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3 Bad Excuses Writers Give for Not Organizing a Screenplay Table Read

And Why You Should Ignore Them and Do It Anyway

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July 17, 2015 2 comments
how to write for tv

3 Bad Excuses Writers Give for Not Organizing a Screenplay Table Read (And Why You Should Ignore Them)

You may have heard that it’s a good idea to read your screenplay aloud with a group of your peers in order to hear what it sounds like in a live setting. But have you actually attended a table read of your script, or organized one yourself?

It’s one of those things most aspiring screenwriters know would be beneficial to their writing (like reading screenplays) but never seem to get around to actually doing.

In professional circles, the “read-through” or table read” is the stage when all the actors sit down for an organized reading of the script towards the end of pre-production.

Screenwriter William Goldman calls the screenplay table read the most important part of the process in film production. But it can also be an extremely powerful tool for writers in the process of writing a spec script.

First, What’s So Great About Having a Screenplay Table Read? 

The obvious advantage to having other people read your script aloud is that it highlights the strengths and weaknesses of your script’s dialogue. Any unnatural, wooden, on-the-nose dialogue will have no place to hide during a screenplay table read. 

Phrases that you’ve read a hundred times in your head and sound wonderful, can suddenly feel painfully awkward when read aloud by someone else.

But that’s not all. Nothing can beat a script table read to flag up any unnatural situations, unnecessary scenes, boring sequences and plot holes.

This will be the first time the script moves from out of your head into the real world, and the insights, observations and tips gained from a screenplay table read can be an invaluable exercise in discovering just how good (or bad) your script really is.

You’ll be able to see real-time reactions to your written words on the page. If it’s a comedy, are people are laughing? If it’s an action/adventure are people excited? Get the reactions you want during a table read and you’re well on your way to crafting an exceptional screenplay.

Now let’s take a look at some of the more popular excuses screenwriters give for not having their script read aloud and how you can avoid being one of them.

1. “I Wouldn’t Even Know Where to Start If I Wanted My Script Read Aloud”

“Are there places I can go to get a screenplay table read? Or am I supposed to organize one myself? I just don’t know where to start and that’s probably why I haven’t done anything about it.”

There are a number of steps you should take in order to get your script read aloud:

♦  Get together some actors. Start with any actor friends you already know and ask if they’d be willing to spend a few hours on a read-through of your script. If you don’t know any, you can befriend them any number of ways: ask everyone you know if they know any actors. Hang out at your local theater. Check out Stage32, MeetUp.com, Craigslist, Facebook, etc.

Don’t worry about casting the exact “types” as written in your script too much. Just be straight with them with what you’re looking for and offer free food and drinks.

Most will happily get involved for the chance to spend a fun afternoon flexing their acting chops, but we highly recommend offering to help them as much as you can. In other words, offer to spread the word about their one-man play, like their social media pages, sign up to their email lists, etc.

Everyone in this business knows that what goes around comes around. If you offer to help someone else, they’ll likely think of you in the future and return the favor.

♦  Fix a location. If your home’s big enough this is probably the easiest place to hold the screenplay table read. If not, or you just don’t fancy having a bunch of strangers in your apartment, hiring a theater space is pretty cheap.

Just make sure it’s somewhere accessible in a nice part of town and always respect the actors’ time in getting there and for the table read itself. No one likes being told something’s going to take three hours only for it to drag on for six.

♦  Prep everything. You’ll definitely want to take notes during your script’s table read, but do you want to video record it? Do you have any specific questions you want to ask the actors? Are there enough copies of the screenplay to go around? Do you have enough food and drink available?

♦  Enter screenwriting contests. Some of the best screenwriting contests hold script table reads as prizes. There’s also one dedicated to it called Table Read My Screenplay in which the winner gets a live table read of their script and exposure to industry pros.

♦  Join ScriptLadder. Tim Johnson’s company, ScriptLadder, can actually help organize a screenplay table read for you, by getting actors together and hosting the read online.

♦  Download this app. There’s also an app (currently Mac only) called tablereadpro that enables you to assign unique voices to each character in your script. It’s free for the first seven days, then $2.99 per month.

2. “I Don’t Know Any Actors Who Could Do a Screenplay Table Read”

“I live in Maine not Hollywood. How many actors do you think live around here? Not many. And if they do, I don’t know any. What am I supposed to do?”

It’s true, not everyone lives in LA with easy access to a bunch of actor friends willing to get together for three hours to perform a screenplay table read.

But most people have friends or family members who they could get together to perform a table read of your screenplay instead. The important thing is not that you have actors read your script aloud, but that you have real people read your script aloud.

In our post 48 Ways to Become the Most Productive Screenwriter You Know, you’ll find lots of great ideas on how to meet fellow writers.

The fact they’re not actors will not stop you (or them) from knowing what’s working and what’s not when the script’s read aloud. So, lay on some pizza and beers and make it happen.

3. “I Don’t Have the Time for Breakfast Let Alone a Script Table Read”

“Here’s my typical day: I get up, get the kids to school, go to work, come home, have dinner with my family, watch TV and go to bed. Repeat. And on weekends I don’t have time either what with baseball games, sleepovers, school plays and attempting to relax.”

This is a very common complaint made not just by aspiring screenwriters who would like to organize a screenplay table read, but by those who would generally like to write more.

Here’s the thing: the only reason you’re not writing as much as you’d like, or organizing a table read of your script, or going jogging every day or whatever it is, is because you don’t want it enough. Yet.

If you really want a screenwriting career then you’ll do everything within your power to achieve it. If you’d like a screenwriting career, but you also feel like it’s a lot of pain and effort that you’re not necessarily willing to spend, then it probably won’t happen.

But once you make the decision that this is what you really want out of life, you’ll find the time. No matter what.

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Organizing a screenplay table read really is an invaluable exercise that we can’t recommend highly enough. What has performing a table read of your script done for your screenwriting? How did you go about it? Let us know in the comments section below.

2 Comments
  1. Mack Lewis says:

    during my first table read, there was a moment when the mood of the room changed and got super tense when the script reached THAT point. it was so exciting to see and feel it work like that. the tension was real, tangible and proved that the writing worked. it was probably the best moment in my writing life so far.

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      That’s great, Mack – good luck with the script!

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