of the film industry almost since screenplays have existed. The job of the script reader developed in the early studio system, as a way for busy studio moguls to keep on top of as many scripts as possible.

Now script coverage has moved considerably beyond the realm of the studio and into the filmmaking community at large, mostly due to the rise of the internet and the ever-increasing number of writers and filmmakers churning out screenplays looking for feedback and producers and companies looking for viable scripts to produce.

This page is a bare-bones introductory guide to what script coverage is, how to write it, and how to get oriented when considering a job as a script reader.

Table of Contents
Script Coverage Defined
Required Training to Write Script Coverage
Typical Script Coverage Pay
Where Script Coverage Work Takes Place
Things a Script Reader Needs In Order To Write Script Coverage
A Script Coverage Example
The 6 Basic Elements of A Script Coverage
The Header
The Logline
The Synopsis
The Comments / Notes
The Rating Grid
The Recommendation
How To Write Script Coverage Comments
How to Critique A Script's Concept
How to Critique A Script's Characters
How to Critique A Script's Conflict
How to Critique A Script's Dialogue
How to Critique A Script's Readability
How to Critique A Script's Presentation
A Screenplay Should Show, Not Tell
How Much to Write When Writing Script Coverage
Miscellaneous Criteria Included in Some Script Coverages
Three Must-Read Books for Script Readers
Finding Script Reader Jobs
Script Reading: Do It Yourself
Freelance Script Reading
Script Reading at an Agency or Studio
Reading For A Script Contest or Festival

Script Coverage Defined

cartoon film camera
Script coverage is a "book report" on a screenplay, typically 3-4 pages in length and consists of three parts: (a) the basic information about the script (author, genre, page count, logline, etc.), (b) a brief synopsis of the film, and (c) a comments / feedback section, containing a script reader's comments on the screenplay's strengths and weaknesses. Coverage of a screenplay is typically written by what are called script readers.

Without script readers, filmmakers, studios, small production companies, actors, agents, directors, and producers couldn't possibly read all the spec scripts and other material submitted to them. And without reading the material submitted to them, they can't determine which ones are marketable, artistically credible, and/or simply worth pursuing. There just aren't enough hours in the day.

Whether that script reader is at a small production company or a major studio, the service she provides is essentially the same: Reading screenplays and teleplays (and sometimes novels) and writing script coverage.

Script coverage is the essential document that busy producers, name actors, directors, and studio execs all read instead of reading the actual script. Instead of reading a 120-page screenplay, they can instead read a 3-4 page script coverage, spending 5 minutes instead of 2 hours to determine whether a screenplay is worth pursuing — either to buy, option, produce, or attach talent to.

With the amount of cable channels popping up, and the amount of streaming outlets for filmed entertainment growing on a daily basis, the need for original material has never been greater, so the need for script readers continues to increase.

What's more, the script reader, whether reading at an online script coverage company, or a small production company, a huge studio, a tiny literary agency, or a mega talent agency, provides an extremely vital service to the motion picture industry by acting as a "first filter" on all movies that get made. In other words, a "first audience."

If you're new to script reading and screenwriting and are looking for the quick, bare-bones essentials to get you started, let this article whet your appetite for learning, and taking your first steps towards a fun, rewarding, and flexible side job, or even full time career.

Required Training to Write Script Coverage

There is some training required to be a script reader and write coverage, absolutely. But the good news is, if you already have a background in screenwriting, you've already got a head start.

If you're completely new to the screenwriting field, this might be more of an uphill climb for you, but don't be discouraged. There are plenty of awesome, free tutorials, courses, websites, and other resources out there that can get you up to speed relatively quickly. I encourage you to absorb as much of them as possible.

Bottom line, to be a script reader at any experience level, you don’t necessarily need a college degree or film school diploma, (although it helps immensely). And you don’t need to be a film scholar or the son of a rich producer. You don’t even need to be in Hollywood.

You just need to have a love for movies, to know what makes a screenplay "work," on paper and with audiences and from a film business perspective, and in some instances, some screenwriting software, and of course you'll need to find a few free hours in the week to sit down and read a script or two.

