What does it look like when your script gets recommended at the studio level by a reader? This is the coverage I put together for the Susan Cooper’s 1973 Newberry Award-winning novel entitled The Dark Is Rising.
If you’ve never seen coverage of a script you’ve written, or any script for that matter, I think it will help to see what you’re aiming for. You want the story analyst who reads your script to give you a “recommend.” This is what that looks like:
Story Analysis for The Dark Is Rising, (Novel, 1973), written by Susan Cooper
Logline: On the Midwinter day that is his 11th birthday, Will Stanton discovers his special gift – that he is the last of the Old Ones, immortals dedicated to keeping the world safe from domination by the forces of evil, the Dark.
Summary: Young WILL STANTON is at first completely ignorant of the great struggle between the Light and the Dark. However, on the eve his 11th birthday, he notices strange things are happening around him: radios give off huge bursts of static and animals exhibit odd behavior. Worst of all, when he and his brother witness a bizarre attack by crows on a strange tramp, Will finds that his brother has no recollection of what’s just happened.
What Will doesn’t know is, on this day he begins his Quest for the Six Signs that will save civilization from the Rising of the Dark. Darkness, cold, ice, floods, surreal black tornados and all the forces of Evil will be unleashed, to bring down the forces of Light and do battle with Will, the last of the magical, ancient Old Ones.
The next morning he wakes up in a different century, a time when the great royal forest of Anderida covered the land. Will meets for the first time the tall, ancient MERRIMAN LYON, the eldest of the Old Ones — ageless, as much a creature of magic as a man, committed utterly to the ancient conflict between the Light and the Dark.
Will receives the first Sign, an Iron, crossed circle, from friendly FARMER DAWSON, an Old One secretly living in Will’s own times. The Bronze Sign comes from a 13th century man out of time, a man on the edge of sanity, called THE WALKER. Whenever he finds a sign, Will must battle the DARK RIDER, an ominous, tall, black-cloaked, red-haired figure with the Devil’s soul. To get the Wood Sign, Will must use his magic to throw up an invisible shield. To collect the Stone Sign, he forms a circle with the other Old Ones in his village (including Farmer Dawson) to stave off the onslaught of the Dark.
On Christmas Eve, Will is taken back to the Old Times by Merriman. He walks through two huge DOORS, surrounded only by snow. Inside is a magical chamber from the 15th century. There, he is taught from a mystic book, the Gramarye, each page bringing to mind images of all the Old One’s magic.
The blizzards intensify, freezing Englanders, trapped inside their homes. There are many deaths. Villagers come to Lady Greythorne’s Manor for warmth. Darkness engulfs the Manor. The Light is losing to the Dark. The Rider slams against the doors with his powerful steed, over and over. Merriman helps Will find the Nine Ice Candles, which eventually lead them to the Fire Sign. The Rider’s powers are no match for Will’s collection of Signs.
They have only one sign left to find, as the floods overtake England. However, the Dark Rider has kidnapped Will’s sister Mary. The Rider demands a trade — Will’s Signs for his sister’s life. Will is torn, but his instincts tell him, no. The Rider jumps the Thames and Mary falls to an icy death. Except, at that moment, Merriman comes out of the sky on the White mare of the Light. The skies flash brightly as Mary falls safely on the soft snow. They are saved.
Once Will joins all the Signs, Iron, Bronze, Stone, Wood, Fire and Water, the world is safe from the forces of the Dark. Will returns home on Twelfth Night, forever a changed person. He can now live in both the Old Times and in his own times. He is charged with forever caring for the Six Signs. “It is a burden,” Merriman reminds Will. “Any great gift or power or talent is a burden, and this more than any, and you will often long to be free of it. But, if you are born with the gift, then you must serve it, and nothing in this world may stand in the way of that service.”
Setting/Production Value: Good-Excellent
Plot Structure: Good-Excellent
Comments: Will Stanton’s character arc is very fully realized and well defined. He begins his journey as a naïve boy wishing for snow on his 11th birthday. That night, he is physically paralyzed with fear, when the blizzards start and the Dark rises. From that time forth, he begins to know things that he couldn’t possibly know. He learns to trust his instincts. As he is tested by the Dark forces, he learns more about his craft. His instincts tell him that forming a circle with the other Old Ones will magnify his powers. Later, Will talks with the Rector on Christmas day; “There’s not really any before and after, is there? Everything that matters is outside of Time.” He is clearly not the naïve boy he was last night. When his sister is abducted by the Dark Rider, Will knows to trust his instinct, even though it seems completely wrong. He refuses to trade the Signs for his sister’s life, thereby saving her and the world from the Dark. Such is the maturity of his grasp of the craft. In the end, he learns that he is immortal, the last of the Old Ones, who will care forever for the Signs. “You are no longer a small boy,” Merriman tells him. “But sometimes you feel how much more agreeable life would be if you were.”
The plot takes us on a journey that is filled with jeopardy. Will’s birthday marks the beginning of an epic conflict between good and evil. It is a conflict that sustains suspense throughout the story. It’s stakes grow with every plot development. At first, Will feels the conflict only within himself. By the end of the story, the conflict will possibly result is the destruction of everything good on this Earth. Will’s life changes through conflict as he fights these evil forces. At the climax, Will must fight for his sister’s life and against the forces of the Dark, which threaten to spread death and destruction worldwide.
Every page of this novel drips with magic, both visually and through rising conflict. The dialogue, character , imagery and story are crafted beautifully. Minor characters have intriguing subplots, including Lady Greythorne’s death and resurrection, and the Walker’s betrayal and reconciliation. Will’s journey meshes with the story of the Dark waking to fight his ascent to immortality. As a result of these factors, especially of the consistently magical visual imagery, this novel is a natural to adapt. Although similar territory has been traveled by the Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter, this reader believes, this story, with it’s strong character arcs and intense rising jeopardy, is different enough in tone and execution to follow in their footsteps. The Seeker: The Dark is Rising, a Newberry Honor Book, is clearly a classic of the genre.
PASS_____ CONSIDER_____ RECOMMEND__XX__
This is not the actual coverage that convined the studio to greenlight the film. This is the coverage I wrote to show prospective screenwriters how to write sample coverage. This is how I got my day job doing coverage for the studios. I recommend writing your sample coverage for a novel that feels like it will make a great film. When I was applying for reader jobs, I wrote sample coverage of a different novel and submitted it to story departments, hoping to get hired as a story analyst. It worked. It can work for you. Want a studio day job? Let me know–
Notice that readers will be specifically evaluating the categories of Concept, Storyline, Plot Structure, Character, Dialogue, Setting and Pace. Be sure to pay special attention to these aspects of your screenplay as it will play right into the reader’s decision to recommend or pass.
If you’re having trouble finishing a draft, or a re-write, feel free to talk with me, a produced screenwriter, at 310-850-4707.