Script coverage, script doctors, script consultants: which, when, who, and how much

script coverage, script doctor, script consultants

NO SCRIPT DOCTOR OR CONSULTANT KNOWS YOUR SCRIPT BETTER THAN YOu

I’ll explain below the differences between script coverage, a script doctor, and a script consultant, and will offer my recommendations on which to use and the range of what it might cost. But before I do any of that, we have to get something super clear:

You’re the expert

Whether it’s a friend or an expert, whoever you turn to for input or help won’t have the depth of understanding of your vision and what you’re trying to achieve.

When I’ve consulted writers on their work, I always, always tell them to trust their own thinking and stay in charge. It’s music to my ears when I make a suggest, watch the writer hesitate, and then hear them say: “Nah… That’s not really what I’m trying to do with this script.” Input of that sort from a writer means I’ve done my job of reminding them to stay in charge of the process and not doubt and second-guess themselves. It also gives me the information I need to know how to best help the writer in their work.

Many people who offer input are well-intended blocked writers who will unknowingly pass writing blocks on to you.

If the input you receive excites you to get to work on the script, the input is accurate and you’re on track.

If the input deflates you, makes you feel small or stupid, and turns the revision process into drudgery, you’ve probably gotten inaccurate input from someone who doesn’t quite understand the heart and soul of what you’re trying to create. You’re also probably in the process of inheriting someone else’s writing block – someone who has been so harshly judging themselves that they can’t bring themselves to write, and they are likely to bring that needless harshness to their input on your own work. 

script coverage, script doctors, script consultants_men in black
If the feedback you receive on your script makes you feel bad and stupid, then it's inaccurate. Get one of those Men In Black flashy thingy and wipe it from your memory.

If you feel discouraged after receiving input, the input you received is inaccurate

When that happens, get one of those Men In Black memory eraser flasher thingy, so you can self-impose amnesia, forget what you were told, and find input elsewhere. You’ll also need to wash the experience down with one or two people who love you and your work and are willing to give you an exhaustive list of everything they like about it. Just to keep you going?

A great script consultant inspires you to keep working and doesn’t leave you doubting your abilities.

Writing isn’t magic, it’s like anything else in life: the more you do it, the better you get at it. So any expert that leads you to doing less of it, is no expert in my book. An expert offers concrete suggestions that respect your vision, respect your mind, and excites you to keep at it and continue to grow and improve, until you find out what you’re truly capable of.

Ok, let’s dive in:

Script coverage

What is script coverage?

You have a blind date coming up, so you send a robot to meet your prospective love interest in advance and let the robot tell your date all about you in order to peek their interest. That’s pretty much what script coverage is.

It’s a dry account of what happens in a script  – without the  voice, the humor, the intimacy, the passion, or the novel execution of it.

Do you need script coverage?

The short answer is: no.

The long answer is: hell no.

Look, decision-makers in studios and production companies hire readers to write coverage so they could glance over a page or two rather than read a script. They literally have robots describe your script to them. Let them do their thing, but you stay out of it.

You need script coverage like you need a root canal. Focus on writing great scripts, on receiving actual input, and on writing irresistible pitch materials that actually capture your voice and draw the reader in.

What does script coverage cost?

If you’re dying to know how a robot would describe your script: they range $50-$200.

I say leave it to producers to pay for coverage, since they’re the ones who want it.

Some will offer to write coverage and include input

I say skip it. You don’t need coverage.

script doctors
Script doctors work hard and get no credit, so their incentive is usually financial.

Script doctors

What do script doctors do?

A script doctor is basically a ghost writer who gets in there and does the rewrites. It’d be nice to have one but you know what? It’s hard work, there’s no glamor in it (did I mention ghost writer?) and you’re not getting to create something that’s really yours. The script doctor does the work and someone else gets the credit.

All that is to say: the only reason anyone would ever dive in as a script doctor is if they’re financially incentivize, which brings me to the next topic:

What do script doctors cost?

The range is too broad to name a price. There are seasoned Hollywood script doctors who get six figure checks to do this work.

Or you can have a writing friend work with you on a script as a favor. Which brings me to the next point:

What you need instead of a script doctor

If you feel strongly that you need to recruit another writer to work on a script with you, and you don’t have a five or six digit check to offer, then what you’re really looking for is a writing partner to collaborate with.

Recruit an actor-friend who writes and dangle in front of them the possibility of the two of you writing them their dream role. Or make the project super attractive in some other way.

If you approach someone about writing a project with you, put yourself in their shoes: What would it take to incentivize you to set aside your own creative projects and write someone else’s project with them? Assume that this is what it would take to incentivize someone else.

Script consultants

In 99 out of 100 cases, if you’re hitting a wall and need input, what you need is a script consultant. So let’s detail who these people are and how to choose one.

What does a script consultant do?

