Confessions of a Feature Script Analyst

divider line before thumbnails Producers receive many scripts each day from writers or agents, and it's impossible for them to read each script. For example, an average script takes about one-two hours to read. Read four, and the producer's day is pretty much over. Producers don't make money from reading scripts, they make money from producing them.

Hence, producers hire people to read scripts for them and to let them know what the story is about and what are its strengths and weaknesses.

I used to read scripts for a feature film distribution company. I learned a few things about the business.

What does the analyst do?

Basically, an analyst reads a script and writes a synopsis explaining the story. The synopsis should be written in a style that captures the mood of the story. The analyst should refrain from interjecting his opinion at this stage. Simply put, in about four or five pages, he tells the story in the best way possible with bits of action, dialogue and description. The second part of the coverage allows the analyst to explain where he thinks the story is strong and where it could be improved. The temptation here is to be overly critical and sarcastic. However, it is best to take the approach that everyone has feelings and no one sits down for weeks or years to write a script that they think is lousy. Humility is the key here. After all, if the analyst was so smart, why isn't he a world-famous screenwriter?

Finally, the analyst includes a log line which describes in one catchy sentence what the story is about. This information will quickly give the producer an idea of what he's about to read. An analyst may want to put in a rough budget estimate because a producer may love the story, but if it's set in Ancient Rome with multiple battles, he may want to pass because it's going to be pricey to produce.

How this crazy process works

The process is set up so that the lowest paid person with potentially the least amount of experience can nix or push ahead a script in the production process. Crazy, huh?

Here's the a potential path of a script:

  1. A writer sends a query letter to a producer wondering if they would be interested in reading their script.
  2. The letter sits around for a week or so because producers are busy people, then,
  3. The producer says, "Sure, send it in."
  4. The script arrives at the production company's office.
  5. The scripts sits around for a week or so because there are many other things to do. Then,
  6. It is sent to the analyst.
  7. The scripts sits around for a few weeks because the analyst is still reading scripts that already came in. Then,
  8. The analyst reads it and returns the script along with the coverage to the producer.
  9. The coverage sits around again because the producers may be negotiating with other writers.
  10. Finally, the producers read the coverage and from that will decide if they want to read the entire script.
Analysts are people, too; some people like westerns, others hate science fiction stories. It's a personal preference. A really well-written story may get lousy coverage because the analyst found the genre boring and didn't pay much attention while reading it, hence the synopsis will read like a laundry list. The producer will read the coverage and will most likely get a bad impression of the story. Or vice versa. You never know.

Tips for Writers

Good luck.
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