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08/21/2005 - COVERAGE - THE DOWN AND DIRTY
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By
Tom McCurrie


Whenever you send a script to a producer, studio exec or agent, nine times out of ten he doesn't even read it. Usually because they're too busy, but sometimes because it's just easier to get someone else to read material. The exec, producer or agent reads the coverage that a paid reader gives on it. Coverage is the notes that the reader makes on your script, letting the boss know whether the storyline, structure, character and dialogue are of high enough quality to make the material worth optioning or purchasing. Also included in the coverage is a synopsis of the material as well, so the producer, exec or agent can peruse that if the script or book gets a good rating.

There are three ways a reader can rate material with coverage. One is to RECOMMEND, which is basically saying to the exec, producer or agent that your material is definitely worth optioning or purchasing because it's practically ready to shoot as written. Another is to CONSIDER, which, as the term implies, means that though the material needs some work (whether to improve structure, characterization or dialogue), it doesn't need so much work that it still shouldn't be considered for option or purchase - as long as that optioner or purchaser doesn't mind spending the money to hire a writer to make those improvements. (Though the original writer is usually offered the first stab at rewriting his work, producers and execs almost always hire a studio-approved writer they've worked with before to do the work anyway.) Finally, if the reader gives your material a PASS, that means it requires TOO much work (whether it be structural, character-based or dialogue-based) to justify investing the money to purchase or option at this time.

One word about your material getting a PASS. Once that happens, it's almost impossible to resubmit the material to that same studio, agency or production company. And though Hollywood officially pooh-poohs this, development execs at different studios/production companies love to chat amongst themselves and exchange coverage, making it highly likely that a PASS at Revolution Studios will turn into a PASS all over town, making it nearly impossible to submit the material anywhere else for the near future.

Remember, too, that the average reader is not only inundated with material to cover, but also is often paid by commission (with no benefits), motivating him to read insane amounts of material in a short amount of time to earn a living. Under such stressful circumstances, the reader will give your material a PASS the first mistake he sees, no ifs, ands, or buts, no mercy given. And sometimes the reader taking a crack at your script is a film school/college intern who's not even being paid to read, and thus has even less motivation to give your script a chance. (Now Union readers at major studios can make anywhere from $24 to $37 an hour depending on how detailed the coverage is, but these readers are a minority, numbering less than 200.)

All this is a warning to make sure your script is as perfect as can be before submitting it for consideration. For once you get a PASS on a script, that is usually it for good, and all that work writing the script will be for naught.

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