Screenplay "coverage" is a critique written by people called story analysts. Almost every script an agent submits to producers, production companies, and studios in LA or New York will receive coverage. And before an agent will even look at the script, an agency story analyst will write coverage.
The story analyst’s job is to sort through an endless stack of scripts hoping to find that great one, like everyone else in the film business. If a script is polished until it leaps off the page, a story analyst will rate it as a "consider," or the rare but even more distinguished "recommend," and send it to the next level where it’s considered for production. Because most scripts aren’t good and some are terrible, reading and writing coverage on scripts is an act of endurance on the part of the story analyst. Reading a script that doesn’t deliver is aggravating and a significant waste of time. If your script isn’t polished to the best it can be, the story analyst will rate it as a "pass" and sent it to the reject pile.
Industry standard coverage follows a specific format. The first page is called the top sheet and it shows the details of the screenplay, a logline, summary of production values, and a grid rating. A logline is a one sentence description of the script that includes the conflict, action, and goal. Elements are the producer, studio and talent attached to the script. This is an example of a typical top sheet. A one- to two-page synopsis follows the top sheet and the final page is the critique that evaluates the story, structure, and commercial viability of the project.
Your goal when you submit a script is to get "excellent" in every category on the grid rating and an overall rating of "recommend." If a story analyst writes "pass," no one else in the company will read your script. "Consider" means the script stands out but didn’t blow the story analyst out of the water. If a script gets a "consider," development executives may or may not move it up the production pipeline. A "recommend" gets serious attention and if the script isn’t actually slated for development, the screenwriter could easily get hired to work on projects within the company. This isn’t only lucrative; it’s an opportunity to make valuable connections in the industry.
Agencies and production companies all have their own procedures for determining the fate of your script and even the lauded "recommend" doesn’t guarantee you’ll see your name up on the big screen. You’ve written a script that stands out among all others but it will continue to be put through the test by other story analysts or perhaps a story editor and only if it sustains the original "recommend," does it gets read by a potential agent and/or studio executive. Agents and executives will share their opinions and if fits into their acquisitions model, a deal will be offered to the screenwriter.
If a screenwriter takes into account the amount of time and work involved in getting anyone significant to accept a screenplay, it’s obvious that submitting a script before it’s ready can be is a mistake. Without an agent or strong connections, it’s almost impossible to get a screenplay to anyone with the power to slate your project for studio development. Getting a second and third opinion from people in the film industry before you submit your screenplay increases its potential to stand out.
Hiring a freelance story analyst is one option. But before picking up the phone, make sure your screenplay doesn’t have the common pitfalls so the story analyst can concentrate on more sweeping story issues. If the first act isn’t solid, attention will wane. Make sure the set up has a strong hook and the central conflict is revealed. Keep characters consistent. Avoid exposition in the dialogue. Avoid flashbacks, which are a red flag to a story analyst. Action paragraphs should be brief and describe only what’s necessary. Overly descriptive action paragraphs are ponderous and weigh down the momentum. Remember: film is a visual medium and always show, don’t tell. Stick to your genre. Typos, illegible text, blank pages, out of order pages, and over using punctuation marks are serious turn-offs. All of these may seem obvious, but often a screenplay submitted to A-list talent contains more than one of these shortcomings, which means it will never make it past the story analyst.
If you have a screenplay you truly believe in, chances are that others will believe in it, too. The competition is stiff but a great screenplay with commercial viability that stands out above all others has good potential for development and it’s well worth the time to polish it so every word counts. Reading such a script is a pleasure that every story analyst – and more importantly – every filmgoer out there wants. Write, rewrite, polish, get second and third opinions and don’t give up.