Script coverage consists of a number of elements. The first is a 1 to 2 page synopsis of the script’s story highlighting the main characters and events of the tale. The second is a review of the piece (running from 2 to 10 pages) that assesses the effectiveness of the screenplay’s various components—including its concept, story structure, story development, characters, dialogue, and writing style—and points out its strong points and problem areas. Following the review is a 1 to 2 paragraph final evaluation that assesses the script’s overall creative success or failure, its suitability for production (by taking into consideration factors such as whether or not the lead roles can be filled with bankable actors and whether or not the scope and scale of the piece will allow it to be produced on a reasonable budget), and its commercial viability (by taking into account factors such as likely box office and home video potential as well as marketing and merchandising possibilities). The evaluation ends with a recommendation from the analyst as to what he/she feels the production entity should do with the script. This recommendation usually employs 1 of 3 terms:
• Pass: This means that the reader feels that the script fails to make the grade in most areas and that the production entity should not proceed with it.
• Consider: This means that the reader feels that the script has a considerable number of strong points and is good enough to proceed with, while acknowledging that it has a number of significant problems that need to be successfully solved before the piece can be considered suitable for production.
• Recommend: This means that the reader feels that the script is extremely strong in all respects and that the production entity should proceed with it without reservation.
When completed, the synopsis, review, and evaluation are assembled and fronted with a cover page that lists the script’s vital information (the author’s name, the genre of the story, the time and locations it takes place in, the length of the script, etc.) and contains a brief summary of the story and the review. The cover page usually contains a checklist in which the script’s various aspects are rated on a scale ranging from poor to excellent. Finally, the cover page highlights the analyst’s ultimate recommendation.
(On occasion, script analysts will also write a set of notes—several pages of suggestions as to how to improve the script and fix its specific problems—although this is a separate task from preparing coverage and is usually done by an independent script consultant or by members of the production entity’s development staff rather than by a reader).
Although script coverage is a tool used primarily by motion picture production entities, it is sometimes used by screenwriting competitions as a way of separating wheat from chaff. The coverage done for script competitions is usually simpler than that done for production companies—substituting a logline (a brief 1 or 2 line summary of the story) for the synopsis and simplifying the assessment—often employing only the checklist rating of the script’s various aspects.
In addition to production entities and screenwriting competitions, a number of independent services employ a roster of veteran script analysts to provide professional-level coverage for screenwriters who wish to see how their scripts will be received by the industry. This gives the writers a chance to identify and resolve problems before submitting them to production entities.
Different agencies will have different formatting preferences, but usually the first time a character is introduced, as in traditional screenplay formatting, it is CAPITALIZED. In addition, in a "shooting script" that is meant for the development or production process (as opposed to a "spec" or "submission" script), any abrubt changes in location and tone are sometimes described with a CUT TO:, as in screenplays.
Any sort of rating system is prone to failure or ineffectiveness by all parties involved. Script coverage may suffer from the regular problematics of bureaucracies as well as a system of reportage that is too removed from the actual material at hand. The internal rules of a production company are thus taken into play: the search for new material is often side-tracked by a tendency towards familiar material and safer genres.
On the writer's side, a thorough knowledge of the business of production and script coverage mechanisms, may yield a screenplay that has been tailored for acceptance rather than fresh ideas.
The above controversy assumes that production companies and script readers are seeking fresh ideas, which is commonly not the case. Script coverage makes reading easier, and is popularly a business venture. On the other hand, the aforementioned conclusion about tailor-made screenplays have been seen as reactionary because formulaic scripts are not the fault of the film industry, but of screenwriters who are looking towards formula for acceptance by production elements, instead of fresh ideas and creative writing.