Typical Script Coverage Pay

stack of moneyPay for script reading and script coverage generally ranges anywhere from $20 to $75 per script, depending on where you work. The sky’s the limit really, but realistically, the bulk of the script reading work that’s available out there generally pays between $20 and $75 per script coverage. If you assume that reading a script will take you around an hour, and then writing a coverage should take you about another hour, you’re looking at anywhere between $15 and $40 an hour for this kind of work. And as you might imagine, rates for private script consultants, or script experts offering more in-depth services, go way up from there.

Where Script Coverage Work Takes Place

Script readers generally either work from home, most of the time, or, depending on whom you work for, at an office such as a production company or studio or agency. Script reading nowadays, thanks to the internet, is largely a remote/virtual profession. You don’t need to be behind a desk for eight hours each day, because the scripts are generally in file format, rather than printed out on paper like they used to be, and those files can be sent via email, super fast, and for free, as opposed to mailing big bulky paper scripts everywhere.

But of course there are those script reading jobs which do require you to work in an office. Most of those jobs, more often than not, include duties beyond just script reading, such as answering phones, assisting with executives, and other entry-level sort of responsibilities. That said, there are plenty of script development personnel in the film and television industry, and those jobs involve a lot of script reading.

AGENCIES, STUDIOS, PRODUCTION COMPANIES, etc. need script coverage, because many are too busy to read scripts themselves, or even their internal staff is too busy as well.

SCREENWRITERS need script coverage because they use coverage as a tool to help improve their script before they send it out to agencies, companies, festivals, or contests. Or, commonly, they’ve written the script by themselves, alone in a room for many years, and now simply need feedback from a stranger with fresh eyes, because the feedback from their writers' groups, friends, and families, has been exhausted, or proven unfruitful.

Or, sometimes, screenwriters need a script reader because they just want someone to tell them whether or not they’re a good screenwriter, and if they should keep going. Odd, but true.

Other places that require script coverage are screenwriting festivals, who may need hundreds of scripts read and reviewed, or least just briefly rated numerically with a one-page scorecard, for example, so they can choose from a smaller stack of scripts when picking the winner. All of these venues I've mentioned are actively, constantly looking for people to read their scripts. But they don’t just want you to read them. They want you to provide written feedback in the form of script coverage

Things a Script Reader Needs In Order To Write Script Coverage

screenwriting app logosFirst of all, you’ll need to have internet access and an email account. And then you'll want to make sure you have scriptwriting software. For example, Fade In, Final Draft, or Highland 2.

Most apps are available for PC and Mac, and range anywhere from free to upwards of $200. But all of them serve one primary purpose: to format a script as you're typing it, allowing a screenwriter to focus on what matters about her script, which is its content. (As opposed to its format.)

Most screenwriters will either use one of these apps, or they'll use something like Microsoft Word or some other word processor. Word is okay for some, but I've found it's a lot more difficult, generally, to get your script to look right in any software that's not designed for screenwriting.

Whatever app you end up using, as a script reader, you’re going to need to be able to open anything your customers send you. Most of the time, it should be a simple PDF. (PDFs are near-ubiquitous document files that are generally un-editable (at least without special software) but which open easily on most computer platforms with a minimum of hassle or third-party software installation. (For example, the ability to open and view PDF's is a feature built into Mac's OS, in the form of an app that comes with the operating system called "Preview.")

But a lot of the time, screenwriters or producers just don't feel like making a PDF (or they don't know how) so they’ll just send you their Final Draft, Screenwriter, Celtx, or Word file, and ideally, as a prepared script reader, you should be ready and able to open and read any and all of them. So find the software package(s) you prefer and/or can afford and you can always add to your collection later. For now, you can count on most scripts heading your way as PDF's. The bottom line is: You don’t want to lose work just because your customer or boss can’t figure out how to send you a PDF.

I mentioned Microsoft Word. While it's true that there are literally dozens of great word processing apps out there that you can use to craft your coverage, the unfortunate truth is that Microsoft Word (that clunky, tired, old, buggy app from the 1990's that gets more and more bloated with each release) remains hugely ubiquitous. So if you don't have a copy of Word, unfortunately, you'll probably need to get one. If you can’t afford Word, or can’t afford a new purchase of Final Draft or Screenwriter, look on Ebay for used copies, or get your hands on a lower-priced academic version. Academic versions usually have fewer features, but those features aren't generally mandatory anyway.

