If you pay for screenwriting coverage, where should you spend your money?
If you're a writer trying to break into Hollywood, eventually, you're going to turn to one of those online services to try to get your script in front of the town. There are a lot of them out there. Some make promises that industry executives will have access to them, some have mailing lists, while others provide a conversation of the pros and cons of the script and suggestions for what to do next.
The one thing they have in common? They all cost money.
Some of them cost hundreds of dollars. Getting professional coverage on your screenplay can get expensive quickly. We know, because we just paid for three services.
We sent the same script to The Black List, Stage32, and GetMade. We paid for basic coverage from all three, and now that the results are in, we want to take you through the price of each, how long it took to get feedback, and any impact from the coverage (awards, downloads, meetings, etc.).
Let's look at the results together.
Table of Contents
First, a word about the Hope Machine
The Hope Machine is a term I think was first coined by screenwriter John Gary. The idea is that people and corporations often prey on aspiring writers and the notion that you can break into Hollywood at any time with the right spec screenplay. The Hope Machine uses the reality of writing your way into Hollywood and creates a paywall between the aspiring creative and the industry as a whole.
It involves sites that promise you access to managers and agents and producers so long as you pay a fee. That fee is usually a lot of money to someone trying to break into the arts and therefore represents a financial burden to follow their dreams. But some contests and websites collect these fees without actually trying to make good on the promise from the money collected. Instead, they often wait for the aforementioned tastemakers to use their website and proactively reach out through it. This creates a bit of a rock and a hard place.
What do you do if you want to get noticed, live outside of Hollywood, and have no access? Is it worth paying for access to these places?
That's what I hope to partially suss out in this article. Many coverage services exist because people want someone to read their script, love it, and grant them access to the industry. So are these services worth it? Yes and no. Let's dig deeper into the details.
Who Gives the Best Script Coverage?
Before we get into all that, a little about me.
If you're a new reader, I'm Jason Hellerman. I cover a lot of stuff for NFS but mostly screenwriting. I was on the 2013 Black List with my script, Shovel Buddies, which eventually was bought and made by AwesomenessTV and debuted at SXSW in 2016. I've been writing professionally off and on since. Fat years and lean years. That's sort of the way this business goes.
Yes, I am a professional writer using these services. But I didn't want it framed that way. So I took a spec I recently finished about the Lindbergh kidnapping called Jafsie! and sent it into all three services for feedback. This spec has no producers on it, director, or any other attachments. It's just a script I think is done and ready for feedback. So everything should be viewed through that lens. I didn't alert anyone else that I was doing this, so things would be read without bias.
This is what the top three services said about the screenplay.
The Black List
I was really excited to send my script to The Black List. I have covered the site before and how you can use the service to break into Hollywood. The Black List describes itself as "a first access point for many emerging screenwriters who want to get their writing in front of industry members like agents, managers, and producers."
Sure, there are the repped writers and WGA members who upload their scripts there for feedback, but I would venture a guess to say the majority of people using the site are aspiring professionals. They're paying for evaluations and the hosting of their screenplays. It's $30 to have your script hosted, and then $100 to buy a professional evaluation.
When you upload your script, it will look something like it does below.
What you do is put in your name, the logline, and you choose from a bunch of drop-downs the genre of your script. You can also tag your script with certain elements producers can look for. I tagged mine with it having planes, being based on a true story, and having a protagonist in their 60s. I even added the decade of the 1930s as my setting. There's also a useful tool where you can describe each character in the screenplay. While I didn't explore that as much, I think that's probably useful for producers looking for certain arcs, or writers who are trying to attract specific kinds of talent.
Once all that is done, your script page will look something like it does in the photo below.
As you can see, this dashboard allows you to easily navigate your screenplay. Whether that's buying more evaluations, looking at the one you have, adjusting details on the screenplay, or updating the draft. It's all there. I only bought one evaluation.
