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Should You REALLY Be Paying For Screenplay Coverage?

 

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by Script Reader Pro in Life As A Screenwriter, Script Coverage
August 4, 2014 1 comment
screenplay coverage

There are many reasons why aspiring screenwriters refuse to get screenplay coverage on their scripts. But what are they? And are their reasons legitimate?

Firstly, ”Screenplay coverage” is a term often applied to feedback on a script from agencies, production companies, etc. and script consultancies, script reading companies etc. who charge you a fee to read the script. In actual fact, the latter should really be called “script notes.”

But, terms aside, let’s say you’re trying to decide whether to pay someone for script writing coverage / notes from a professional script company or individual. Is it worth it? Or are the people who say “you should never pay for script coverage” right?

The people who object to paying for script coverage fall into two main camps. They are: Camp 1 who believe the whole screenplay reading industry is a pointless waste of time and a rip-off, and Camp 2, who would like to have their script read, but continually come up with reasons not to.

Let’s Take A Look At Both Camps In A Little More Detail:

Camp 1: “All screenplay readers are thieves!”

Some people (mostly a few professional writers) believe anyone who asks for money in return for providing feedback on a screenplay is, essentially, a charlatan — somewhat akin to a medicine man or 19th century faith healer.

They believe that most script reading services are in it for the money, taking cash from innocent writers with the false claim that they can help said writer “break in” or write “the perfect script” when they can’t.

They question whether any script reading service can have any real credentials, experience, or good advice to offer. Or even if they have good advice to offer, it doesn’t matter because their opinion is irrelevant and “doesn’t reflect the realities of the marketplace.”

On the really negative end of the spectrum they also believe the coverage is probably all done by eighteen-year-old interns.

This camp also tend to discredit many other forms of help aspiring screenwriters might seek out if it involves money. Buying books, attending courses, or seminars are all looked down on because, in their eyes, learning to write should be 100% free. “All you need is a laptop and your imagination.”

The only steps you should ever take to improve your screenwriting, besides just writing and reading scripts, is to “broaden your professional network” by getting a low-level job in the industry, attending panels and special events, or maybe joining a networking or writing group.

Overall, you should never pay anybody anything to give feedback on your script because you have no idea who these script readers are. And even if you do, it doesn’t matter one bit if they “like” your script or not.

Camp 2: “I wouldn’t mind getting screenwriting coverage if I could afford it, but I don’t think it’s worth it.”

Other people (mostly aspiring screenwriters) are not as openly hostile to the idea of paying for coverage as the first camp, but are not entirely convinced it’ll be worth it either. They think it might help, but then again it might not.

For this reason, people in this camp often eschew script coverage in favor of other forms of free, non-professional feedback, such as writing groups, peer-review websites, forums, or asking friends and acquaintances.

Cost is often a factor. In other words, they’d send in their screenplay for evaluation to a script reading company if it was free, but why bother when you can get your sister’s friend “Kaitlin” who’s majoring in film production at UCLA to read it instead?

People in this camp are also often confused by the sheer volume of script reading companies out there, and wouldn’t know where to start even if they wanted to hire someone. They’re often overwhelmed by questions such as, “Should I go for the company that offers screenplay analysis at $50? $150? Or $300?”

And who’ll be reading the script anyway?” “Maybe the people in the first camp are right and all script readers are just a bunch of fraudsters out to take my hard-earned cash and send back a few pages of half-baked notes that aren’t any help at all.”

Overall, they certainly wouldn’t mind having their script professionally covered, but they’re not going to risk paying anything for it when you don’t know if it’ll help or not.

Besides, times are tough and they can’t really afford it anyway, and so feel they’re better off just writing scripts, getting free feedback on a screenwriting forum and going to a writing group once a month.

screenplay coverage

Here’s Why Both Camps Are Wrong

When you send a screenplay off to a production company, management company, agency, etc. they log the coverage they do on your script.

If you then submit another screenplay, or draft, the first thing they’ll do is search your name in their database. If what they find is a less than positive review of your previous effort, the new script you’ve just submitted will probably never even be opened. The same goes for any future screenplays you may submit to said company.

It takes on average three to six months to write a screenplay. At a minimum. And once you’ve submitted it to an agent, manager, or producer, you may never again get a chance to get them to read anything else you’ve written. Ever.

