Tuesday, July 26, 2011

I Read the Movie Part 1: Coverage

First off, I would like to apologize for my sporadic posting and sporadic comment responding. Work has gotten busy, and that has to take precedence. I will still continue to post weekly, though my output may only be 1-2 times/week for now. Thanks for reading!

Most of us (myself included) like to picture the film version of our book before we've finished the first draft. "Who would play your MC in the movie?" is a fun game. We've been raised on TV and movies. My instinct is to always visualize a scene before I write it. Yet like most things in the world of publishing, it's a fantasy followed by a harsh reality. Some books get turned into movies; most do not. It can be frustrating for authors who don't know the film development process. There are countless authors who have been wooed by Hollywood, who have received offers to bring their book to the screen, but nothing ever comes of it. It's frustrating. The world of books and movies are very different. Books get published, but movies get developed.

The first step in bringing your book to the screen is coverage. All books get covered, even the bestsellers. See, in Hollywood, nobody likes to read. So instead of reading the book, they'll read coverage. Coverage is a 2-3-page form that condenses all of the book's necessary elements into an easy-to-peruse format. Coverage varies from place to place, but they are comprised of key elements:
  • Book's title and auspices (author, publisher, date of publication, agent, # of pages)
  • Logline (one-sentence summary) of the book
  • 4-sentence summary of the entire book's plot
  • 1-2-page synopsis of the plot
  • 1/2-1 page of comments from the reader
  • A chart where plot, characters, and writing style are graded on a scale of Excellent-Poor or 1-5 (see example at the top)
  • Final recommendation from the reader: Pass, Consider, Consider with reservations, or Recommend
That is what your book is funneled down to in the end. Like I said, in Hollywood, nobody likes to read. Producers and studios will hire professional readers to read scripts and books and write coverage. But what's more common is the producer's assistant or intern will write the coverage. I interned for a production company while in college, and that's what they had me do every day. I was 19 and had taken one screenwriting class at that point, and I was the gatekeeper for scripts and books. Not all, though. There were several scripts and books that come into the company that went straight to the producer's assistant. But in all cases, coverage was written. If the coverage said recommend, then the producer would read the script. However, as you can imagine, it's rare for a book to get a "recommend." Readers hand those out sparingly because they reflect on their taste. If a reader recommends a script that the producer hates, then said reader's abilities will be brought into question, and he may lose his job. It's easier to say no than to say yes.

Don't be cry if your book's rights are not bought. Your book may be great, but it may not be marketable. And the film industry's version of marketable is much more stringent than publishing's. Many agents and producers say that they need to visualize the poster before they will produce the script. Cars 2 was made just for merchandising sales. The problem is your book may have some of those tricky "unmarketable" elements like depth, complex characters, or emotional ambiguity. I wouldn't take it personally.

Come back next time for Part 2, where I will discuss what happens if your book is lucky enough to get optioned.


  1. I think the best my current MS would get would be a small BBC 3 film :) Doesn't stop me dreaming though!

  2. I know a lot of writer's are hoping to hit the big screen, but I'd rather mine be on TV. I think it suits my book better. FYI, that's not a dream, just an opinion. I'd like my book to stay a book because it's MINE. Signing it over to someone else gives me the sweats right now.
    Great post!

  3. Good insight into the process. I love hearing books have been made into movies, but when you think about the process, it's even more amazing.

  4. This is excellent information. As a dreamer, I've wondered if my MS would make it to any screen, whether it's the big screen or the small screen. Right now, I'd just like to get it on a reader's screen...hopefully lots of readers :-)

  5. @Sarah - ain't nothing wrong with the BBC! Home of the Office and Peep Show! I would take that over being associated with most networks on US television.

    @Emily - Books that have any potential as a series should go on TV. Knowing Hollywood, they'll probably adapt the show into a movie anyway. I do like those books that have resisted film adaptations, like Catcher and the Rye. I feel like they are untainted, still magical.

    @KD - Most people don't realize that it takes years for any movie to get made. Up in the Air was first optioned a decade ago and it didn't make it to theaters until 2009.

    @Angela - Me too! First and foremost, I want to please readers, not moviegoers.

  6. I just hope I get an agent. Book into movie is waaay far down on the list. Though I hope for everyone here that it happens.

  7. Wonderful information for me. I've wondered how it all happens, and I'm enjoying getting an "inside" look at the process. I'm doing this blog hop too, but haven't gotten my first post up. I hate it when real life interferes with my writing ;-) Nice to have met you.
    Tina @ Life is Good