If you absolutely can’t shell out the cash for a word processor, you can download an "open source" aka free version of the entire Microsoft Office suite, called Open Office. It’s basically a fully functional free program suite that does the same thing, generally, as Word does.

A Script Coverage Example

example script coverageTaking a look at an actual script coverage example is probably the best way to get started on the fundamentals of script analysis and writing script coverage.

Download this script coverage example.

Once you've downloaded it, take a peek to get a feel for what a script coverage looks like. Then let's dive into each of the basic elements that make up a script coverage.

The 6 Basic Elements of A Script Coverage

cartoon of script girl in a labcoat with a blueprint

There are six basic elements that comprise a typical script coverage.

1) The HEADER is the section at the top of the script coverage containing the "metadata" about the script. Author name, page count, genre of the script, etc.

2) The LOGLINE is basically the entire story of the movie, squashed down into one or two sentences. So, for example, one possible logline of the movie Jaws could be something like: A massive great white shark stalks a beach community and a big-city cop teams up with a professor and an old drunk fisherman to hunt it down.

3) The SYNOPSIS is a brief retelling of the script's story, point by point (or, as we say in the film industry, beat-by-beat).

4) The COMMENTS/NOTES is arguably the most important section of a script coverage. This is where the reader makes subjective observations and provides analysis and critique of the script.

5) The RATING GRID is simply some sort of visual grid or scoring system, containing categories to score, such as dialogue, conflict, originality, presentation, spelling, budget, etc. They usually ask you to assign a rating to each box, whether it’s fair, poor, good, excellent, or even on a scale from 110, or 5 stars, or 1-100. Not all script coverages come with rating grids, but some companies require you to use them.

6) The RECOMMENDATION in a script coverage is usually the first thing anybody reads. And sometimes, it’s the only thing they read. The typical three recommendations a script reader can choose from are: PASS, CONSIDER, and RECOMMEND.

So knowing those six basic elements, let's break the example script coverage down so you can see each of the six elements in action. I'll go ahead and re-paste limited selections from that example coverage, but follow along in that document.

The first thing you see is the coverage company's logo at the top. You'll see something similar on most script coverage from festivals and reading companies, but probably not a lot at major studios and agencies. The logo in the example is from my own script coverage service, Screenplay Readers. Not every company you work for will have a graphic or logo at the top of their coverage template, (some example script coverage templates can be found here) but they generally look nice and give the reader of the coverage something to stare at and/or drool on should the coverage itself not be that interesting to read. Companies you work for may provide you a coverage template in Word format.

logo-sr-header_small

Logo from the top of the example script coverage

The Header

The Header is the section of script coverage that contains all the pertinent metadata relating to the script, such as author name, genre, and page count. That metadata can include all the above, but it also typically includes data that might only be important to a studio exec, or a producer or filmmaker, such as Estimated Budget, Genre, and Time Period.

In the example coverage, that header section looks something like this:

Paco and James
J. Taylor
110 pages
Comedy / Thriller
Analyst: RT2

All of this information is just to provide the reader of the coverage some of the important details about the material being covered. Title, writer, length, genre, and date should all be self-explanatory, but let me mention a few others which aren't included in the example coverage, but are commonly found in many other coverage templates you may run across:

SUB TO:

If you see "SUB TO:" in a script coverage, it generally indicates whom the script was submitted to. In the case, it was submitted to the company, Screenplay Readers. If you work for Amblin Entertainment, and the script was submitted to Amblin, you'd write SUB TO: AMBLIN or something similar.

SUB BY:

If you see "SUB BY:" in a script coverage, it generally indicates who submitted the script.

CIRCA indicates the general time period of the script. Is it a western? If so, is it 1830's or 1870's? Or some other date? In our example above, we include GENRE and CIRCA on the same line ("COMEDY/THRILLER") but don't list a circa. Some script coverage forms won't, but if they do, the header is where to include it. CIRCA can be a general set of dates, or it can be a more vague time period, such as "Revolutionary War period" or "Far future." Generally, don't get bogged down in dates if you can help it. The goal of script coverage is to give the reader of your finished coverage a quick idea of what the script's about, and that includes the time period.

