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  • Writer's pictureJenny Waldo

WW: Writing Coverage

People often ask for sample Coverage.  It’s an employable skill in Los Angeles, and a great way for a writer to strengthen their own writing.  I worked for 3 years as a Reader in Los Angeles for various production companies and I’ve come up with the following information from that experience, which I taught at the Southwest Alternate Media Project (SWAMP) recently.  Writing Coverage is a ton of fun.  Good luck!

SWAMP’s Coverage Workshop Information: How to Become a Hollywood (or SWAMP) Reader! 


Read as many scripts (ones that made successful movies) is helpful reference.  Places to find scripts:

Book reference: Reading for a Living: How to be a Professional Story Analyst for Film & Television by T.L. Katahn.

Purpose of Coverage: Who is your audience?  Where is this project coming from?  Personality comes into play: what does this person like/dislike?  What is he/she looking for?

Development Executive

  1. If this is a new/spec script, this is a matter of business – it has to get covered.

  2. For scripts that are of particular interest, the Coverage is an important verdict on whether they take a meeting or even read it.

  3. If this is a new draft of a project, they will want to know what’s CHANGED and how it’s better and what still needs work.

  4. If submitted as a sample, pay attention to the writing itself – clumsy, clever, tight.

  5. If it’s a novel, pay attention to its adaptability.  How will it translate to the visual medium of film?  Is a lot of the character development internal (unseen)?  Are characters exposed through action and dialogue?  How much action, what are the “set pieces”?

  6. If it’s a treatment, pay attention to the concept.

  7. Budget considerations.

Talent Agent

  1. If submitted for casting, pay attention to the character descriptions.

  2. If submitted for packaging, pay attention to the main characters and the tone or style of the piece; it determines which directors and actors would be appropriate.

  3. If it is in-house, focus on what works because it’ll be used to sell the script.

  4. If submitted as a sample, pay attention to the writing itself – clumsy, clever, tight.

Write notes as you read!

Look for:

  1. The Hook: what grabs you in the first ten pages to start the story?

  2. Characters: Who are the MAIN and SUPPORTING characters?  Are they three dimensional?  Do they have a background that influences their actions?  Do they express a range of emotions?  Do they evolve over the course of the story in reaction to what happens?  Do you care about what happens to them?  Are the characters differentiated from one another?  Who could you envision playing these roles?

  3. What is the hero’s goal or desire?  How do the scenes propel the hero toward/away from that goal?

  4. What are the stakes?

  5. Dialogue: does it feel natural?  Is it tight?  Are the speech patterns of the characters differentiated at all? Does it reveal character, emotion, beliefs, desires, story?  Is it appropriate language for the setting?

  6. Action

  7. Exposition: the background or information that’s simply told

  8. Obstacles/Complications

  9. Structure: traditionally 3 Acts.  1st Act ends with a twist/plot point that propels into the 2ndAct where that complication plays out in a variety of ways that lets the characters develop and change and react until they have everything they need to change the course of action.  This leads to the 3rd Act which contains the climax and resolution.  Typically, the 2nd Act is the same length as the 1st and 3rd COMBINED.

  10. Set-ups and Pay-offs

  11. Mood/Tone

  12. Unique Aspect

  13. Continuity: holes in the plot, dropped storylines, dropped characters/props/themes…etc.

  14. Areas for development

  15. Predictability

  16. Believability

  17. Pacing

  18. Intended Audience: Blockbuster megaplex?  Festival circuit?  Arthouse?  Who would like this movie?

  19. Is the premise realized? Does the script succeed?  Is it convincing?  Is it satisfying?

  20. Visual Value: Can you SEE this movie?

  21. Elements: who’s attached?


  1. Minor characters

  2. Sub-plots

  3. Detail.  Not every twist and turn needs to be included.

  4. Writing itself, unless it is clear the writer does not have a good grasp on proper formatting or writing styles.  No one will care that there are spelling errors, typos, grammatical errors, changes in tense…etc.


  1. Fight scenes

  2. Chase scenes

  3. Love scenes

  4. Bloodbaths

  5. Background and internal action unrelated to the main plot or to major points of character development.

Remember: A minute per page unless there is a lot of description/action.

