You have nurtured your script lovingly. You have learned to not protect your characters. You have built arcs, engineered jaw-dropping twists. You have written and rewritten. Your feedback is incorporated. You have typed FADE TO BLACK for the very last time…
Or so you think.
Before you hit Send, please consider this:
It’s not a script. Not yet.
“Holy crap, Princess. Really? Are you going there again?”
Not to be confused with a read for financing or production, the table read is another tool in the working writers arsenal. It permits the writer to hear his/her entire script read in a sitting – out loud, by actors.
“So, what’s the value in that? I can read it out loud myself. My mom will help.”
The value, gentle lords and ladies of the court, can be found in one word – dialogue.
You can have the most perfectly structured story ever written. You can create complex, interesting characters loaded with conflict. You can have great pace, tons of white space and impeccable timing… but if your dialogue does not sizzle and pop, if it is too on-the-nose, then, my dearest, you don’t have a script. Not yet.
And so, there it is. The opportunity to listen to your words, and reflect. The table read.
A few tips on how to run a great read:
- Use actors. Actors are storytellers themselves, and are trained to break characters down, to establish relationships, and to understand the machinations of scenes. Trust me on this. They are your greatest ally. If you do not live in a primary entertainment market, never fear. Go to your local theatre groups, put out a notice through your film commission. Contact colleges in your area, and get the word out to their theatre departments. Actors are similar to athletes – they need to work their acting muscles out. A table read is a terrific opportunity for them to do precisely that.
- Get a space. See if you can use a theatre, a rehearsal space, or a green room. If not, find a classroom or a conference room. While it’s cozy and inviting to have it in your home, you may find yourself distracted by food, beverages, housework and all that goes into home-based entertaining. Make it easy on yourself, and outspace your event. Your mind will thank you.
- No advance readings. This is one that I cannot emphasize enough. Please do not provide your actors with advance copies of the script. Why? They have work ethic. They are going to read it, and they are going to want it to sound good. Their job is to take words and make them audibly sing. If there is bad dialogue, they will work their magic to make it sound better. At this point, you need to know where all of the warts are hiding. A cold read is a great challenge for an actor – many pay for the opportunity to do just that.
- You are not an actor. Even if you are, in this instance you are not. You are the writer. Your job is to listen to the actors read. Sit back, listen, and take notes.
- Invite others. Do you know anyone on the other side of the business? Other writers? Producers? Directors? Development people, indie filmmakers? Hand pick a few and bring them in to listen.
- Feed the group. You don’t have to pay for a read, but it is nice to offer food. Spend a little extra if you can and order out. Again, go easy on yourself. You deserve it.
- Record the session. I have a nifty little digital recorder that I use just for this; or use a nifty App. Once you have concluded the read, sit on your thoughts for a day, then listen to the session again. Food for thought.
- Listen to feedback. Respect your actors. Listen to what they have to say about their characters – misaligned arcs, missing arcs, plot holes… they will point them out, if you permit them to. Listen to their thoughts, and their ideas. Don’t brush them off. Do say “Thank you” – and mean it.
- Relax. Your baby is being handled for the first time, and you, like all script-parents, are a trifle nervous. Relax. You have placed your work in good hands. Enjoy the experience. When the table begins to laugh – or cry – the feeling is stupendous. Give yourself a pat on the back.
Then, go home. Absorb the feedback. Read through your notes. Hit the power button and begin (once again) with FADE IN.
Now, go write.
HRH, Princess Scribe
What I’m reading: Two of my own scripts, actually. One with my writing partner, the other prepping for a rewrite. Huzzah.
What I’m watching: Fincher’s nomination had me jonesing for THE GAME. A mother of a mind-bender.
A Royal Shout Out: Two, actually. First to fellow Cat! Romany Malco. Romany’s got a nice deal going on at Funny or Die, as convict-turned-life-coach Tijuana Jackson. Mr. T.J. made his debut on HBO last Friday night, and delivered full-out in your face comedy. It’s edgy; Romany pulls no punches with it. He goes there with it, and the result is magic. Check out the promo on Funny or Die, and hopefully you, too, will give Romany the Funny props he deserves.
Second shout out is to William Akers fils. Son of one of my all-time favorites, screenwriter, teacher and author Will Akers (Your Screenplay Sucks). Young Mr. Akers makes his scribal debut in New York next month, when his play, Cary’s Chain Store Massacre, will open at Stage Left Studios, February 17 – 20. All hail to the Wills. Something tells me this Akern’s not fallen too far from the tree…
You are permitted to groan.