Howdy, fellow scribes!
I thought I’d share four observations that come from running Coverage Ink and Get Repped Now, as well as from my decades in the trenches (this is my 30th anniversary as a professional writer — I optioned my very first screenplay — for $500 — thirty years ago this month!) For, er, better or worse. Ahem. Perhaps they’ll provide succor, or maybe they’ll piss you off. But anyway, for whatever it’s worth, here we go.
1) You Guys Are Awesome. Interfacing with our clients is genuinely fun and super rewarding. Every day I get letters of thanks that warm the cockles of my heart. (No, no, you know, cockles… that’s an expression. God, the way your mind works.) Thank you all for embracing the process. It is insanely rewarding to see you guys who started off with pass/pass and kept plugging through draft after draft, and now those scripts are incrementally climbing into the zone. You know who you are, and you rock!
2) Please Don’t Argue With Me. Guys, I’ve been doing this a long, long time. And sure, I am occasionally wrong from time to time. Just ask my wife, she’s keeping as list 😉 But if I assert an opinion, it generally comes from a place of experience. I am not trying to rain on anyone’s parade. I’m not trying to be an asshole or a dream-killer or a smart-ass. Well, maybe a smart-ass. Whatever, I am however trying to prevent you from making mistakes that may cost you a year or more of your life, such as trying to shop a piece of material that’s just a nonstarter.
Here are a few of the projects we’ve gotten in that are just a real tough place to proceed from:
- A well-known superhero adaptation (without owning the rights)
- A huge-budget fantasy epic that would cost $400 million and has no protagonist and takes place in four separate eras with entirely new casts in each
- An experimental movie with no real structure and characters deliberately meant to be awful
- A 170-page comedy feature
- A musical, with CD of the songs
And on and on. Of course under certain circumstances, any of these *could* be the bomb. But if you don’t own the rights, you cannot shop the material. Full stop. Unless your last name is Zaillian or Sorkin, no one will read your 170-page screenplay. Full stop. Unless your musical has already gotten kudos in its theatrical runs, the only way it will make it to the screen is if you Dr. Horrible it and DIY. Full stop.
That said, go ahead and prove me wrong! The best incentive is someone telling you you cannot do something. Just ask Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour, after Roger Waters told him he’d never be able to continue the band without him.
3) Consider With Reservations = Unreservedly Frustrating. I know, I know. Some of you have resubmitted polishes of your script several times and you just can’t nail that “consider.” When you’re stuck in “consider with reservations” land for four drafts straight, you likely want to rip someone’s entrails out.
Even worse is when you “fall back” and score a pass, when a previous draft got a consider with reservations (though it’s not really falling backwards.)
The coverage process is inherently imprecise. A lot of time clients ask, “Can it be that subjective?” Yes, of course it is. While we do our best to standardize — all of our readers must have similar education, have read the same books, have proven facility with story as well as have the ability to communicate notes to people in an empowering way. They all have to pass our test, and every analysis is proofread by me or my partner (or both) for consistency and cogency.
But what we cannot control is the reader’s opinion. Two different readers can find the same problem in a script, but one might think it’s a deal-breaker while another shrugs it off. One might find your protagonist’s brazen demeanor refreshing, another off-putting. This is why when agents send out a script to the town, they will often send it to thirty producers. You only need one offer (of course, the more the merrier.) Those 29 passes become irrelevant. So yes, it is an inherently subjective process, but we do try to ensure that our readers are the best in town, and generally speaking, you can take those notes to the bank.
So if you find yourself in that CWR rut and not being able to get out of it, it may simply be a matter of time/learning until you’re able to conquer whatever it is. For example, subtext is the bear that many writers just can’t lick. It’s deceptively hard to do, and draft after draft of trying may nudge the script closer, but it honestly might take several more scripts until you’re there. Or it could be there’s a structural monkey wrench in there one might stubbornly be refusing to address. Hopefully, the answers to solving this should be there in the notes. As to whether one elects to do the notes, or whether one is at the level to execute those notes properly, that’s another story.
4) The Notes Are Not “Optional.” Sure, I know that statement that smacks of superciliousness. Remember what I said about being a smart-ass. But seriously, allow me to explain. This is the pattern:
- Writer sends in screenplay/pilot for analysis
- Writer gets back notes
- Writer comes back in a few weeks and resubmits new draft
- Reader finds that the new draft doesn’t address any of the substantive notes.
Moreso, oftentimes the writer will even ask for the same reader again, excited to show the analyst that they climbed Everest and looking for that validation with this new draft. And then the reader emails me and says, “I don’t know why Writer resubmitted the script. I could just cut and paste my notes from the last go-round.” There’s a wee disconnect between how the writer sees it and how the analyst sees it. The reader is proud that they did indeed address the notes — or at least some of them. The reader however quickly ascertains that the notes that were executed were the easy ones — rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic, if you will.
So we like to joke that there is no such thing as an optional note. Even the HARD ONES must be addressed!
Now of course that’s bullshit to a certain degree. When I get coverage on my own scripts, I generally use about 75% of the notes. Of course, my inclination is to always discard the ones that require real work, such as a structural rebreak or the need to replace an entire act. Screw that!
But I force myself to slog through even the difficult notes. The ones I ignore are generally the ones where I simply disagree with the reader because they were going in the wrong direction or just didn’t get what I was trying to do. But I don’t discard any note before highly considering it.
So good on you for doing the work, but before you resubmit, ask yourself — did you really address all the concerns from the last coverage? If we have to send you the same notes twice, that’s not super cost-effective.
As always, feel free to hit me up anytime for questions at [email protected]. Now let’s cheer on on Get Repped Now considers so far. Who’s next?