Wednesday, February 24, 2010

QUESTION FROM A READER: What's Coverage?!

Peter, a new writer, sent me a query: What exactly is coverage?

Before I came to LA, I wondered at all the hoopla about coverage.  Who could I trust? Was it worth the money? Why do I need it?

Now that I've written coverage for a production company, I know the truth. 

So let me answer a few questions.  (If you have others, feel free to email me or post comments.)

1. What is coverage? 

Glad you asked.  "Coverage" in the industry is a loose term.  Usually "production company/studio style coverage" means a 1-3 pg. book report type summary of your script.  The purpose is to give the exec a basic idea of the main story points, characters, dialogue, plot, conflict.   It points out the good stuff and the weak spots.  This usually a bare bones outline and talking points.

Coverage services may also offer supplemental services:
- story notes
- synopsis & treatment reviews
- tv spec services
- web series services

2.  What kind of coverage should I get? 

It depends on your needs.  But for the majority of writers who want the most for their money, I'd say story notes/coverage.

Why? Because it's the best of both worlds.  Straight coverage doesn't really help from the writer's point of view. You really want story notes b/c: 1) they explain WHY something isn't working, and 2) they may offer suggestions how to fix problems.

ex. Coverage - "This scene doesn't push the story."

ex. Story notes - "This scene doesn't push the story b/c Bill and Ted aren't in conflict over escaping the harem.  It plateaus here, and thus we aren't eager to move to find out what happens in the next scene. Keep escalating the tension between them. For example, Bill wants to hide out because the guards are looking for him.  But Ted needs to go rescue his sister. This could also plant the seeds of doubt in Bill's head that Ted doesn't have his back, which will also pay off on p. 75 when the harem guards find them again."

2.  When should you get coverage?

Some people write one draft and get coverage.  Some want a more "development process" and get multiple coverages after each draft.  Frankly, I think this just gets expensive. 

If you're writing a spec that hasn't been bought, l'd recommend polishing your script to the best of your ability, then get coverage. In other words, you've polished it to a shine & you're just about to submit it to a production company/agent/manager.  

2.  Should you wait to get coverage until you have 5-10 screenplays under your belt first? 

No.  I'd definitely send it for coverage if you get a request from a production company.   I'd also send it for coverage if you think your spec could really sell.

3.  It's expensive! Why should I get coverage? 

Honestly, I don't blame you.  I thought this too before coming to LA. 

However, the truth is that you need to get a feel for how your script will do in the industry.  Coverage/story notes is the quickest way to assess your scripts against others.

The two things a lot of writers don't have is: 1) experience, and 2) knowing the competition.

Example of Experience - You won't know why other spec thrillers before you did not interest an exec.  A good script consultant will have covered thriller scripts so they can explain to you why X needed to be bigger, or Y has been done before.

Example of Knowing the Competition - You might think your script is high concept, but you didn't know there are four other specs out there with the same topic.  A good script consultant who's in the know could alert you & suggest how you can distinguish your script.

As for the cost, think of it as an investment.  It takes a lot of time cracking story spines.

4. What should I look for in a coverage specialist?

Look for someone whose style you feel comfortable with and will give it to you straight.  Also make sure he/she is able to troubleshoot and EXPLAIN to you why it's not working without confusing you. 

ex. I sat down once with a well know story consultant in LA for a quick assessment on my own script.  Something about him made me uncomfortable, and I couldn't hear a word he said. 

WHAT I KNOW: Coverage is like a tune up.  It's not as painful as you think.  In fact, some have said that it's therapeutic to know where they stand.

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