The ultimate test of your scriptwriting: The table read
No matter how many scriptwriting books you read and edits you make to your screenplay, it isn’t ready for pitching until it’s gone through the ultimate test, the table read.
You’ve poured your heart and soul into your screenplay, you’ve collected feedback and you’re ready to send it out into the world, whether that be to agents, or film fests or even just contacts you have about town. Before you unleash your carefully crafted words, have you ever heard them spoken aloud?
The table read is vital. It can even be considered the most important part of your scriptwriting and selling process. A table read puts your screenplay at a huge advantage. Here’s why this step is crucial to your film’s success, even if most writers never do it.
So what is a table read?
A table read is when you assemble a group of actors together to read through your script. In film production, this is part of the process, occurring 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.
What makes the table read so important?
Do you remember when you were toiling over your script? You labored over every single word: writing, editing, rewriting and obsessing over how each syllable sounded in your head. You might have even spoken them out loud, but there is a massive difference between talking to yourself and hearing real humans performing as your characters and using the words you wrote.
Wooden dialogue? Contrived sentences? Nonsensical without your internal context? All of these factors come up in a table read. A read-through from actors who are practiced at reading scripts will illuminate all sorts of issues with your content. Table reads also help identify script weaknesses such as:
- plot holes
- confusing storylines
- 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.
A table read does sound necessary, but how do I make it happen?
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. Before you excitedly gather your friends, we should share that we strongly disagree with.
A poor reader can make even great scriptwriting sound dull. Emphasis can be off, the table read can easily go off the rails, and friends may dilute their feedback to protect your feelings. The last thing you want to do is give up ambitions for your script because your cousin Joe mumbled and mispronounced your western.
Thankfully, Coverfly offers monthly table reads free for Coverfly members. Using professional actors who take the time to prepare from your script, Coverfly’s table reads can easily provide the feedback you need to confidently tweak your script before it’s launched into the world.
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.
Taking the time for a table read allows you to be confident in the presentation of your script. As we all know, you only get one chance to make a first impression!