An article by Tristan Wold.
I’ve been interning with Shore Scripts for the past several months. As is normal for the outreach program I started with research and outreach, something I had previous experience in. For my development, I chose to undergo training to become a Shore Scripts script reader. Having a degree in writing plays and screenwriting meant that critiquing work was part of my daily life in college, although it’s something I was admittedly not confident in doing. I didn’t expect to receive this opportunity as an unpublished writer, but I gladly embraced it. And I can gladly say everything I learned since I started training a couple of months ago has made me a more competent reviewer and a better screenwriter.
Here are some top tips I learned through the training process. I hope they give you a better idea of how Shore Scripts approach their coverage and their appreciation of the scripts submitted to their care.
1) It’s not about you, it’s about the writers!
Personally, I watch and write more dramas and adventure films than anything like comedies or even dramedies. When one of my first practice scripts turned out to be a black comedy, the peculiarities of the observant humor flew over my head and I produced a report that, quite frankly, missed the point. Ever since I’ve made it a point to do a little research if the genre is one that I am not familiar with. It sounds simple, but it is easy to forget. Similarly, you must also overcome any bias when reading a genre that you personally wouldn’t want to watch in theaters. A reader is obligated to give impartial feedback, even if it is on a script they wouldn’t personally enjoy. It just means they’re not the audience for that script, and that’s perfectly okay. Having to write about a genre that is outside of your comfort zone pushes you as a writer. It makes you understand the structure and minutiae of other genres and over time allows you to write better coverage for clients, but also flex in and write scripts of your own in a wider selection of genres.
2) How do you sum it all up and sell it without being trite?
Another challenge with coverage that Shore help you get a hang of is writing fluid and coherent synopses. The root of my problem was that I wrote a beat sheet for my first report and translated that into paragraphs, and then edited it down to the correct page length. I ended up with an extremely detailed synopsis that was three pages too long, and it is so much harder to edit the length down than you’d think. Gradually I unlearned that first process. It’s difficult to write a synopsis that flows logically and gives the right level of information. But with practice, anyone can hone in on how to be painfully clear, limit confusing syntax, and focus on telling the emotional story instead of the physical plot.
3) Going beyond the story.
One of the most important parts of a coverage report is the premise section. To give your screenwriter the best feedback possible, you need a clear understanding of how to discuss the premise. I had a love-hate relationship with the premise because at first, I thought I had a clear idea of what to discuss, but as I went on, I realized I needed to take a moment to stop and examine what I was talking about. The premise refers to the core assertions of the script e.g. two women adopt a child who turns out to be the devil. When writing coverage, you should focus on the premise and character arcs first and foremost. Other aspects to consider include the writer’s message. What does the writer want the audience to take away from this script, and how does that affect the premise? In our example, this would play out as “Is adopting a devil baby a good or a bad thing?” Only after understanding that move on to the plot e.g. the sequence of events that take place. I had to ban myself from using the word ‘story’ in my reports, as I realized I relied too much on it as an umbrella term for all of the script’s parts. By removing the use of this word, I was able to be more specific in my feedback, which hopefully, is more beneficial for the screenwriter.
4) Be kind.
Something else to keep in mind when delving into coverage is how you deliver your feedback. Even if you’re responding to the worst script you’ve ever read, you have to maintain a positive and kind tone. I’m guilty over coming across slightly heavy-handed on occasion, so I know moving forward I need to keep an eye on how I phrase my feedback. Being harsh will only demoralize screenwriters in a world where it’s hard enough as it is to succeed. Receiving coverage should be a huge benefit for a screenwriter, so they can go on to produce an excellent screenplay and the report should be exciting for them to read. If they receive something that unconsciously rips their script apart, they’ll only be discouraged. You shouldn’t sugarcoat your feedback nor give inaccurate feedback, but you can always use kind language to do so.
The process of learning how to write coverage reports is an exciting experience. I felt that I grew as both a screenwriter and as a coverage writer, and I would hope anyone else would feel the same. This experience ultimately taught me to have confidence in my analysis of scripts, something I lacked before. With this newfound confidence, I know that any report I produce will be immensely better than my first, where I was so afraid of being wrong. Being ‘wrong’ is part of the experience, and even if you return a report to a client where you are ‘wrong’ and didn’t ‘get’ their script, even that is a message for the writer and there’s something fundamental that their script is lacking.
So, in the end, embrace any chance you have to do something like this so that you can be a good writer, both critically and creatively.
Tristan Wold is a graduate of Purchase College in New York with a degree in Playwriting & Screenwriting where his first short play “Oceans” was produced. He specializes in dramas with supernatural aspects that explore relationships and mental illness.