FORMAT in a script coverage header section simply indicates what form the material is presented in. For example, the format may be "Screenplay," or "Treatment," or "Short," or even "Novel."

The Logline

LOGLINE:

It's a dream come true when Mexican drug thug Paco takes an interest in producing James' screenplay, but the production soon turns deadly.

A logline is a one- or two-sentence summation of the script's core story. Its role in script coverage is to provide the reader of the script coverage (such as a producer or agent) a brief overview of the story.

Note how brief the example logline is. It doesn't go into details, but it paints a quick picture of what the story is about. It's important that you keep this logline exactly that: a line. Or two, maximum! If it takes more than three lines to describe the script, go back and rework it. Don't waste your client/boss' time with a long logline. It's got to be brief.

Another example is the logline for Silence of the Lambs: A young FBI cadet must confide in an incarcerated and manipulative killer to receive his help on catching another serial killer who skins his victims.

The Synopsis

BRIEF SYNOPSIS:

JAMES, a gay screenwriter and JOHN, an award-winning actor, flee for their lives in the Mexican desert, chased by Mexican drug lord PACO and his armed men.

Flashback to the beginning: we learn that down-on-his-luck screenwriter James has messed up his big chance, and he feels so low he tries to kill himself.

Friend AL turns up at the opportune moment...

I won't reprint the entire synopsis here, as you can reference the example coverage.

The synopsis is just a 1-2 page summary of the plot, characters, and other important elements of the screenplay. A script coverage synopsis must briefly summarize the story in a way your client can comprehend immediately and without a lot of reading. Admittedly, that's often a tall order, especially with poorly written screenplays whose plotlines and themes are difficult to synopsize.

Your job with the synopsis is to filter out what's not important and include what is important. Focus on the main beats of the story. Don't mention details unless they're necessary to convey in order to make the reader of the coverage understand the story.

And remember, a synopsis in script coverage is usually there to save someone from having to read the entire script. A person reading the synopsis wants the story beamed into their brain quickly.

The Comments / Notes

The comments section of a script coverage is where the script reader offers her critical notes and feedback about the screenplay. These comments typically range from 1-2 paragraphs up 1-3 pages but can be any length, depending on what your client or employer is asking for, or what service you're providing as an independent script reader. Other names for this section include script notes, notes, analysis, script analysis, evaluation, reader comments, feedback, etc.

The comments section in our example script coverage begins here:

WHAT WORKS / WHAT DOESN'T / SUGGESTIONS

With a concept revolving around a filmmaker's attempt to make a movie for a dangerous Mexican cartel leader, PACO AND JAMES promises to be a unique and entertaining story, quite different from other "behind-the-scene" movies. However, with a jumbled narrative and uneven tone, the script still needs a lot of work...

Again, I'll cut the comments off here, as you can reference the full comments in the example coverage provided.

The main goal of the comments/notes section of a script coverage is to provide feedback and/or critique about the material.

Some critical questions you might answer in your comments section:

Does the script have interesting characters? Is the conflict strong? Is the dialogue well-written? Or is it flat and hard to read? Does the story have a great concept, also known as a strong hook? Or have we seen this concept a billion times before? How was the pacing? Are there unnecessary scenes? Do they drag on forever? Are there flashbacks? Are the flashbacks hard to follow? Does the writer use too many words to describe action? Is the script difficult to get through as a result? And so on. A comments section is generally also between 1 and 2 pages, single-spaced.

The Rating Grid

Finally, our script coverage template includes the rating grid. The rating grid in a script coverage is a simple scoring system that features several criteria to which the script reader assigns scores or ranks or grades. Rating grids are included in script coverage largely for one key reason: to give the reader of the coverage an "at-a-glance" overview of a script's strong points and weak points.

Let's take a closer look at the rating grid in the script coverage example provided and zoom into what each item in the analysis grid actually means. Keep in mind, the specific criteria of any coverage template is going to vary from company to company. Some may have some variant of every element I list, and some many have none, or even twice as many.