Consultants don’t make any changes to a script, they offer notes on how to develop it further: how to give the story a stronger shape, a smoother arc, how to craft the ending, how to tighten and streamline the story, etc.

Some consultants prefer to send written notes, some prefer to meet and talk over the script, some will do both.

When I’ve consulted I found that what was needed varied from writer to writer and from project to project. By and large I prefer conversations to notes because the back-and-forth can be very productive.

There’ve been times when I had one idea about what the script needed, but then as I listened to the writer react and speak about it, I would realize I’m wrong and swerve my approach. A conversation makes it possible to really learn the writer and their intention and to serve it, rather than come down on a script from on high and assume I know best.

What do script consultants cost?

Script consultants can range anywhere between $300 and $7,500 depending on who it is.

Sometimes you get what you pay for, but not always. When I first started offering script consultations, I charged $50 per script (#LowSelfEsteem). Guess what: I couldn’t get any takers. People saw the price tag and assumed I didn’t know what I was doing. In reality I was giving better consultations than most of the ‘spensive ones out there.

Moral of the story: Don’t Judge a consultant by their price tag. 

There are better ways to judge the qualifications of a script consultant.

Good and bad reasons to hire a script consultant

If you’re looking for an expert who will know better than you and tell you if your script is any good, I don’t think a consultant can help you.

You’re a writer. Therefore, you need to make it your business to become as skilled as humanly possible at crafting stories.

A consultant should be a second pair of eyes and a soundboard, not an expert who comes from on high and tells you if you’re any good.

I tell writers time and again: you will save the life of your scripts (and a LOT of money) if you invest in improving your own skills and make it your business to be an amazing script consultant yourself. Don’t resign to a lifetime dependency on consultants who will charge you script after script, and draft after draft.

If you haven’t yet, I invite you to join my free membership:

I offer a variety of trainings to build your story development skills.

How to find a script consultant and what to look for

Sometimes you really do need that second pair of eyes.

Personal recommendations are best. Do you know a fellow writer who had a good experience with so-and-so?

If you have none, google away. Get a sense of their vibe on their website. Do they sound like they like and respect writers?

Don’t get dazzled by “I worked for such-and-such number of years for Hollywood studios.” That means that they spent years criticizing people’s work and looking for reasons to reject scripts. Very often these are blocked writers who need a hug.

Working in development doesn’t make someone a good consultant. Being a writer does.

Assisting writers takes emotional intelligence and sensitivity.

A great consultant knows that their job isn’t just to improve a particular script, but to improve the skills of a writer overall. Partly you do that with nuts-and-bolts, and partially do you that by building up the writer’s confidence and helping them connect them with what they love about their work.

It also takes humility to be a consultant. You need to remember that the writer knows best what they’re trying to achieve. Your job is to be the lowly assistant who’s there to serve the writer in helping them realize their own vision – not yours.

signs that a consultant is good

If a consultant opens a conversation with what they like and appreciate about a script before they dive in to “what’s wrong” – you’ve got a good egg.

When a consultant does a good amount of asking questions and listening, rather than just talking: good egg.

If a consultant offers concrete suggestions on what you can do, rather than just point out problems: also, good egg.

What writers need more than script consultants

Cheerleaders

Don’t share your script with a ton of friends for their opinions. You don’t need a focus group. When we do that, what we’re usually looking for is reassurance that we should keep writing.
 
So firstly, let me put that question to bed: Yes, you have talent. Yes, it takes work to find it, unleash it, and combine it with craft. And yes, you should keep writing.

What friends are good for is moral support, not feedback on your writing. Ask your friends to send you a list of everything they like about the script and stop there.

You’ll learn more about your writing by hearing what people like about it than anything else.

Check out my article here on How to Give Constructive Criticism that Inspires

A fellow writer friend

Rather than a consultant or a group of friends who aren’t writers, what you really need is a second pair of eyes from one or two people who write and really know the craft.
 
Could be that earlier on in your writing life you won’t yet have writer friends who are expert storytellers and getting a kind and expert consultant will help. But ultimately what you need are just one or two writer friends who can build you up, remind you of what’s great and important about your work, and offer concrete suggestions that restart your engine and get you excited.
 

Continually developing your own skills

Whatever you do:  there’s no getting around the need to continually build up your own skills.
 
Earlier on in your writing life, a good consultant can be a big help as you build your skills. I myself just recently hired a consultant twice as I was figuring out how to modify what I know about writing features into writing series. Because I trusted my own instincts and relied on my own skill set, having that soundboard and input from someone was useful.
 
Beware of relying on consultants in lieu of developing your own skills. That can be a copout.
 
You’re the writer. You’re taking on the work of telling stories. Therefore, you want to make it your business to become as big an expert as possible in how to do exactly that.
 
A consultant should be there as a second pair of eyes and a collaborator to think with. But it can’t take the place of investing in and developing your own skill set.

Join my free membership to receive courtesy trainings for screenwriters and filmmakers.

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