Why Getting Coverage on Your Script May Be Just the Ticket
By Jim Cirile
We’ve all been there. We write “Fade Out,” and voila! — our shiny, new awesometastic masterpiece is done. Then we hand it to our respective boyfriends, girlfriends, and “it’s complicated” others; they love it. Mom adores it. We’re ready for the big time. But just to be on the safe side, we send it out for coverage and wait with bated breath. Surely, it’ll be a “consider,” maybe even a “recommend.”
The coverage comes back — and it’s “pass/pass.” A pass for script and for writer!
A knock to the ego, right? Maybe. Hard to Endure? For sure.
Just what you need? Damn right.
Of course, there’s of course only one explanation: the reader is a complete moron. An imbecile! Some frustrated hack, who is just jealous and will likely pilfer the script idea and write her own version of it and sell it for a milllllion dollars. We rail and rail and rail.
A couple of weeks go by and maybe we take another look at the coverage and concede that maybe, possibly, there might be a snowball’s chance in hell that there might be ONE valid point. So with great aggravation, we change that one character name — the reader pointed out that having a character names Belinda and Lebinda in the script might be confusing, and, well, sure. Goodbye, Belinda; hello, Quelgha. Dissimilar enough for ya, reader? Hmph.
But in the process of going back over the notes again, a few other things kinda stick in our craw. So we slowly start making a few other recommended changes. Before long, three hours have gone by and you’ve addressed all those notes. Sure, the notes were terrible, but hey… for sure, it’s perfect now.
Just to be on the safe side, we send it out for coverage and wait with bated breath. You know of course what happens next. Wash, rinse, repeat. Yes, it’s frustrating when you find yourself on draft 21 and it still comes back pass/pass. You want to bash your head against the wall, throw in the sweat & blood-soaked towel, use your laptop for archery practice and of course ream out the moron who just sent you six pages of notes, single-spaced (trust me, we get those e-mails.)
Look, I get it. I’ve been there. Yes, full disclosure: I own a coverage company. But as Sy Sperling from Hair Club for Men used to say, I’m also a client. You work your butt off and create something you’re really proud of and then somebody essentially poops all over it. At least, that’s how it feels. That’s the point when you need to ask yourself if that’s reality or a hurt ego talking. Perhaps you’ve heard this hoary old cliché before: writing is rewriting. Hold onto your ass, because I am about to impart a dollop of reality. Ready? Here it is:
Neither you, nor anybody else, will likely hit a bull’s-eye with your first draft.
Or fifth. Or even tenth.
There’s a word for this process. It’s called “work”.
Some writers get so discouraged, they shove that cursed script into the drawer never to look at it again. Some hire us as ghostwriters to get them over that hump (great way to not learn your craft.) And many just flip the proverbial bird to the story analyst and send the script, unchanged, to every agent, manager, and production company they can find an email address for. Worst move of all. A script that hits the town before it’s ready can not only do its creator considerable harm — a bad first impression is difficult to rectify — it’s also dead in the water once everyone’s passed on it. At that point, you can’t go back and “fix” it. Once a company passes, it’s pretty much dead there for good.
But then there are the superstars — the few, the proud, who roll up their sleeves and go to frickin’ work. Again and again and again. They do a draft, send it in for coverage; over and over again. Oftentimes improvement takes many drafts, and sometimes it’s one step forward, seven back. But eventually, if you actually listen to the notes and are not afraid to throw out whole sections of the script and rethink them, that needle will tick over into the ‘consider with reservations’ zone and even ‘consider.’ Granted, this is a slow, agonizing and costly process. But it is also a proven way to improve your script, and in so doing develop your craft. And THAT, amigos, way more than sending out half-baked scripts to a town that doesn’t give a rat’s derriere, is what will eventually get you where you want to be: a working writer.
For proof, you need look no further than me. Remember: I’m also a client. I send my own scripts in for coverage to our team under pseudonyms. The last three took anywhere from 17-21 drafts each.
Let me reiterate this for impact. I’ve been a screenwriter for 25 years, currently working with a movie in production. And it takes me generally about 20 drafts/script to Get It Right. Now sure, I’m a moron, and it takes a long time for things to sink in. It took me literally a decade to figure out what subtext was and how to use it. Yet here in 2017 America, I kind of feel like I represent Joe Average (as sad as that may be.)
Here are the advantages of taking the stony road to success as opposed to the instant gratification highway to failure: well, I kinda gave it away already: success and failure. Let me briefly soapbox here: if you want to be a doctor, you spend years in medical school and then slog away on 36-hour shifts in a hospital during your internship and then, eventually, eons later, you’ll be a full-fledged M.D.
The same is true for… well, pretty much every job there is.
Yet, somehow, in this lovely business of ours, someone can wake up one morning and decide that they’re now a writer! (or actor or director.) Seriously? Would you walk into the O.R. tomorrow and demand to be given a scalpel, simply because you’ve been to a few doctors and have seen them on TV and thus have an idea of what they do? Hell to the no. Then why would you assume that a script you spent only a few months on, which you’ve already been told has structural flaws or thinnish characters, should be worth professional $$$? It’s the same thing, people. With only occasional exceptions (which often make us want to bash our heads against the wall,) the people making the big bucks as screenwriters have proven their mettle and are story geniuses. They’re worth every penny.
Being able to implement notes is an art all its own. One that it takes a while to acquire, but which is vital for a career, because as a working writer you’ll be dealing with agents, managers, producers, directors, stars and their respective entourages, all of whom will be giving you (sometimes conflicting) notes. And you better be able to handle it. A hackneyed phrase about heat and kitchen comes to mind.
So, what next? Get feedback on your script. There are hundreds of coverage companies out there and even more one-man or one-woman shops. Don’t overlook writing groups and peer to peer sites — free feedback is a beautiful thing (sometimes.) Yes, some of these “analysts” deserve their air quotes. Some flat-out suck. Others are clearly using you as a punching bag to work out their own issues. You know what? Doesn’t matter. It is your job to differentiate between good and bad notes, and do the good ones without letting your ego get in the way. You also need to be able to take that (figurative) punch in the gut and keep going. People, this is Hollywood, not grammar school. You don’t get a medal just for showing up.
Now, to those of you who are yelling at your computer screen right now — “But all of those Hollywood hacks with their half-baked ideas are being paid a lot of money to write really bad movies” — let me address that sentiment. You’re absolutely frigging right. If your college roommate is now a hotshot agent (or is abfab in conning people — oops, I meant networking,) then, no, your work doesn’t have to be top-notch — and by the way, bite me. But, since you are reading this article, I’m assuming you don’t belong to that category. If you’re not on the nepotism freeway, then, sorry, the only other road open to you is that aforementioned path of learning your craft and being the best darn writer you can be.
People give me a script, and I’ll say, “I’ve got to be honest with you, I don’t really love it,” and they’ll say, “Well, everyone I know loved it, you’re the only one.” And then you say, “Well, who was it that loved it?” And they go, “Well, I gave it to my writing group, I gave it to… ” And then you find out it’s either people not in the business. The moral is, don’t trust the feedback of people that really like you. You need to have a system in place of people to read your work in its early stages who will be brutally honest with you.” — Richard Arlook, The Arlook Group
In other words, the long, slow road.
So take the notes and implement, brothers and sisters. 20 drafts is often just part of the process. Find the courage to get in there and do One More Draft. You’ll know when you’re ready to go: when those coveted words “consider/consider” appear at the end of the coverage report.
Turn that pass into kick-ass.