So doesn’t it make sense to make sure you give them the absolutely best draft of your screenplay possible?

If you just answered “yes,” then you have to ask yourself: how do you give yourself the best possible chance of writing the best possible draft?

Hardly anyone agrees nowadays that sending off a script into the industry without getting any feedback at all on it is a good idea. The simple truth is that you are too close to your screenplay to critique it effectively.

While you are the only one who knows the pieces well enough to understand how to fix problems, you are also the only person who can’t see the problems to begin with.

So the question then becomes…

If You Don’t Pay For Screenplay Coverage, Who Should You Ask To Review It?

Friends in the industry?

The people in Camp 1 would argue, “friends and acquaintances who work in the industry.” This is a great option, but unfortunately it only works to a point.

For a start, (especially outside of Los Angeles) not everyone knows someone who works as a writer, development exec, agent or manager who they can hand their script to. Or even an assistant.

And even if you do, can you rely on that person to give you a set of impartial, comprehensive and insightful notes? Within a couple of weeks? Unfortunately, this scenario is a true rarity.

Often friendships, or a lack of time, or understanding, can muddy the waters, and you wind up waiting months for feedback colored by sensitivity to your feelings.

On the other hand, if you know someone — maybe not a close friend, but an acquaintance, or friend of a friend — who works in the industry and who has the time to give your script a thorough appraisal, then great!

You’re one of the lucky few, and should milk that puppy to death. Well, maybe not, as here’s where another problem arises: you can’t just give your script to a friend, ask them for their feedback, write another draft, and then give it back to them two weeks later.

It doesn’t matter how good a friend they are, they won’t appreciate all the free legwork you’re asking them to do. Unless maybe you take them out to dinner or buy them a new shirt or something. But what about the people you hardly know? You see how awkward this can get?

A writing group?

Okay, so what about joining a writing group? Surely they’re little hotspots of productivity, teeming with savvy screenwriters dedicated to learning the craft and helping you learn with them? Well, no, not exactly.

Put any group of disparate strangers together in a room for an hour and we all know what can happen… One guy loves the sound of his own voice too much. Another barely says anything at all. Pretty soon a passive-aggressive argument breaks out. Or an hour goes by trying to fix the air conditioner.

The truth is, it’s extremely hard to find a writer’s group that meets regularly and is made up of smart, fair, dedicated writers who’re able to offer great feedback. And we all know that the advice to “start your own if you can’t find one” is fraught with just as many perils.

A network of professionals?

One of the other alternatives people in Camp 1 suggest is getting a low-paid job in the mailroom at an agency or management company and working your way up.

This may be a great way to learn about screenwriting if you’re in your twenties, full of energy and can handle working long hours and being bossed around for little pay, but for many aspiring screenwriters who are maybe a little older, this is simply not an option.

Older writers can obviously still try to expand their professional network by attending (free, we take it?) panels, conferences, events, and “networking groups,” but again it’s all down to luck. You have to be lucky to meet someone or a group of people who you can count on to pass  your work on to at no cost at all.

Hire a script consultant?

Some people in Camp 1 take issue with paying for one-off script coverage from a “faceless reader,” but are fine with the idea of writers hiring personal script consultants.

This is because consultants work more closely with you, getting to know your tastes, perspectives, aspirations, while working at “actually improving your writing ability not just one script.”

The problem is, hiring a script consultant costs considerably more than getting screenplay coverage. If you can afford to hire a personal coach, great, go for it. But the truth is that good script writing coverage provides an affordable, viable way of getting a professional review of your script and your writing abilities for a fraction of the cost.

Getting Good At Something Often Costs Money

Just like other services that help people, script reading services have to charge money or else they wouldn’t be able to do it.

However, the people in Camp 1 seem to think that just because the process of writing a great script could in theory be entirely free because “all you need is a laptop and your imagination,” that it should always be free. And if you need help, you shouldn’t pay for it.

The strange thing is, they wouldn’t expect a tennis player to win Wimbledon without ever having paid for coaching. Or a musician to make it into the New York Philharmonic without ever having paid for a cello lesson.

They know, probably more than anyone, just how tough it is to break into Hollywood, and yet recoil in horror at the suggestion that an aspiring screenwriter might pay for help in learning how to write.

