Wow, that title sounds like there’s some kind of voodoo going on.
One of the stages of script development many writers forgo is the reading. It’s not absolutely imperative that you have one for every script, but if you can, do it.
The Benefits of a Script Reading:
- Hearing your words come to life. You’ll hear how other people view your work immediately. Each reader’s POV will be reflected through how they choose to read your script.
- It helps you see whether or not what you intended comes through on the page. Misinterpretation will happen and it’s up to you to determine whether it was due to the writing or the actor.
- Awkward dialogue flops. If a reader stumbles over your words, it could be because what you’ve written is unnatural.
- Problem areas stand out. You’ll notice glaring problems like gaps in communication, problems with flow, continuity issues, plot holes etc..
- You’ll be able to tell before you even have the reading if you’ve got too many characters or if your dialogue is weighted appropriately. Lead roles should have most of the dialogue, but you could find a supporting character dominating where they shouldn’t.
- If you go through an organization or professional association, you can gain great free or cheap publicity. You never know who might be in the audience.
Planning a script reading might seem straight-forward, but after doing several of them, believe me, there are quite a few things to watch out for so I might as well save you the aggravation.
Hosting a Great Reading:
- Group your characters into manageable numbers. Each reader should have no more than ten, if most of the minor characters have few lines. Try to evenly distribute characters by dialogue as well so no one reader is overburdened and you don’t leave another reader with all the crappy one-liners.
- Keep the leads separate if you can. Lead characters should have so much dialogue and be in most of the scenes that it will be next to impossible to have them read more than that one role.
- No reader talks to himself. Group your characters so that none of the characters in one group talks to another in that same group. Try to keep the total readers to less than ten total, including the narrator. Too many readers is unmanageable.
- Include a narrator. Yes, someone has to read the action lines too.
- Provide character breakdowns. Keep them simple and to the point so whoever is casting knows the kind of actor to get. Identify the leads and supporting roles.
- Use real actors. Actors know how to interpret scripts and understand character. Many have done readings before so they know what’s expected and they come prepared. If you can’t find actors yourself, call local small talent agencies and ask for their help. Be clear about what it’s for and that no one gets paid.
- Readers speak English well and don’t have a heavy accent. Unless your character has that specific accent, you do not want anyone at your reading struggling with words they do not understand or mispronouncing things or even your audience not being able to understand your reader.
- Cast appropriately. If you miscast, it could lead you to believe there’s something majorly wrong with your script when there isn’t. The actors should match the roles as well as you can. It also helps you visualize an actual human being in that role and you can see whether or not you created that character wisely. If your script is a comedy, make sure your actors know comedy. Comedy is a different beast entirely, the pacing is different and if your readers don’t know that, your reading will not work.
- Give actors plenty of time to prepare. Don’t put it all together the night before. Try to book everyone a week in advance so they have time to read the script and do some preparatory work on their characters, otherwise you’ll run into actors who can’t read off the page and misinterpretations especially with subtext.
- Arrive before everyone else. Set everything up so you’re ready to go on time.
- Do not waste time. Do not have a break in between, read right through. Have a break after the script has been read, before feedback.
- Provide copies of the script and plenty of water. It’s good etiquette to provide a printed copy to save your actors the expense since they so generously donated their time. Your actors are talking for close to two hours, keep them hydrated.
- Ask your readers and audience for feedback. Your readers read and studied the script more-so than the audience, encourage them to give you their honest opinion.
- Be grateful for and encourage honest feedback. Appreciate all the feedback you receive, good and bad and be professional about it. Do not argue or get defensive, try to see their point of view first then, if necessary, explain why you wrote it the way you did to see if it makes sense to them. You’re not holding a reading to show to everyone that your script is perfect, it’s for you to get ideas from a fresh perspective to make it better. People are shy at first about saying anything especially if it’s negative, but welcome it and appreciate it and they’ll quickly open up.
- Thank them for taking part. Make sure they know you genuinely appreciate their contribution.
Attend your reading with an open mind. Think of this as a great opportunity to hear your script live and explore new ideas to make it the greatest script possible. It can be nerve-wracking to get feedback especially when you’re not used to it, but everyone is there to help you, not tear you to shreds. Also, appreciate this moment and your achievement. Life is pretty darn cool if you get to go to a reading and the screenplay is yours!