Meet Scot Lawrie. Scot is an entrepreneur with a background in software development, business development, and economics. He has designed, built, and deployed large, data-intensive, scalable web applications that are currently being used by millions of users. You should definitely ask him about his fried okra recipe. He is a Co-Founder of Coverfly and one of the managing partners of The Script Lab’s parent company, Red Ampersand Inc.
How did you go from sales in NYC to starting and growing Coverfly in Los Angeles?
Right out of college, I took a job doing sales for a tech startup in NYC, and I was pretty bad at it, so they fired me. At that point, I decided to teach myself to code. After six or so months of studying free online courses, I got a job as a software developer and really fell in love with the craft of building software. I spent a few years in Philadelphia, where I grew up, working in ad-tech on high traffic applications handling huge amounts of data.
Around this time, one of my best friends from college, Mark Stasenko, reached out to me and asked me to build him a website that screenwriters could submit their scripts to for feedback. He had recently moved to Los Angeles to pursue screenwriting full-time and he had found that there wasn’t anywhere to go for inexpensive, quick feedback on his scripts. I helped him create a website and backend management system and we called it WeScreenplay.
Mark wanted to keep prices really affordable. The “basic” screenplay feedback price was set at $69, which included 5 pages of notes with a 48-hour turnaround. This was, no exaggeration, about a quarter the price of similar coverage offerings available at the time. So, it was no surprise that we were suddenly under a deluge of scripts. Mark couldn’t handle coordinating all those scripts and coverages between readers and writers, so I had to build more sophisticated functionality behind WeScreenplay to automate the manual tasks.
Eventually, we realized that the tools we had built to support WeScreenplay might be valuable to other services that needed help administering their screenplay submissions and readers. At that point, we spun the technology off into its own product, Coverfly. A year or so passed and we pitched Coverfly to the guys at ScreenCraft, and they loved it so much that they wanted to partner up. In 2017, ScreenCraft, WeScreenplay, Coverfly, and The Script Lab joined the same parent company. WeScreenplay and ScreenCraft remain independent in their operations – each still has their own leadership, original readers, unique judges, and outreach on behalf of contest winners is done by the original owners of the two companies.
What are your goals for Coverfly?
I want Coverfly to be where Hollywood literary managers, execs, and studios go to find talented emerging writers.
Hollywood is rife with nepotism and it’s notoriously hard to break into the very tight networks at agencies and studios. Unless you already know someone in the industry, breaking in is very hard. That’s not fair, and I want to change it. If “breaking in” becomes more a function of talent and less a function of “who you know”, we’re going to see a much richer and more diverse set of perspectives being shown in theaters and living rooms around the world. That can have a profound impact on how people think and interact with each other.
What sort of tech developments sets Coverfly apart?
When I got involved in the talent discovery space, it was obvious to me that screenwriting competitions, when operated in good faith, served a valuable and necessary mechanism for opening doors for aspiring screenwriters. But everything was so damn unorganized. Every competition was judging and tracking writer submissions with their own makeshift system of spreadsheets and folders and email communication, and there was virtually no effort to interface with the industry beyond the personal relationships that those contest administrators had.
So, there was all of this really valuable and interesting data floating around out there on aspiring screenwriters and unproduced screenplays, but no one had put it together all in one place to make it easy for the industry to discover. That’s the beauty of Coverfly. We’ve spent a tremendous amount of effort trying to aggregate data on emerging talent into one place, and, with the explicit permission and control of contests and the writers themselves, making that data presentable and accessible to decision-makers in the industry. No one else in the screenwriter talent-discovery space is doing this right now.
How does Coverfly help both writers and industry pros at the same time?
I look at Coverfly as just another tool that writers can use to layer on top of the competitions, fellowships, labs and workshops they’re already entering to get exposure to the entertainment industry. Coverfly is free for writers – we charge the competitions for being on our platform instead. So, if you’re entering screenwriting competitions, you may as well be on Coverfly. Your projects are all private from the industry by default, and we make it easy to click a button to make your projects discoverable when/if you want.
Industry professionals now have a single, personal point of contact who knows their specific tastes and preferences and will keep them abreast of the top writers across all of the many screenwriting competitions and talent discovery platforms on Coverfly. And yes, we have dedicated staff working with top writers identified in Coverfly. In the last month, already three writers have found literary managers via Coverfly. This is also a value to the industry who now don’t have to manage relationships with 25 different screenwriting competitions and fellowships if they’re looking to source talent from those places.
How did Coverfly eventually join with The Script Lab in full partnership?
The Script Lab was an early Coverfly partner so we had a good relationship with TSL’s founders and team. In 2016, we caught wind that they may be trying to focus their efforts elsewhere, so we made a bid to acquire it from them, and they accepted. We thought the strong educational component of TSL and large existing audience was the perfect complement to WeScreenplay’s low-cost, fast-turnaround script feedback service.
What’s next for the Red Ampersand team?
It’s taken a while building and launching Coverfly, and we’ve worked hard to build something that we think is going to disrupt the industry. Now we have to prove that it works. Our top priority moving forward is making sure that Coverfly facilitates writer successes – that is, writers on our platforms getting signed, optioned, produced, etc by Hollywood professionals. We’re happy with the quick growth so far, but there’s a lot more to do, so for now, Coverfly is my sole focus.