How To Write Coverage?
When a script is submitted to a production company or a movie studio, a short synopsis is written on it. This synopsis is called coverage, and serves several purposes, including briefing executives on the details and quality of the script who would otherwise not have time to read it.
What Makes Up A Coverage Report
Every studio and production company is different, but generally, a coverage report consists of similar elements:
- 1 Page Synopsis
- Character Breakdown
Cover Page Elements
Title – The title of the screenplay.
Author – The names of the author (or authors) of the screenplay. This is NOT the name of the coverage writer, that is a separate field.
Submitted By – The name of the person who submitted the screenplay to the production company, or who within the studio submitted the screenplay to the coverage department. This information could possibly not be provided to the coverage writer.
Submission Date – The date the screenplay was submitted to the production company, or the studio. This information could possibly not be provided to the coverage writer.
Genre – The genre of the screenplay. These are usually the major genres, such as Action/Adventure, Comedy, Family, Fantasy, Film-Noir/Crime, Historical, Horror, Musical, Romance, Sci-Fi, Thriller, War, or Western. Some companies may accept 2 genres in this field, but should never go over 2 genres.
Draft – If a draft date, or version number is provided on the cover page of the screenplay, include it here. If not, it is acceptable to leave this field blank, or mark as unknown.
Location Setting – Include major locations featured in the screenplay, but don’t be too specific that it makes the field useless. For example, for the SHERLOCK TV pilot, say “London”, don’t say “221B Baker Street, and Scotland Yard, and alley”, etc. Focus on major locations. For example, for the movie GRAVITY, say “Space, and Orbital Space Stations”, don’t say jungled island, since that location is only used in 1 scene in the movie.
Time Period – The time period the screenplay takes place in. This could be very specific, such as, “November 22, 1963”, broad time periods like “Depression Era America”, or general directions in time such as “Present Day” or “Future”.
Reader – The name of the coverage writer.
Date – The date that the coverage is being written on. Generally, coverage should be written in 1 day or less. Sometimes you will be asked to read a screenplay and write the coverage in 2 hours.
Form – 90% of the time, this will be “Screenplay” but you could also be asked to write coverage on novels, manuscripts, TV pitch bibles, and other documents.
Talent Attachments – If there is an actor or director attached to the screenplay, that information should be written here. This information may not always be provided, and it’s generally a good idea to ask if there are any talent attachments.
Logline – A Logline is a 1 sentence synopsis of the screenplay that conveys the essence and tone of the story. The goal of this 1 sentence is to be as exciting and interesting as possible, that gets the reader excited to read it. Sometimes, the logline will be provided to you via email, or on the cover page. If it is not, then this is an opportunity to hone your skills and create a logline that gets someone interested in reading the screenplay.
Keywords – Given the search-ability of coverage reports, more companies are moving towards having a list of keywords on the cover page. This is a good place to list items that are not in your synopsis, including tone, themes, specific props or set-pieces that stand out in the story, etc.
Reader Recommendation – The coverage reader will be asked to give an opinion on the screenplay. This usually comes in the form of PASS, MAYBE, or RECOMMEND. There is a famous story about Don Simpson, who ordered that “There will be no more ‘maybe.'” when he became an executive, and had the Maybes taken off all the coverage reports.
Component Rankings – Most studios and production companies will ask a coverage writer to rank aspects of the screenplay on a scale (Excellent, Good, Average, Poor, or a 1-5 scale). These aspects vary from company to company, but can include Concept, Plot, Structure, Dialogue, and/or Author.
1 Page Synopsis
If a company says to turn in a 1 page synopsis, turn in a 1 page synopsis, and not a single line over.
Do a spelling and grammar check. It’s amazing how many people don’t do this, and if you do this, it will place you above 50% of all applicants.
The comments are your opportunity to show insight and your understanding of story. Here are some key elements you’ll want to remember in the comments.
- Don’t editorialize. If a screenplay is bad, you don’t need to go into a long tirade about how it was a waste of your time. Just say where it lacked, provide examples, and move on. Not only is that sort of thing unprofessional, but it’s entirely possible your coverage could wind up in the hands of the writer accidentally (or even on purpose).
- Frame your critiques from a 3rd party perspective. Many beginner coverage writers make the mistake of saying their critiques in first person, such as, “I was not interested in the character.” While this may be true, it is not a sign of an objective analysis. As a filmmaker and coverage writer, you need to be able to evaluate a story from multiple aspects. So, always rephrase your critiques to a 3rd party. such as, “The audience will have difficulty being interested in the character.” or “The character is not someone easily empathized with.”
- What isn’t conveyed properly? Comments are not only your opinion on what’s good and what’s bad doesn’t. It’s also about what parts of the story were poorly communicated, or misunderstood. If something in the screenplay confuses you, note that, as it may confuse other readers as well. Keep in mind, you should do your due diligence, and make sure you didn’t miss something in the script, which may mean rereading a scene or two a couple of times. Otherwise, feel free to include that information.
This section is mainly used to understand casting opportunities. For each major character, include a brief 1 sentence synopsis on their character, as well as demographic information such as age, gender, and race if mentioned.