Also keep in mind that though many of these questions in the rating grid are answered with a score or simple grade, they can also be answered by your written critique, in more detail, in your comments section.

Concept is fresh or original: How original, fresh, or unique the analyst found the script's concept to be. A low score in this category isn't always bad, as many script buyers prefer tried and true concepts. More on how to hone a script concept by crafting an "elevator pitch" for their scripts in this post here.

Concept is/contains a strong and/or "buzzworthy" hook: Does the concept have a strong hook? In short, this is a measure of how much an analyst estimates it would cause people who hear it say "I wish I'd thought of that."

Theme is well executed/interweaved well: Does the story have a strong theme or motif? Is it worked into the story well?

First 10 pages set up the story well: How the analyst feels the first 10 pages help get things in motion.

First 10 pages are compelling: Do the first 10 pages draw the reader and the audience into the story and engage them?

Script is well structured: Does the script have a structure, whether it's 3-act, 8-act or something completely different? If it sets up a new structural convention, does it serve the story well?

Every scene in the script feels essential: Does each and every scene serve a purpose in propelling the plot, or revealing character, or setting a tone, or engaging the reader?

Scenes are the appropriate length: Are scenes too long, or too short, for what they're presenting?

Stakes are clear/conflict is strong and/or compelling: Are the stakes high enough? Is it clear what they are? Does the story have conflict?

Characters' choices drive the story forward: Do the characters' actions, choices, and reactions drive the story? Does causality drive the plot, or do the scenes unfold too arbitrarily, or too episodically?

Pacing is strong and the story keeps moving: Whether the story is intended to be fast-paced or a slow burn, does the pacing feel right?

Story is not overly complicated or hard to follow: Does the script have too many scenes, characters, plot threads, reveals, or any other elements that are making things too hard for a reader or audience to follow?

Story is not bogged down by exposition: Is the story is explaining things a bit too much? For example, over-explaining via too much backstory, too many flashbacks, too much voiceover, etc.? More of what bogged down exposition here.

Tension builds/escalates throughout: Does the story build tension? Does it do it well?

The climax/resolution is satisfying: Did everything in the story come to a resolution in a way that makes sense, and will be entertaining to an audience?

Protagonist(s) is (are) likable and/or compelling: The protagonist doesn't necessarily have to be likable, but they should at least be fun to watch.

Supporting characters are likable and/or compelling: Same thing. Are the supporting characters interesting to watch?

No characters were extraneous: Does every character in your script serve a purpose? Or do we spend time with characters that don't do much for the story?

Dialogue reads as natural and/or believable within this story: Does the dialogue sound authentic within the parameters the writer has set up for your story? If it's a modern, gritty cop movie, do the cops sound real? If it's an alien space adventure, do the alien overlords speak in a way that lets us suspend our disbelief?

Dialogue reveals character: When the characters speak, does what they say or how they say it tell us more about them as characters?

Format and presentation adhere to industry standards: Does the script look and feel like what the film industry at large would consider to be a pro screenplay?

Spelling, punctuation, grammar, and usage: How well did the writer manually spellcheck? Did they use "their" when they meant "there?"

Action text is concise, not overly descriptive/prose: Are the action lines crisp, brief, and easy to visualize quickly? Or do they contain a lot of extraneous description?

Action text "shows" instead of "tells": Does the script's action text and description tell us how a character is feeling? Or, preferably, does it show us by having that character do something?

Overall readability: How easy to read the analyst feels the script would be for an agent, agent's assistant, contest reader, producer, or other film industry reader. (Some important concepts behind the formatting / presentation aspect of a script's readability here.)

All of these criteria, or some variation of them, are essential for a script to be judged against when writing script coverage. They're the meat and potatoes of essential screenwriting metrics.

That is, they're not just questions to be answered in the Analysis Grid or any other numerical scoring portion of your coverage. They're the level of questions to be asked and issues to be raised and contemplated while forming your opinion of the script as you read it, and serve as the basis for all the critique you include in your comments section.

Note, formats and layouts (i.e. the "look" of the coverage itself) definitely vary from company to company, so make sure you're using the template/format assigned to you by whatever company or individual you're working for.