We argue that, seeing as how insanely difficult the prospect of “making it” as a paid writer in Hollywood or anywhere else actually is, doesn’t it make sense to give yourself the best possible chance, if that means paying for guidance?

The irony is that something like 75% of those who espouse “screenwriting should always be free” have themselves acquired a degree from some prestigious university or other.

Even if they haven’t obtained an MFA in Screenwriting from USC, they’ve very often obtained a degree in one of the liberal arts: English, Philosophy, History, etc.

You may not think so, but this puts them at a huge advantage over other writers who haven’t had the fortune to be able to afford such an education, as the environment, guidance, connections, internships, and most importantly — mentorships — are pretty much invaluable to a person’s later development.

For some reason an image has built up over time of writers as people who’re perpetually broke — scraping a living waiting tables while sleeping on friend’s couches — and so are therefore doubly vulnerable to the chance of being “ripped off” by some charlatan script reading service.

Judging by the average aspiring writer sitting in Starbucks with the latest MacBook, though, who quite happily spend $80 a month on coffee, this is something of a myth.

Maybe at the moment you are genuinely broke and can’t afford to have your script covered. That’s fine, (well, it’s not “fine” but, you know what we mean) but if you say you take this screenwriting thing seriously, then you should really be able to find the money to get professional feedback on your work.

screenplay coverage

Paying For Screenplay Coverage Is Not A Scam, It’s Sometimes A Necessity

To be honest, the suggestion that script writing coverage is of no use whatsoever and the implication that script reading companies are somehow “ripping off writers” is both inaccurate and pretty insulting.

If, as those in Camp 1 attest, all paid coverage is bunk, then how do they explain the fact that so many writers swear by them, get so much value out of them, and often argue that they’d never have won that contest or gotten that agent if they hadn’t used them?

Reading companies would be in vastly different fields if their only intention was to make a quick buck. They do it because (most of us) love screenwriting, helping writers achieve their goals, and are good at what we do.

Do Your Research First

While it’s true that some screenwriting coverage services may just write up a bunch of half-baked notes on one script and “take the money and run,” the vast majority don’t.

This is where it’s important to do a little research before purchasing any kind of screenplay coverage service to weed out the good from the bad. We’ve talked about how to pick a script consultant in four easy steps before, and these all apply to finding someone to give you coverage also. In short, you need to find out:

  • Who will be reading your script.
  • What credentials they have.
  • How good their coverage is.

Maybe you’ve had a bad experience because of poor script analysis, or a negative set of reaction notes from a contest entry, and it’s left a bad taste in your mouth?

Or maybe you’re jaded by the array of “script gurus” who tell you all the in’s and out’s they believe makes a great screenplay and claim they can get your script into “the right hands” with their “connections?” It happens.

And of course some script reading services could have “faceless readers” doing their coverage who’re actually eighteen-year-old interns, but as long as you do your research beforehand you’re unlikely to get burned.

Should You Use Script Coverage Services Or Not? Our Conclusion…

Of course, some aspiring screenwriters are lucky enough to have a friend in the industry who doesn’t mind reading your scripts and giving great notes on them, for free.

Or to be in an amazing writing group which consistently gives first class feedback, for free.

Or to be twenty-one and able to get a job in the mailroom at William Morris and work their way up, for free.

Or be blessed with so much talent that they’re able to learn how to write by themselves simply by watching movies and cranking out scripts in their apartment, for free.

However if, like the majority of aspiring writers, you don’t fall into any of these categories, then you probably need some help. And, as much as some people might hate the idea, you sometimes have to pay other people to do the helping.

As a writer, the only thing you can control is putting the very best product out to market that you can.

You owe it to yourself (if you call yourself a serious screenwriter that is) to give yourself the best shot possible.

And that simply means paying to get a professional, third party’s eyes on your screenplay — a neutral party who goes in there with the clear goal of seeing what’s making it work or not, how to change it to make it work better, and maybe, just maybe, improve your overall writing ability in the process.

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Hire us to get your screenplay where you want it to be, get an agent and get sold. You can check out our script coverage services here.

1 Comment
  1. Steve Sherman says:

    This article certainly makes a good point from both sides of the dilemma. In the end it’s still impossible to tell who is reading the screenplay and or if that person has the credentials to give good coverage and if so are they actually doing so or just phoning it in.

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