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Day 189: Coverage Notes from Screenplay Readers

I spent the weekend pretty much moping about the script and wondering what else I could do to improve it. I may need to step away from the script for a time to be able to come back at it with fresh eyes. Unless the coverage came back highly positive. Unfortunately, it did not.

The coverage arrived in my mailbox this morning. It wasn’t horrible, but neither was it stellar. Instead, I received a mixed bag of comments, some of which were contradictory. Two different readers gave their views on the script, and while they differed in some respects, they both hit on several of the same issues.

The company I chose was Screenplay Readers. They offer a variety of options for coverage and notes. Coverage starts at $97 for one reader, $167 for 2 and $239 for 3. I chose the middle package for $167. Coverage includes a logline, a 2-3 page synopsis, 3-4 pages of critical comments from each reader, a 25-category checklist rating things such as characters, dialogue and format. You can also ask each reader 3 questions regarding your coverage. As promised, the coverage arrived within 72 hours (weekends excluded).

I haven’t had the best of luck with coverage services in the past. Now, a lot of writers complain about coverage, especially if their script gets panned. I’ve had bad write-ups before, but my complaint wasn’t that they didn’t like the scripts. Rather, it seemed like they hadn’t even read my submitted materials. They raised questions about characters that weren’t in the script, tore apart non-existent scenes and wondered why I hadn’t answered major plot points that were, in fact, the finale of the story. So, it was with some trepidation that I submitted to Screenplay Readers. They had a number of positive testimonials on their site, but you have to wonder if they are real. The pricing, compared to services I have used in the past, seemed reasonable, but I found several writer complaints online, pointing out issues that I had experienced myself with other services. I ultimately decided to go with Screenplay Readers because of their pricing and the rebuttal owner Brian O’Malley gave to those offered critical reviews of the service.

Mr. O’Malley offered reasonable explanations for his teams coverage and offered to work with the offended writers, but they seemed to prefer to vent rage in various forums and declined Mr. O’Malley’s overtures. Screenplay Readers even offered these disgruntled writers refunds, which they apparently refused. Figuring I could probably work out a similar refund arrangement, should the coverage be badly executed, I opted to give Mr. O’Malley’s service a try.

Happily, the coverage lived up to its promise. Though the critique of my work wasn’t all that I hoped it would be, the service itself was thorough and precise. And best of all, the readers actually read the script. One reader, D. M. Le (female) gave the script a pass. The other reader William J. Stribling (male) gave it a consider. Screenplay Readers says only 4% of their covered scripts receive a consider, so yay for me. But I also received a pass (95% of Screenplay Readers covered scripts receive such a recommendation). So, I didn’t knock the ball out of the park, but neither did I strike out. But what were the comments from the readers? What were their reactions to the script?

Let’s take Ms Le’s review first. She states the script is a “straightforward premise with a lot of action and conflict.” Characters are “complex and sympathetic” (yay, Shep!). However, she did feel that Shep and Grady were too similar as characters and this was a problem for her in the first shootout at the cabin. Her next complaint was that the characters weren’t active enough in the first half of the second act, pointing out the fact that Reydel holes up in his house until the midpoint.

Let’s face it, if you’ve wondered aloud on your own blog if the start of the second act is too slow and the characters might not be active enough, it’s kind of hard to argue with the coverage reader for calling you out on it. Score one for Ms Le. She also points out that, though the action picks up in the second half of the second act, the characters are not proactive, but reactive. I’m not entirely sure that is a negative issue. If a situation overwhelms you, you will tend to be more reactive. It becomes increasingly difficult for the characters to get ahead of the game. They are swallowed up by it. The problem may be that since the characters are not more active early in the second act, by the time the are overwhelmed by their situation, it only becomes more apparent that they have been inactive. Fixing the issues in the first part of the act may resolve this. Or maybe not. Still, it’s something that has to be addressed one way or another.

Ms Le’s other major complaint was the lack of a goal for Shep. This is something I’ve also previously discussed. This was a major problem when I viewed Shep as the protagonist. I thought it less an issue (he just wants to get out of this mess) when I shifted focus onto Reydel as the protagonist. Evidently, I haven’t made that switch clear enough. This is reflected in Ms Le’s logline for the story when she identifies the story as being about three men who stumble on a drug deal. My logline centers the story around a low-level drug dealer seeking to break into the big time. Ms Le also asks that I more strongly define the protagonist in her comments, even suggesting combining Shep and Grady into one character. Clearly, I have more work to do in this aspect.

And that brings me to Mr. Stribling’s review. His take was much more positive, calling the script “a strong genre piece with a killer first act.” Mr. Stribling, however, finds that he doesn’t particularly like the characters (damn it, Shep), but he fully understands their motivations. He also calls it a “satisfying tragedy” on how the poor choices of a few men destroy the lives of everyone around them. This harkens back to the comment my second personal reader made about the script reminding her of a Greek or Shakespearean tragedy. A running theme here. I like it.

Mr. Stribling seems to have a similar problem with the second act that Ms Le had. The action slows down too much for his taste (characters are not being proactive). He also found the action blocks became too wordy as the story progressed. Less description, more action. That’s also a note that came out of the Rewrites Workshop. Mr. Stribling cautioned, however, that this did not apply to the “well-choreographed fight scenes and shootouts.”

The issue of the protagonist was less a problem for Mr. Stribling. He saw the story as a dual-narrative with two protagonists. I completely buy that concept and agree with his assessment that there needs to be more focus. He seems to be further down the path I intended than Ms Le, but there needs to be more work done.

Mr. Stribling also called into the question the “half-brother” taunt, which I had reworked just before sending the script for review. The feeling here was that I beat that dead horse a little too often. There were some other minor problems that can be worked out with another pass, but nothing horrible that says this script sucks.

As for the 25-point checklist, the readers varied considerably. Ms Le gave the originality of the script a meager 62, whereas Mr. Stribling rated it as an 80. The first 10 pages setup was rated as 72 v 90. Clear stakes for the characters was rated 76 v 91. Rising tension: 65 v 95. Since this is a guy movie, that may explain why Ms Le’s scores were so much lower than Mr. Stribling’s. My previous female readers tended to align with Ms Le’s positions, while my male readers tended to fall in line with Mr. Stribling. The coverage readers reversed their scores, however, on readability.

Ms Le gave the format a perfect 100 v Mr. Stribling’s 85. Spelling/grammar: 98 v 72 (I question the low score on that one). Action/prose: 95 v 70. I wonder about the low score on this one as well. Mr. Stribling thought some of the action could be trimmed down, but seemed to really like the “well-choreographed fight scenes. I wouldn’t have guessed that low a score from his comments. This is also reflected in the Action text shows instead of tells category: 98 v 68. And finally, the overall readability of the script rated at 98 v76.

Other categories had more similar ratings, but the takeaway here is opinions are subjective. The key to both reviews is to discover where each reader commented on the same issues and figure out ways to resolve them. Overall, I was pleased with the coverage and the details the readers provided. Would I have liked stronger recommendations? Yes, but I can’t disagree with the conclusions reached. And I would definitely use Screenplay Readers again.

For more information on Screenplay Readers, check out their website by clicking here.

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