As you know from my longer Black List article I linked above, I think The Black List is only worth it if your script scores an 8 or higher. I only scored a 7, so I don't plan on keeping my script up there in the long term. If I were spending my own money, and this was not for an article, I might take a pass on the script and address some of the notes I got. Then pay for one more read, to see if I could turn that 7 into an 8. But since I did this for an article, I did not spend the extra cash.
Let's take a look at what my professional evaluation held.
What does a Black List evaluation look like?
The evaluations are sent to you in your dashboard. They pop up with a summary like in the image below.
You have no idea who read your script. You don't know the background or the previous work in the industry your reader has done. While I am against publishing the identity of who read the script, I do wish we had a section that said this person had been working at a high level.
The Black List says this of their readers, "All of our readers have worked as first filters for major agencies, studios, production companies, television studios, and management companies. They're the exact type of people who would first read your script if you submitted to any of these companies. Our readers are the best of the bunch. Beyond their previous experience, they've been selected for their knowledge of screenplays currently in development around Hollywood. Our readers also have an understanding and commitment to the Black List's mission: to help moviemakers find great material and to help great material to find homes with moviemakers."
When you go to the evaluation, you can download it into an around 5-page document. I have screengrabbed every section of the document so we can go over it together.
Yeah, this was a wild test of my ego, but since I did it with every service we tested, I think I feel a lot better. Also, therapy helps. Anyway, let's look at it.
That top breakdown is nice. As someone who is not wonderful at writing his own loglines, I liked hearing their interpretation of what the screenplay was about. I found these overall scores to be good, not great. And I doubt if I left it on the website if it would have garnered the attention most people use the website to find. I generally enjoy that the Black List uses a numerical ranking.
I wish you could get into decimals, like a 6.5, so you could weigh it in a more nuanced way. That mostly comes from me adding up my score and dividing it and seeing that it's a 7.4, which feels better than a 7. But again, that could be ego.
Next, we get some longer descriptions of why these elements were rated the way they were and where you can improve.
These strengths are there to help you understand what's working in the screenplay. It's a list of stuff I'll keep in my mind to not mess around with as I move forward in the screenplay.
But let's get into the weaknesses. This is where you'll really get justifications for why your script was rated the way it was, as well as a list of the things you need to work on going forward.
I found these weaknesses to be well-written. Although If I had to make a critique, I wished they focused on the angles the script was about, instead of wanting me to lean into things it was not about, like the autopsy of the baby.
Still, I get why the appetite for more information is in there, and as the writer, it's my job to find a way to add that stuff into the story, in any way I can. Especially if I sense an appetite for it.
I liked the notes on the women characters. They're right when writing it and reading Anne Lindbergh's autobiography, I found that the women in these people's lives were completely sidelined during the investigation. Still, I do think there has to be a way I can bring them forward in Act One, to help pay off the scene they liked in Act Two. That will certainly be my focus on the next pass of the story.
Lastly, you get a breakdown of the prospects of the screenplay. That means where they think it can survive in the marketplace.
These prospects seem good. I'd love a line about what changes need to be made to rank higher on the site, but I think focusing on who it would appeal to in Hollywood is smart. As someone who got agents and managers off this site in the past, I know this section is important. It's what sells you to the people reading. Weaknesses can be fixed, but the marketplace is forever.
It's no secret I like the Black List. The only reason I have a movie made in this industry was that Shovel Buddies was found on their website. That's a fact I never forget.
I also think they are very involved in helping new and diverse voices get found in an increasingly hard-to-break-into marketplace. While I only paid for evaluations and hosting, there are lots of contests and mentorships they have available monthly that make it worthwhile.
I also will reiterate what I said above, I used the Black List to break into Hollywood! While I might be the exception and not the rule, I can say that many managers and agents do read the top list there and reach out to unrepped people about their screenplays. While they do profit off submissions, it does feel like their hearts are in the right place.
