I By Laura Owen
There are a number of ways to sharpen your writing skills, study, practice, analysing films and so on, but there’s one seriously underrated way of elevating your writing to the next level; writing script coverage. It offers many benefits, understanding the mindset of script readers, sharpening your analytical skills, implementing screenwriting theory and, expanding your knowledge in the industry.
Before we start, let’s examine what exactly a coverage report is. A coverage report offers a constructive and helpful critique of the script for the writer. Not to be confused with a commissioning report, the purpose of which is to, evaluate the project for a development executive, producer or a commission that provides funding for script development (Scher 2011).
So why is it useful to writers? First of all, it helps you understand the mindset of professional industry readers. They are the gatekeepers to producers, executives, basically anyone that has the power to get your material made. Any insight into their thought process is useful to writers and taking on the job in any capacity will allow you to do that. You’ll be reading scripts that clearly exhibit the problems that are explored in a majority of how-to manuals. This brings me to my next point…
It's typical for most writers to spend a lot of time reading books on screenwriting theory and if you have, you’ll be able to see the common problems in full effect. Earlier drafts of scripts are usually bad. These are the ones you should review! They typically demonstrate the most flaws and being able to identify said flaws is an essential skill.
However, it doesn’t end there. In a coverage report, you need to present possible solutions to the problems that the script currently exhibits. Both skills are equally as important. Don’t be too overbearing and end up writing the next draft of the script, just present enough thought-provoking insight to get the ball rolling for the writer. Obviously, this is a skill that's needed in the evaluation and evolution of your own script. What's that saying? Practice makes perfect!
Being able to look at unfinished scripts by amateur writers is going to sharpen your analytical, and problem-solving skills, therefore, making you less likely to make similar mistakes in your own writing. You’ll be able to develop a scale in your mind, from problematic amateur script to finished produced works. A majority of the scripts we typically have access to are finished shooting drafts that have had the input of many professionals behind it. It’s essential to look at the other end of the scale and see examples of scripts in the early stages of the writing process to gain a more developed perspective.
Also, you'll be able to develop your analytic screenwriting skills on a script that you have no emotional attachment to. There’s plenty of resources or script exchange services online that allow you to look at another writer's work without knowing anything about them. It allows you to be objective and judge only the black on the page. You get more comfortable in this state of mind and therefore are more likely to apply it when you reviewing your own work.
As you can see there are many benefits from making writing coverage a regular part of your development. The more you do it the better you'll get. But be careful not to coast through, take the time to really think about what you're doing. Be conscientious and deliberate in your work to reap the full benefits of how you're spending your time. You can't cheat professional growth.
For more on writing script coverage or even
commissioning report, be sure to read Reading Screenplays: How to Analyse and Evaluate Film Scripts written by Lucy Scher.
(Image Copyright: Grammarly. Amazon UK)
Laura Owen is a screenwriter based in Manchester, with a particular interest in thrillers. Laura is a graduate of Falmouth University’s Writing For Script and Screen masters programme.
Find Laura online at @Laura_Owen2