Or, if you're working on your own as your own boss, feel free to customize the look of your coverage however you feel works best for you and your clients.

The Recommendation

The recommendation in a script coverage is the final, one-word verdict from the script reader to the person reading the coverage (whether that person is an agent, producer, studio exec, name actor, or director) which recommends what action specifically should be taken regarding the script. The recommendation has, traditionally, been limited to one of the three following terms:

You'll notice at the end of the coverage example provided, the reader recommendation the reader gave the script was: Recommendation: Pass

There can be as many different types of recommendations as you like, but there are really only three standard recommendations that the film industry uses:

PASS, CONSIDER, and RECOMMEND. How they're usually assigned is as follows:

PASS for scripts which the reader feels need a lot of work.

CONSIDER for scripts that the reader feels need a work, but generally have more redeeming qualities, such as a good hook, or great dialogue.

RECOMMEND for scripts which the reader feels are great, and/or ready for production or sale, which warrant a read by the next person up the food chain.

As you might imagine, a PASS is the most common rating, and a RECOMMEND is the least common rating because there are so few really decent spec scripts floating around out there (an axiom which is probably going to stay true for the indefinite future.)

Now, of course, keep in mind, that that recommendation/rating you give a script has to generally match up with the critical things you point out about the script in your comments section. To oversimplify, you probably shouldn't rave about how great the script is in your comments section and then give the script a PASS, in your rating. As a script reader, you need to keep consistent what you're transmitting to the intended reader of your script. Confusion in a coverage, as in a screenplay, must be avoided at all times.

Worth noting: it's okay to modify the language of your recommendations. In other words, while most companies will want you to stick to Pass, Consider, and Recommend, feel free to use other words if you like, but just be sure whatever words you use are clear to whomever is reading the coverage.

How to Write Script Coverage Comments

cartoon script gal writing

When critiquing a screenplay in your coverage comments section, you generally can feel free to write about whatever elements of that screenplay you feel warrant the most attention. That said, when starting out, you might find it difficult to figure out what categories to start critiquing.

Below are some of the more important things to critique about a screenplay: Concept, Character, Conflict, Dialogue, Readability, and Presentation. But keep in mind that the more you learn about what makes a good screenplay, the more insight you’ll be able to put into your comments section, and you won't be limited to just these few categories.

How to Critique A Script's Concept

The concept of a script is, basically, the big idea behind your screenplay story. It's your script's story in a nutshell. In script coverage, we often want to mention whether or not the script's concept is a strong one. For example, here are two concepts, both of which are strong concepts:

Two guys crash weddings to hit on women.

A secret agent from the 1960's is frozen and thawed out in the 90's to save the world.

Here is a concept that is not so strong:

A mom and daughter travel across Spain picking grapes and learn about each other in the process.

Strong? Not so much. Sure, it might be an amazing script, but it's not a strong concept. A strong concept is hard to defined, but it typically has one or more of several different qualities:

It's memorable, and/or it packs a bit of a surprise or a turnaround, and/or it's extremely easy to visualize, and/or it makes you laugh when reading it, and/or it makes you say "I wish I thought of that!"

You get the idea.

A script may have everything going for it, except a strong concept. And in most cases, and in my opinion, then it’s probably, sadly, not going to be a very marketable script.

How to Critique A Script's Characters

When you write about character in a script coverage, you'll want to ask at least one key question: Are the characters engaging?

Engaging doesn't have to mean they're likeable, or even that we root for them, although those are often important metrics to weigh as well. Engaging just means we find the characters interesting to watch. Whether we empathize with them, or not, or we just find them fascinating.

So are you engaged with the script's characters? Did the screenwriter write the characters such that you're interested in what they do?

Engagement can also stem from how well we, the audience, connect with the characters. No matter how fantastic the setting or situation, if we recognize a piece of ourselves in the characters, then we're more likely to find them engaging.

How to Critique A Script's Conflict

Do the main characters in the script go up against obstacles that seem impossible to overcome?

The best kind of drama and the best way to keep an audience interested is to put your characters into a situation where the odds are against them. If the script you read doesn’t put its characters against some long odds — for example, they just seem to waltz from one minor challenge to the next, never facing anything that seems larger than them, or overpowering, or impossible to get through — then that script is probably weak when it comes to conflict.