People have raised concerns over the Black List producing movies, and thus having a conflict of interest when they ask people to pay for evaluations. I weigh the pros against the cons. Since the platform is still used for agents/managers/producers to find material, and not for just the Black List to mine it, I think the pros outweigh the cons. But I suggest every person who submits to evaluate that for themselves.
In terms of a thing I felt was difficult, it took a long time to get my evaluation back. I paid $130 on Sept. 28 for hosting and the evaluation. It came out of my bank account right away, but the evaluation didn't come until Oct. 8. That's 10 days, and the Black List says it could take up to three weeks to get that feedback. That's something to keep in mind if you are paying for coverage that might be time-sensitive.
Another real nitpick I don't love is the idea of paying to host your screenplay on there. I cannot imagine it's worth just hosting a logline and PDF with no evaluations for $30 a month. While scoring high will get you free evaluations and free months of hosting, I don't love that aspect. It seems like a server should be able to hold everyone's logline and PDF, but I guess with the possibility of endless people throwing ideas up there, there has to be a way to cull the herd. Hosting is free for WGA members. I am not one yet, so I cannot take advantage of that.
Founder of the website Franklin Leonard has made himself very available on social media to answer these questions. And he was also recently on the Marc Maron WTF Podcast talking about the site. Do your research before submitting, but I found this generally worth it.
- Cost: $130 USD
- $100 for the evaluation, $30 for the hosting
- What you get: One month of hosting and one professional evaluation. If your evaluation gets an 8 or above, you get an additional month of hosting.
Are you a fan of the filmmaking networking site? I was not too familiar with Stage32 until a few months ago. I was told about it by a friend and even got the chance to Zoom with founder and CEO Richard Botto.
Stage32 has a similar mission as the Black List, but instead of placing its focus on people in Hollywood finding talent, it focuses on talented people finding one another. Think of it like Facebook for filmmakers. You can build a profile, find other people to collaborate with, and even take a bunch of classes or use a bunch of paid services. I will say, I am a little suspicious about some of the things people pay for here.
Look, any paid coverage site that offers to send the highest-rated screenplays to producers is some version of people with dreams paying for access. That's what the Black List does as well. And while I think selling filmmaking and screenwriting classes is totally fair, I don't love that there are some managers and producers on this platform charging to hear people's pitches.
I get that time is money, but it makes me kind of feel dirty. Especially if you have a good manager or agent in the real world, they would be sending your script out to these producers who would gladly read it for free. Again, that's the pact of being a professional, but I don't know how these paid services make me feel. Just something you should be aware of and understand before spending your money.
Among these services comes screenwriting coverage. Which I think is totally ethical—you are paying for a service that you need. So we paid the $99 and got out coverage back in five days. It was such a quick turnaround that I was amazed.
Let's look at it together.
What does Stage 32 coverage look like?
Okay, so I didn't spend too much time making a Stage32 profile, but if you're going to use the website, I recommend you do. That way you can network and maybe meet friends you can learn from for free, to start a writer's group so you don't have to pay for coverage.
But since we're here, I sent my script into the coverage ether and got around a seven-page document back. While you can't download it as a PDF, you can print it in PDF form.
One thing I love is that at the top we get a brief bio of who read your script, along with a brief industry resume. You can see the projects they've worked on and you can estimate their taste. It makes me feel like a real person read my hard work.
They give you the title, write a logline for you, and even have a nutshell of the titles they would compare to your screenplay.
Then you get a general summary of all the comments that will come. That's a nice appetizer of what's to come. This is where you can tell if they liked it or not, and also get the view from 10,000 feet when it comes to what you need to work on and what they enjoyed.
One thing I missed was numerical rankings. I'll say off the bat that on Stage32, Jafsie! received a recommendation for the writer and for the project. That means that it was sent out in a PDF with the other scripts that got the same accolade as me that month, with a logline, brief bio, and how to contact me. I'll say right now, nothing has come from that email blast, but it's only been 10 days since it happened. I'll edit this article if someone contacts me about the screenplay.
