We had a speaker today who talked to us about writing coverage. One of the first things he said was “coverage is a lot like writing an English paper.” Well, let me tell you: my ears totally perked up! English papers? I’ve been knocking those babies out of the park since my junior year of high school, when Ms. Elliot started giving us increasingly-longer essay tests on the books we read. I am old hat at writing English papers.
Well, it turns out that coverage isn’t really like writing an English paper, but it does sound like something I would kick ass at. Coverage is written by people like me–low on the totem pole–who read scripts so that the higher-ups don’t have to. You read it, write the coverage, and then you recommend (“yes”), pass (“no”) or consider (“I’m too much of a chicken to say yes or no in case you fire me so I’m just going to say maybe”). If you’re working with an agency, the recommend/pass/consider translates not to making a project, but to offering the writer representation.
One of the most helpful (and telling) pieces of advice our speaker gave us was this: the network/studio is always looking for a reason to pass. They want you to tell them why the movie/TV show shouldn’t get made, because film and TV is expensive, and (in the words of Lee Zlotoff), it’s a business of failure, because there’s no formula for what shows and movies will be successful.
Coverage is like a blurb. On the cover page you have all the details: the writer, the title, the genre, the medium (pilot, screenplay, whatever). They want to know the genre, the sub-genre, any production value, etc. Then you write the synopsis: what happened, what happened next, how did they get out of that enormous scrape? After the synopsis, you put your comments.
I’m not gonna lie, the comments is what I’m most excited about, because the comments are the closest coverage gets to being an English paper. Comments are what worked? What didn’t? How was the dialogue? Was the protagonist strong? What’s the central conflict? And–the best part–give examples and details. It’s basically analyzing a script in 3/4 of a page. And you’re supposed to be blunt as anything, because the writers never read the coverage written of their own work. I’m good at being blunt, especially when a) there are no ramifications, b) the piece is poorly done.
Writing coverage, and writing coverage well, is apparently an invaluable skill to get internships in development (the area of TV I’m looking to break into, and hopefully stay my entire career). One of my classmates from Chicago is out here doing an internship at Jim Henson, and what does she do all day? Read and write coverage. I mean, she’s been doing some PA work, also, but coverage, man. It’s important and useful.
In script-news, I’ve written the first two acts of my script–only three acts left! Acts in hour-long TV are usually 9-11 pages, so you end up with a 50-odd page script and five acts. If anyone would like to read what I have so far, comment here with your email and I’ll send it off to you! I’m always looking for constructive criticism :)