A particular pet hate amongst readers and execs is when they receive a script that has a photograph or image on the front cover. The title of the script and who it’s by will be underneath or amongst a picture that relates to the tone or the content of the script. Presumably, the writer (or possibly producer/director) thinks that this is an important inclusion on the front cover; a helpful image to ease the reader into the style and mood of the story. Here’s a tip: don’t do it.
You’d think that all the regular screenwriting advice would have rubbed off by now. Y’know, the basics: format, typos, short paragraphs and never put an image on your front cover. And yet scripts stream in with some or all of the typical bugbears being dutifully adhered to.
Personally, I’m not too bothered by a small misuse of format or typos or whatever, and even a front image on the cover won’t put me off too much. It’s difficult to say why an image on the cover gets people’s hackles up so much. Maybe it’s because they feel the script is trying to persuade them about mood and imagery when they’d like to make up their own mind. The one thing that is for certain is that readers and execs don’t like it, and will immediately jump on your script with a savage distaste just because of an opening image on the title page.
The credo is this: “Scripts with images on their title page are indicative of a poorly written screenplay”. And you know, by and large, this is true. This is why readers sigh with disappointment when they pick up a script that’s got a fictional photo of a rock star and the script is called: “Pop Stars R Us”. They just know the script is going to suck ass.
Because the credo is generally accurate, there must be some psychological link between poor writing and putting an image on the front cover. It suggests that the writer (usually an amateur) isn’t fully convinced of his material and wants to plonk a “striking” photo on the front to impress the reader before he’s picked up the script. Or maybe the writer is so sure of his work that he feels it necessary to heighten the flavour of the piece by showing you a glimpse of the wonderful imagery that’s in store. It really is hard to guess.
I have read scripts from a few professional writers that have had images on the front cover but I think the producer or director may be to blame here because the professional scribes deliver a more satisfying story. 90% of scripts with pictures/photos or drawings on their front cover usually indicate that the writer is trying too hard, or has an ego beyond belief, and the script will usually go on to tell a story that will fail to impress.
So, second thoughts all round about putting an image on the front cover. It’s tempting I know but unless you’re absolutely sure that your script is singing on every level, it’s best left avoided. Why not put those images and cool drawings into a separate document and submit that, along with the script, instead? The reader won’t be given the visual stuff to assess, just the script, while the exec gets the benefit of the writer’s “vision” without thinking that he’s a foolish amateur.
*** UPDATE ***
Another general no-no, although not as bad, is putting a clever tag line under the script's title. This isn't advisable because while the tag line can be clever, smart, amusing and intriging, the rest of the screenplay will usually fail to live up to its billing. So one strap line on the front cover becomes the most effective piece of writing in a 120 page screenplay. It can be cute and clever to have a tag line there, lots of people do it, but leave it to the marketing people, or better still, use it in your one page outline/pitching document which has room for that kind of stuff.