I knew I got that rating upfront. It was in the email alerting me that my coverage was delivered, so I read this one with a smile on my face.
After the summary, we get directly into the comments. Instead of a pros and cons list, Stage32's coverage just covers the topics of formatting, concept, originality, character, dialogue, plot, structure, budget, and commerciality. That's a lot of information for $99. Let's take a look at these sections.
I think formatting is a pretty interesting category. While this may benefit newer writers, I'm not sure how much it helped me. I also want to debunk the idea that writing camera direction is a bad thing. I wrote "Crane Up" because I wanted them to imagine the camera craning up. That's not a bad thing. It's just a thing.
Trust me, no one in Hollywood actually cares about that stuff unless you're doing it wrong.
I think this section is incredibly valuable. It breaks down intentions and tells you how to hone them. It also can help newer writers develop their voice and originality in their writing. It's cool to see how much time and energy is spent in this section. And how it adds to the focus.
I also like the suggestions here of things to add. While I don't know if I'd take all of them, it's a good time to see the note behind the note for the next polish of the screenplay.
Again, this is a beefy section with a lot inside it. Since it houses pros and cons, you do have to sort out which parts help and which parts are things to change for the future. I think that this really gives an astute breakdown of everything that happens in the script, while also offering tweaks that could sure up the plot and the structure for future drafts.
I think there are a lot of questions where, and I appreciate that approach. It makes me think more than they respond. That will help in my rewrite.
Another useful item at the end is the "Budget and commercial prospects" area. We saw something similar in the Black List. While this is all just an estimation of the market, I think these services might be able to elevate their service if they added in a few directors they liked.
Stage32 has a lot of producers who charge for evaluations. I wonder if they need a section where it says "these people might like to hear this pitch" but that might be me helping a game I'm not sure I support. Just a capitalist thought!
One thing that seems to be proprietarily Stage32's is the idea of a development section. This is a great resource of things for a writer. It's a mission to seek out scripts you can learn from and to determine the commerciality of your project on the whole. Aside from that, the "Next steps" portion actually gives you some marching orders to follow. I now know what I should be focusing on, and that really helps.
I got a double recommendation, go me! While no one reached out about my being one of the top screenplays reviewed on the site, it was a bit of an adrenaline rush when I found out the logline and my bio was sent out. Aside from the ego boost, I loved how long and detailed this coverage was. It was really nice to see so much thought and time put into every aspect of the screenplay. And as I mentioned at the top, it came back so quickly that I could have asked for coverage on a Monday and had the tweaks I needed to do by Friday to send it in to my manager or into a contest ASAP.
The way this coverage was broken down also let me know what aspect to focus on for the rewrite, but without a ranking system, it was hard to know what parts they thought were the best, and where they were positive I should devote my attention.
While I may not agree with every paid aspect of the site, which I think does allow producers, managers, and other people to profit from the Hope Machine in some sectors, I cannot knock how fast the coverage came back and how attentive it was to detail.
It's coverage I found very useful, not as a tool to break in but to write a better screenplay. I also like the idea of a social network for filmmakers to find people they can relate to, learn from, and work with. I wish they had something like the Black List that allowed me to leave my script up for people to find and read, as well as a ranking system that tracked the best projects on there, but that can be kind of hard to pull off. It could be in their future, who knows?
- Cost: $99 USD
- Coverage price only, other services available
- What you get: Professional coverage. If you get a "double recommend," writer and script, your material is sent in an email to 500 industry members.
Okay, let's move from two very famous services to more of a mom-and-pop shop. If you read No Film School religiously, then you know we've spoken to Evan Littman from GetMade several times. We have a whole article he does that's a question and answer session on script consultants. Evan and I went to college together, worked inside Hollywood at different companies at the same time, and I watched him build GetMade from the ground up. He works with international distributors as well as producers and up-and-comers.
