Want to learn the secret of supercharging your screenplay and gaining a huge competitive advantage? We introduce to you the magic of the table read.

Why your script isn’t done until you host a table read

Want to learn the secret of supercharging your screenplay and gaining a huge competitive advantage? We introduce to you the magic of the table read.

So you’ve got your spec script, you collected your feedback, and you’re ready to send to agents / enter in film fests / send to contacts around town. But hold that thought for just one New York minute. Have you heard your words spoken aloud yet? Here at Film Daily we believe the table read is just about the most important part of your screenplay writing and selling process. But guess what? Not many writers actually do a table read.

So what is a table read?

A table read is when you assemble a group of actors together to read through your script. This happens in film production after casting and towards the end of pre-production. Smart writers, however, have been assembling their own table reads for decades, before they even think of selling a script.

And why do I care about table reads?

Do you remember when you were toiling over your script? You labored over every single word: writing, rewriting, and obsessing over how each one sounded in your head. You might have even spoken them out loud, talking to the walls in your garret. But there is a massive difference between talking to yourself and hearing real humans inhabiting characters that are interacting with the words you wrote.

If any parts of your dialog are wooden, clunky, contrived, or just suck, your read-through will illuminate that content. Table reads also help identify script weaknesses such as:

  • plot holes
  • confusing storylines
  • Tangents
  • out-of-character behavior, and
  • the death of all movies, boring scenes.

Quite simply, the table read is the search-and-destroy method of screenwriting.

I’m sold! How do I make this happen?

In just about every community all over the world, you can meet and connect with local acting groups and schools. Why not approach one of these groups and ply them with a donation and some delicious treats in exchange for dedicating a few hours to your work?

Some scriptwriting “experts” suggest that you don’t really need actors to conduct a table read, that any old friend, family member, or pet will do. We don’t agree with this assertion. A poor reader makes even the best writer sound dull. That isn’t to say you can’t use your contacts, but make sure to pick extroverts with good oration skills. The last thing you want to do is give up ambitions for your script because your cousin Joe mumbled and mispronounced your western.

And finally, if you have a bit of spare cash it’s worth investing in a team of professionals or semi-professionals to do the job. It won’t be incredibly expensive (you can keep it under $250/£200) and you will get your money’s worth. Remember, if you are hoping to sell your script for the going Hollywood rate, it’s a drop in the bucket compared to the money you’ll eventually make.

No matter what approach you take to get the table read together, make sure to record it – filming is even better.

What do I do once the table read is over?

After your table read, host a roundtable discussion with your readers and any experts you invited to listen to the session. Take detailed notes and record the interactions. Ruminate on what you learned for a day or so, then get to work on your script. Be ruthless, but remember you’re not tackling a complete rewrite; you’re just fixing specific spots that don’t quite work.

Need more tips on polishing your screenplay? Try on these Craft features for size: Finding readers 1, Finding readers 2, The beat sheet, How to finish and complete.

Good luck!

Daisy Franklin is an adventuress, rabblerouser, and all-around snarky bon viveur. She worked in the music business for ten years and it made her absolutely miserable. Now she works as a freelance writer and is working on her first book, 'Live to Fail Another Day'.

[email protected]

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