And by the way, when a writer can put characters you empathize with, into a situation where there’s a lot of conflict then that’s usually when a script becomes interesting, and entertaining.

How to Critique A Script's Dialogue

Dialogue is simply the back and forth speech of the characters. Characters talking to characters. This where we ask: does that speech seem realistic and believable? Or is it stilted, and phony? Does it have a rhythm to it? Or is it all over the place? Does everybody talk way too much, over-explaining everything?

Good dialogue is hard to write. The best writers are those who get out into the real world and listen to how actual people speak, and then incorporate that into their dialogue writing.

Those four big criteria: Character, Concept, Conflict, and Dialogue, are the most important things to keep focused on when writing script coverage, or when learning more about screenwriting in general. You may notice that all 4 of these tie in somehow with pretty much every criteria listed in the Analysis Grid I detailed above.

How to Critique A Script's Readability

But not all script coverage criteria are tied to the core metrics of what makes a screenplay good or bad. Some criteria can appear at first blush to be quite detached from what's important about screenwriting and what makes a script entertaining or marketable. Such criteria generally fall into the somewhat ambient realm of what I'll call "Readability." Readability is quite simply how easy the script is for a human to read.

Good readability stems from many, many factors:

How the script looks (format, spelling, usage, etc.), word density, word choice and vocabulary, whether a writer shows us, rather than tells us, what's going on, and even such seemingly trivial things as how much white space is on the page.

All of those criteria are superficial but they make up a key component of the reader's experience when reading the script because if done right, they make it easy for that reader to turn each page of the script. If executed poorly, those presentational elements can frustrate the reader, or give the reader the impression that the writer is a hack, or can't spell.

If a script reader loses interest in the script because she no longer trusts the writer, due to a myriad of typos, or bad format, or 50 words on the page describing what could be described in 5, it's likely that that script reader will not likely have good things to say about the script when she finishes.That is, if she finishes.

So let's just briefly zoom into two of these types of Readability criteria. Show, Don't Tell, and General Format.

How to Critique A Script's Presentation

A script's presentation is a combination of factors, including script format, punctuation, spelling, and grammar. There are countless screenwriting apps that handle script formatting flawlessly, and dozens of great tutorials on industry standard screenplay formatting, such as this one here at Final Draft, so I won't go into detail about formatting, but the questions to ask when critiquing a script's presentation include: Is the script punctuated correctly? Are there spelling errors all on every page? Does the writer use words correctly? For example, does he confuse their with there? Or then with than?

While critiquing presentation concerns should always come second to critiquing story and other important elements of a script, presentation can often be the dealbreaker for some readers. This is because when is a script is poorly formatted, or contains dozens of spelling and grammar errors, it could prevent the reader from even finishing the read to begin with.

Another important factor of presentation which isn't mentioned too often is the writer's use of white space. A good way to tell an amateur from a professional, with regards to format and presentation, is to look at the amount of white space in the script. If the writer uses far too many words to describe things, or to convey action, or his characters are too verbose, that means there's a lot more word density on the page. That is, a lot more ink. And the more ink on the page, the harder the script is to read for many readers.

Put another way, professional screenwriters tend to use fewer words in general. (Not always, but most of the time.) And fewer words often means more white space, a tighter read, and typically a more enjoyable experience for the reader or audience.

A Screenplay Should Show, Not Tell

One fairly easy thing to spot and critique about a script is whether or not the writer has written the script in a way that she's showing us, rather than telling us. For an example of showing vs. telling, let's take a scene where the writer wants to convey to the audience that a character is sad.

Here's how she would write that if she were showing us:

Betty cries.

And here's how she would write that if she were telling us:

Betty is very sad.

Showing us means having the characters take action and say things and letting us see those things actually happen on the page, as opposed to the writer just telling us things are happening in the action/description text or elsewhere. Showing, rather than telling, is almost always a stronger way to write. Here's another example. First, an example of telling us (bad):

EXT. GRANDMA'S HOUSE - DAY

Bob grabs a pie off the window sill.  He darts across the train tracks.