“High Concept” is a basic, simple, idea that’s provocative and obvious and can be expressed in a catchy, short, phrase.  Movies that raise complicated questions or are “character driven” are not high concept.  For example:

A computer whiz-kid breaks into the government’s military computers and almost starts a war. (WAR GAMES)

A robot develops a human personality and escapes from the lab. (SHORT CIRCUIT)

Coverage consists of:


Section 1:

  1. Title (ALL CAPS)

  2. Author

  3. Submitted By

  4. Form/Type of Material (Screenplay, Book, Treatment…etc)

  5. Circa (Approximate timeframe the story takes place in)

  6. Genre (Drama, Comedy, Action…etc)

  7. Draft Date

  8. Location/Setting (Location the story takes place in)

  9. Reader’s Name

  10. Date of Coverage

Section 2:

  1. Elements (Any additional elements not above e.g. actors/directors attached)

  2. Logline (2-3 sentences outlining the plot)

  3. Comment Summary (2-3 sentences summarizing reader’s comments)

Section 3:

  1. Rate the Project (Should be consistent with the commentary)





Section 4:

  1. Rate the Potential (Should be based on the potential of the project from a writing/story standpoint and not in terms of the attachments)




Or, depending on production company preference:






1-2 pages, sometimes double spaced, introducing the main/significant characters (names in ALL CAPS) and events of the story clearly and economically.

  1. Stick to the main plot

  2. Capture the mood/tone

  3. Be creative with your word choice, be evocative

  4. Simplify

  5. Show the work in its best light

  6. List roles in order of LEAD, CO-STARS, SUPPORTING, MINOR, CAMEOS.  Use name, age, physical appearance, personality/background in a brief description (use writer’s descriptions).


Script commentary should be a lucid, balanced, objective description and discussion of the qualities of a screenplay.  It should focus on the level of success or achievement of the characterization, structure or storyline, dialogue, and how successfully the premise has been developed throughout.   Review the things to look for:

  1. CONCEPT:  Is it a high concept piece?  How original is it?

  2. PREMISE/THEME:  Strong/weak?  How universal is the story?

  3. PLOT: strengths, weaknesses, predictability, believability…etc

  4. CHARACTERS:  background, range of emotion/expression, motivation, flaws, evolution, development, rooting interest.  Is there a variety of characters?  What kind of talent would be appropriate?

  5. DIALOGUE: how does it reveal character/information?  Is it natural?  Does it flow?  Is it appropriate for the characters/time period?  Does it have unnecessary/irrelevant information?

  6. STAKES: what is at stake and how crucial/dangerous is it?

  7. STRUCTURE: how does the story begin?  How are the characters set up?  Discuss the beginning conflict that drives the action.  How is backstory/exposition revealed?  Does the middle develop the character and pursuit of his/her goal?  Does the end resolve the initial conflict?

  8. PACE: fast, slow, varied?  Appropriate for the piece?

  9. WRITING: craft, style, concept and execution.

  10. AUDIENCE: evaluate who would want to see this movie based on AGE, SEX, and PLATFORM (i.e. feature film, television film, festivals, web series…etc).

  11. COMPARISONS: How does this piece work within its genre?  Refer to similar movies if appropriate.

  12. OVERALL REACTION: Short summary of what you thought about the piece.  Mention anything unique.

Describe the strengths and what’s interesting about the script even if the writing is flawed.

Comment on further development which would realize the creative potential of the screenplay, noting specific areas of concern.

Assess the project’s likely appeal to an audience in terms of useful comparisons with 1 or 2 examples of films in the same genre.  Script attachments may be discussed here.

Do not include personal opinions.  You can include an “editorial note” if you have a pressing personal point of view or information on the material.


Despite a story lacking a clear direction or purpose, this has some humorous moments and could attract audiences with its sensationalistic concept in a similar way SEX, LIES, AND VIDEOTAPE did, if the “story and plot issues” are resolved in further writing.


This is a plodding script without focus, charm, or depth.

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