The thesis for his script consultations is very simple. You want a face behind the person who read your screenplay. Why not choose someone who has worked with buyers for a long time and knows the international market? Evan’s script consulting service offers two options: video chat or typed notes. I opted for the conversation since we had so much in common.
Evan will read your script and chat with you one-on-one, allowing the feedback to be more of a conversation. Frankly, I can see the appeal. You can read evaluations in 10 minutes; an hour-long conversation can unlock a whole lot more.
What comes in a GetMade coverage?
Whether you opt for the written notes or the video conference, GetMade charges $149—you can get a rush done for an extra $100 that guarantees you a two-day turnaround. My consultation happened six days after I submitted for it. (I wanted to try to find a way to do this incognito, or pay someone to send my script in and do the meeting themselves, but at the end of the day that proved to be more difficult.) Evan and I are close enough that he has seen me reading a bunch of Lindbergh books and knew I was working on the spec.
When I sat down with Evan on a Zoom, we had an hour-long conversation that covered strengths and weaknesses, the size and budget of the movie, what kinds of companies and buyers might be interested in this particular screenplay, some places he thought my voice could stand out more, and a few suggestions for scenes and ideas he had that might help me get my message across clearer. He also came up with a fun list of directors and actors he thought would be great as parts of the package of the screenplay. (Note: I have a manager who I can ask to look into those people and see if they’re open to reading my script.)
Evan gave me a few happy compliments and a little bit of tough love—but if I only wanted sunshine and roses, I’d send it to my mom. He also asked a lot of really interesting questions that made me think about my script in different ways. Overall, it was a valuable hour.
Although it’s the most expensive option on here, GetMade is certainly the most personal. I liked speaking with Evan, and I think he comes at this from a place of empathy and wanting writers to be the best they can be. Obviously, $149 is nothing to sneeze at, although it’s close to the $130 you pay for a Black List read/month of hosting. But I think there's something to be said about having a conversation with the reader. Also, I liked the idea that you can bounce ideas off one another in real-time.
Here's the other plus: you might only want to pay the money to submit to a contest or the Black List if you were almost certain you could get an eight on their site or rank in a contest. Evan is a quick way to run a litmus test on your work before you pay to send it to a bunch of contests. I will say that he reads each of my scripts as a favor before I send it to my manager, so my reps see my best work.
What are the downsides? Besides the cost, GetMade’s services are offered on a purely developmental basis, meaning there’s no second step. If you’re dropping over $100, you might wish your script consultant would put it on a producer’s desk or something. However, Evan is very clear that he’s not someone you can pay extra for him to take your script out to buyers. I applaud his site for not profiting on the Hope Machine. At the end of the day, it’s an exec telling you if your screenplay is good or not and helping to make it better. That’s a huge deal. Especially if you need notes and want to improve.
Cost: $149 USD
What you get: an hour-long conversation via Zoom or phone about the strengths and weaknesses of your screenplay. If you prefer, you can get 2-3 pages of typed notes instead.
Summary of What We Found
I hope this was an exhaustive look into a few available services for budding writers. Not only do I think I got some valuable feedback on my own writing, but I'm happy to explore three different services and price points that reflect how much writers are being charged to get Hollywood to pay attention.
While I got no incoming calls about this script due to the services, I do think my past experience with the Black List and GetMade are endorsements. And I found Stage32 to be affordable and quick. I even used them once since for a separate script to get feedback I could use on my rewrite of the story.
Still, all of these cost a lot of money. And it seems like the best way to use them is in conjunction with spending even more money. So buyer beware. Keep the Hope Machine in the forefront of your thoughts. Make sure you're paying the right price for tangible assets, and not because you're desperate to get into the business. I know that's easier said than done, but do your research. Let us know your experiences as well.
If you're a coverage service that wants us to review them, reach out and let us know what you do and what you charge.
If you've used any of these services, we would love to know what you think in the comments. Did you like them, did they help advance your career? Were they worth it?
I'm excited to hear what you think and to listen to your feedback.
Reply below with any questions I can answer directly.