BOB
Hey Milly, I just went to Grandma’s and stole her pie off the window sill, then ran across the train tracks to meet  you here.

Now, an example of showing us (good).

EXT. GRANDMA'S HOUSE - DAY

Bob grabs a pie off the window sill.  He darts across the train tracks.

BOB
Hey Nancy.

Remember: a screenplay is a blueprint for a film. Good writing keeps things visual (showing us) rather than just explaining things verbally. If a screenplay tells more than it shows, an experienced script reader knows that it's highly likely that the script has gotten a lot of other things wrong as well.

How Much to Write When Writing Script Coverage

You don't have to list every single error or call out every single fault of the script you're reading. If you want to give examples of where, for example, the characters are not engaging, then go ahead and just provide one or two specific examples with page numbers but don’t list all of them. Script coverage is not the venue for itemizing every last thing that goes wrong in a screenplay. That’s more the realm of script notes/line notes/page notes and script consulting. Coverage is not supposed to get bogged down in a ton of specifics. But at the same time, don’t be too vague either.

Miscellaneous Criteria Included in Some Script Coverages

If you’re doing a script coverage for an agent, or a production company, or even a script reading company, they may have their own proprietary styles and standards for you to follow, with regards to how your coverage looks, and what you focus on in your comments section as well. For example, some companies may ask you to give your opinion on whether or not the script is a good fit for a certain movie star, or, whether or not you think this script is a marketable film for specific demographics.

Three Must-Read Books for Script Readers

I recommend three books to read in order to edify your screenwriting critique and coverage writing skills.

500 Ways to Beat The Hollywood Script Reader, by Jennifer Lerch

Screenplay by Syd Field

And Story by Robert McKee

For the expert, these books are great material to return to again and again, and for the beginner, they're a great way to spark your interest in learning more about screenwriting, and absorbing as much as possible about the craft.

Finding Script Reader Jobs

cartoon script girl cheering at being hired

There are many, many different paths to go if you're seeking work as a paid script reader.

Script Reading: Do It Yourself

One option is to do it yourself. That is, you set up a website, set up your rates and your shopping cart, and open for business online. This is definitely a great way to go, and this is one of the ways I did it. But it’s a lot of work. Not only to get your business up online and running, but to build your contacts, set up your infrastructure, etc. There’s a lot of blood and sweat equity that goes into it. From services, to customers, to promotion, you name it and it's a bitch to learn and get right. If you’ve got the stomach for starting your own online script reading business, go for it, but remember, it’s take a while to get everything working, and there's a lot of "moving parts."

Freelance Script Reading

Another way to do it is more of a hybrid way, where you get paid to read scripts for a script coverage company online, but you don’t have to set up a complicated website, or worry about traffic, or graphics, or anything like that. And that’s by simply interacting on Facebook, or blogs, or on Twitter, or discussion forums, advertising your services. Let people know you do script coverage, or script consulting, and then have them send you payment via Paypal email. You can also simply print out some business cards, then circulate at writers groups, or expos, or clubs and get the word out the old fashioned way.

I offer a paid course on how to start your own script reading business if you're interested in learning more about working as your own boss/freelancing.

Script Reader Jobs at an Agency or Studio

If running your own business sounds a bit daunting, you can always just try to get a job at a talent or literary agency, or a production company, or even a studio. My best advice for one of these places: make sure you have several sample coverages ready to go that are just amazingly well written. Make sure they’re error-free and formatted beautifully. And, of course, make sure your resume is in tip-top shape. If you can highlight your film experience, or anything even related to film, it helps.

Reading For A Script Contest or Festival

There are a number of companies online who hire script readers, such as script contests and screenwriting festivals. If you apply to one, make sure you send in your sample coverage and resume right off the bat, as they're going to ask for it. Also keep in mind that many of these companies pay very low rates, and prefer to work with low-paid college kids or even interns, so you may wish to do your research before inquiring.

If you're interested in the more nuts-and-bolts aspects of script reading, I also offer a paid script reader training course here.

Thanks for stopping by and happy script reading!

© Copyright B. O'Malley and Screenplay Readers. All Rights Reserved.

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