#19: How do I get a job as a story analyst/script reader?

As you may know, one of my first jobs in Los Angeles was as a story analyst at a major production company. That experience inspired me to develop the 1-3-5 Story Structure Made Simple System that my 1-3-5 book is based on. If you’d love to spend long nights and weekends reading and analyzing the future hits (and not-so-much-a-hits) of Hollywood, here’s how you go after this fascinating, funny and frankly high burn-out entry-level gig.

THE JOB
As a story analyst, it is your job to read and summarize scripts then analyze them for structural soundness, story, dialogue, character development, creativity and more. That is called “generating coverage,” and you will do that for your creative executives (CEs) on fairly tight deadlines.

THE PROCESS
When you apply for a job as a reader, you will be handed a sample script and asked to analyze it, using the company’s coverage template, in a set period of time, FOR FREE. The company’s development team will review your work to see if it meets their needs, and may then hire you. Once you are hired, you usually work as a freelancer, being sent or picking up your “weekend pile” of scripts when they contact you. There often are scripts to cover during the week, as well. You might read only a handful of scripts a week; at big companies, you might have to analyze twenty or more a week.

THE PAY
Oh, pay is sooooooo looooooow for readers! You almost always are paid on a per-script basis, anywhere from $20 – $55 a script, usually. Given the hours you invest, it’s not much money, but it’s great experience for both writers and aspiring development types.

GETTING THE GIG
Before you go after a reading job, be sure you have a strong grasp of story structure! Take multiple classes, read multiple books, know industry terminology and expectations. That’s not just to help yourself get a job; it’s also to be fair to the writers whose scripts you are about to be responsible for vetting. As a story analyst, you are a gatekeeper for your production company, the first point of entry for screenwriters trying to get their work produced. That is a big responsibility . It is also great trench training for screenwriters who are interested in learning the buyer’s point of view of this business, as I discuss in detail in my book and seminars. Next it’s time for the job hunt. Craig’s List often has postings in the “Gigs” section of the Los Angeles region. Just do a general search for “reader” and for “story analyst.” Also, let your friends know you are looking for a story analyst gig, and put a cool gift into the mix for people who get you into the consideration pool!

Finally, reading jobs are notorious “insider” gigs, handed off from one analyst to the next, so the best way to get one of these jobs is through a contact. If you know someone who does coverage right now, ask if they can submit you for consideration as a reader for their company. If they get you in to do sample coverage, terrific – be sure to get them a gift, whether you’re hired or not.

BTW, for gifts, I love to do coffeehouse gift cards. I’ve caffeinated half of Hollywood in the past dozen years.

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Posted in Screenwriting & Film
2 comments on “#19: How do I get a job as a story analyst/script reader?
  1. Anne says:

    I just read your blog and wondered if you can answer my question. I heard that at major studios such as Warner Brothers, Universal, etc…their story analysts get paid a percentage of a project if it gets funding. Is this true? I heard usually a small percentage…thanks ahead of time for addressing this.

  2. DMA says:

    Hi, Anne,

    Thanks very much for your question. My experience as a reader at a major production company was many years ago, so I also contacted producers I know at Warner Bros. and elsewhere. And the answers remains, unfortunately, no, as a reader, you would not get a piece of any funding for a “go” project. Of course, the creative execs themselves don’t get a piece of their projects, so no trickle down there to speak of.

    It is one of the challenges of doing development in both TV and film that your efforts towards finding and shaping material are rewarded by salary only (and not a big one!). That, of course, is in exchange for steady paychecks, benefits and more job security than freelance producers. Many creative execs come from production, and many return, so they can not only execute their projects but be rewarded for them.

    Best, dma

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