I would like to get my script evaluated by a professional. How do I know who is reputable, honest and skilled at this? And how much (approx.) should it cost?
In Los Angeles, it’s pretty rare for the writer to pay for notes or coverage. Usually, it’s done as a favor, either by friends who work in the industry, as part of a class, or in exchange for work done at an internship. Professional readers and story analysts are generally paid by the buyer, either a studio or production company, and spend their days reading through the material submitted for consideration.
I worked as a reader for two years when I first moved to L.A., first as an unpaid intern, then later for TriStar. It’s a good first job for any screenwriter, as you get the opportunity to read a lot of scripts, and eventually earn enough to pay rent.
There are some freelance analysts who will read and critique your work for a fee. You can find listings for them in the back of Variety, The Hollywood Reporter and the various screenwriting magazines. While I’m sure many of them are dedicated and conscientious, there are a few things I would ask to see before writing a check. First, they should show you a sample of the coverage or story notes they write. Ask yourself, if you were handed this document, would it help you write your next draft? Second, they should be able to give you some references, both in terms of writers they’ve helped and places they’ve worked. Third, you need to have some sort of contract or agreement that makes it clear that they are working for you on a one-time basis, and that you’re not signing over any rights to them. Many freelance readers are also aspiring producers, and you need to be clear what the boundaries are.
Obviously, these are the kinds of guarantees you’re looking for when you’re dealing with a complete stranger. If you’re dealing with a friend, acquaintance, or friend-of-a-friend, you’ll probably be a little more flexible in your requirements.
How much should you pay? Like eye surgery, you really don’t want to shop for the cheapest rate you can find. I could imagine it costing as little as $100, or as much as $500. Only you know how much it’s worth to you.
There’s one online service I’ve seen that does coverage and story notes, called ScriptShark. This is in no way an endorsement, because I don’t know if they’re any good. But if any reader has worked with them or any similar service, I’d love to hear about your experience, so I can pass it along in a future column.