If you’ve poured your heart and soul into a script for film, television, or theatre it is important to arrange a read-through before releasing it to the demanding process of getting it filmed or staged.
A table read (also known as a read-through) is an organized reading of a script in which the speaking parts, stage directions, and scene headings are read out loud. Gathering the cast, writer(s), and director together offers the opportunity for everyone to hear the story out loud, take notes, and come together afterwards to make revisions.
Table reads are an essential part of the script development and writing process. They’re an invaluable tool that allows writers to fine-tune their stories, sharpen their dialogue, and make other necessary adjustments.
But before you unleash your carefully crafted words, have you ever heard them spoken aloud?
A table read puts your script at a huge advantage and can be crucial to its success. It can even be considered one of the most important parts of your scriptwriting and selling process.
Whether you’re a first-time writer or a film industry veteran, table reads can give you invaluable insight into your script.
Some writers suggest that you don’t even need actors to conduct a table read. That any old friend, family member, or pet will do. Okay, maybe not anyone who is too introverted, as a poor reader makes even the best writer sound dull.
NOTE: The latest Microsoft WORD does include a ‘Read’ function, which allows you to have a voice read your manuscript from start to finish. It’s handy if you’re proofreading a document you’ve been working on for ages. When you hear the words out loud, you’re able to catch errors more easily. It’s also really helpful if you’re trying to achieve a specific tone of voice. Listening to your document allows you to decide if it’s too formal or sufficiently conversational for your audience.
Table Reads Identify Problem Areas in A Script
Hearing your script aloud read by humans inhabiting the characters you concocted and interacting with the words you wrote is where you really start to see what works and what doesn’t. Even great scripts can have issues, and sometimes it’s hard to pinpoint a script’s problems until you hear the whole thing come to life.
- Listen to your dialogue. Is it repetitive, clunky, too contrived, or just stuck? How does it flow?
- Concentrate on the action lines. How do they interact? These words are not an afterthought, they mean an awful lot to the pacing of the finished film or TV episode.
- Keep an eye on your readers for emotional responses. Find what’s honest, and what’s artificial. Not only will you learn a lot about their performances, but about your script too.
Generally, table reads can help identify script weaknesses such as:
- Plot holes
- Stiff dialogue
- Confusing storylines
- Out-of-character behaviour
- Boring scenes
A read-through will illuminate your content, catch any glaring weaknesses, and offer a chance to rewrite.
Take Notes During a Table Read
To make most of a table read you should take notes. You will be able to use these to work with during your rewrites.
So note where the dialogue flows naturally and where people stumble over words.
If you get laughs during certain scenes, make sure you mark down where jokes worked and where they didn’t.
Highlight places in your script where you have questions for the director, the dramaturge, the dialect coach, or the music director.
Gain Feedback During a Table Read
A table read, unlike sending your script out only to hear back a month later, is an instant type of interaction.
Not only can you get feedback from the actors as they are speaking your words. But serving as the first occasion in which the cast and production team are gathered under one roof, a table read also gives everyone a chance to discuss the script.
So be sure to address the team at the beginning that you will have a Q&A-type discussion after the full read.
Oftentimes, the people involved in the table readings won’t be used to giving feedback on a script. As you’ll be busy taking notes, maybe get a moderator to help keep the feedback running smoothly.
As a screenwriter, it is best for you to receive the feedback (whilst taking notes) and wait until everyone has given their opinions to ask any questions. If you repeatedly ask questions and interrupt the feedback, you won’t be able to listen.
Avoid defending your script or interrupting the reading. Don’t try and justify your writing. LISTEN. You need to hear the true and valid assessments of your script. So, take it in. And if you aren’t clear on a comment, ask a question for clarification.
Questions to ask your readers:
Were your character’s motivations clear?
Is your character arc clearly defined?
Were you able to follow the plot?
Are the protagonist and antagonist clearly defined?
Record / Video the feedback session as well as the reading. Use the scripts you handed out to get extra notes that the actors might have jotted down.
Use Notes from the Table Read for Rewrites
The feedback and notes gathered from a table read are only truly useful if you incorporate them into your rewrite, making a real difference to the overall quality of your screenplay.
Navigating through all the notes, some conflicting will be difficult. You will have to choose what to take on board and what to ignore. But as a general rule, if multiple people give you the same note, you might want to pay close attention.
So give yourself a few days to reflect on your notes and what you learned. Then get to work on your script.
Use the feedback to focus your editing: for example, if your audience had questions about your characters, take some time to hone their wants and needs.
Be ruthless, and remember you’re not tackling a complete rewrite; you’re just fixing specific spots that don’t quite work. Endlessly rewriting will kill your story and slow down the production process.
So use the notes primarily to polish up your script.
A Table Read Can Confirm Casting Decisions
A read-through is not only beneficial for the writer to hear their script aloud for the first time but it is also a great way to confirm casting decisions.
On top of creating a buzz during production, the recordings from your table read are useful for all the extra materials you will need for marketing and distribution.
You can also create a Facebook page, as well as a website that links to all social media platforms.
In other cases, a recording of a table read can preserve the magic of a cast and/or team.
A Table Read is not only vital for you as a writer but for everyone involved in a production
It’s a relatively simple yet highly effective method of finalising a screenplay or even helping with the early stages of script development.
New ideas bounce around and the vision of the story comes one step closer to being realized. There are no apparent negatives that can come out of this simple process, so why overlook it?
Plus, if you’re working through a global pandemic, or you’ve got actors and department heads unavailable to physically participate, a table read can also take place remotely.
Remember, make the most of it, stay open and aware, and adjust what needs to be adjusted.
If you need assistance with your Table Read, send us an email