If you’re looking for positions in theatrical development, you’ve probably come across the buzzword “screenplay coverage.” This time-consuming, detail-oriented task can be daunting for interns who have never analyzed a scenario for a business. Although many colleges offer courses in play reading, play writing, and dramaturgy, most teachers do not assign screenplay coverage assignments. Instead, students are asked to analyze a screenplay and then write an essay or presentation about the storyline’s plot, characterization, or relevance rather than commerciality. Professors should start giving their students script coverage assignments to prepare them for the real-life tasks they will encounter if they pursue a career in the industry. Through my most recent internship, I have extensive experience in directing script covers for plays, movies, and TV pilots. So I’ve come up with 5 tips for newcomers to storyline coverage.
1. The synopsis should not be the entire rewritten script.
The biggest challenge I faced when I started doing the screenplay cover was writing the synopsis. I felt like every action that happened in the script should be in the synopsis, but only the key ideas of each scene and the pivotal moments of the script should be included. The person reading the screenplay cover should be able to grasp the plot structure from a succinct summary. So as long as the intro, build-up, climax, top-down action, and denouement are obvious, the synopsis is enough. I also recommend organizing the synopsis by acts if the script is for the scene, and by scenes if the script is broken up in that way. If you are forced to write something in the synopsis, ask yourself if it is important to move the plot forward.
2. Consider the feasibility and marketability of a script.
A screenplay’s plot can be perfect and intrigue you, but it has to be producible and appeal to diverse audiences. There is no point in recommending a company produce a screenplay if it requires impossible technical elements or would not involve enough people to turn a profit. When leaving comments on the script, be sure to note anything that seems impractical and suggest alternative options if possible. Also, consider the perspectives of several different audiences to determine if it would sell tickets. Most companies that have interns writing screenplay covers are looking to make a profit while doing good theater, so commerciality needs to be considered.
3. Consider the skills of the writer independent of the plot.
Many scripts I’ve read had terrible plot lines, but the writer either creates realistic dialogue or has an excellent grasp of humor and wordplay. Some companies aren’t necessarily looking for the next best play, TV show, or movie, but instead they may be looking for a writer to partner with a project in development. Always consider how the writer could be an asset to a different project if you like their writing. For example, maybe the author wrote a drama, but his humor would be excellent for a comedy.
4. Consider the medium of storytelling.
Sometimes you’ll read a play that would work better on screen, or a movie that would work better on stage. Write it down in your review! Some scripts start in one story medium and then transfer to another. After all, we adapt books into movies, TV shows, plays, and musicals all the time, so it’s not crazy to recommend switching storytelling mediums. For example, I read a script that spanned 5 years of someone’s life that would be a great TV show for viewers to get more invested in the character’s journey. So much happened in the 120-page script that it was obvious the story needed to be told at a much slower pace.
5. Be honest.
Most scripts you read won’t be amazing. In fact, many will be terrible, inconsistent, or too specialized for a wide range of audiences. Don’t be afraid to pass on a script rather than recommending it. If a script is bad, let people know! As the person who writes the screenplay cover, your job is to determine whether the screenplay deserves more attention from the company. With that in mind, it doesn’t give you an excuse to tear down the script. Do not mention every grammatical error or irrelevant line in the script. There is always a climax to mention even if the plot is horrible. Be completely honest with yourself and the company about whether a script is worthy of becoming a development project. The most important question you need to ask yourself when critiquing a screenplay is why the story should or shouldn’t be told.