I've tried table reads before and am often left a little disappointed. I'm about to try it again and wondering what suggestions you have concerning what to listen for.
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It is funny that you mention that. After spending over a year writing and re-writing my script "Hope Saves Manhattan" I am going to attempt my first table read. I feel it is necessary to finally here my story and my dialogue that I labored over be spoken out loud. The only expectations I have are modest. If it does not ring true I can make adjustments before I go to the major expense of directing and shooting. I am actually very much looking forward to it. I have the leads cast and most of the supporting and character actors as well. If you are curious about it. The US copy righted script is posted on my profile page along with my other copy righted short script: Moses, Columbus, The Moon, and Mars.
I've always found table reads disappointing but I think it was a personal reaction. I've been at table reads with to actors like Michael C Hall and have come away worried about the material while others with preceding doubts have been reassured in the same room. So my advice is used it as a dialogue tool and a way to reassure others
I just finished a table read of my new screenplay and it was a great success. That said, it depends on what you are expecting. I wasn't looking for a 'finished production.' I just wanted to hear the words read by actors. As a playwright and screenwriter I need to hear my work. Plays and films live off the page.
Robert- Hear!! Hear!!
My problem with table reads: I write silent films.
I have had table reads and I felt mostly frustrated because it was read by writers not actors so they COMPLETELY stuffed up the dialogue by reading it in an awful monotonous way so it sounded awful. Then a few people in the writer's group were real amateurs so their advice was annoying as they were still sticklers for the rules in an aggressive way. You know what I mean. Like they read a book and they followed it religiously and all their advice came from that one book and they obsess about things like beats. Anyway, if you can get good actors to read then it's more worth while.
I’ve long been a firm believer in table reads but of late, I’ve become less enamored with them. Skilled actors are a significant benefit to the writer but untrained/unskilled readers do more damage than good.
Doug- Thank you for that insight. As I approach my first Table Read for my screenplay "Hope Saves Manhattan" I will make sure everyone is SAG/AFTRA/EQUITY. I took me a year and a half to get to my final draft. Let's not blow it by using amateurs. Because after the table read comes the real work raising the money and getting this monster of a film shot, chopped, scored and distributed. Not to mention raising the $$ to do it. I can't think of a better way to celebrate my one year anniversary (April 13) this month as part of Stage 32 than to go to this next step. Thank you Doug and every "Happy Writer" who as looked, read and gave me the feedback and courage I needed to get HSM to this point. And a special shout our to the talented men and women of Metro NYC who are members of Stage 32. There will be a summer Stage 32 meet up in Central Park stay tuned: Karen, Jorge and the rest of you wonderful souls in NYC
AGREED Doug Nelson.
Steven- having just going through a table read of my screenplay in Manhattan, if you need any help with organization I would be glad to be of assistance to you.
Robert- I could use the help why don't you private message me for that.
I posted this a little too last minute, so I couldn't put some of the good advice to use. Thanks! As we learn from our failures, my table read this week was a great learning experience! I did have acting buddies do the reading but I miscast some of them (being able to replace only 1 of 3 who couldn't make it last minute, didn't help). Tim Johnson, next time, I will definitely give the actors the script beforehand, just one of your great pointers. One thing that I learned is that I may have held the table read with too early a draft as a major piece of feedback was that it was confusing and that was not something that I was expecting. Although this may in part be due to having to have people cover so many extra roles, I'm going to wait to see what the people who are just reading it have to say. Thanks again to everyone!
James- I think you need to make the distinction between reading during the writing process and reading as a path to production. There are writing groups that will read pages during meetings and that can be helpful to the writing process even if read by non-actors. I have written a blog for Stage 32 about the experience I had with my table read (I'm not sure when it will be posted) and I agree with most of the points made by Tim Johnson, but I do think for a table read your screenplay should be near to a final stage where you are ready to put it out to the world. As for William Martell's problem... try a table read totally done in mime! LOL
A table read in my experience is more ceremonial than useful... and it happens as the film is cast and going into production, with the lead and supporting talent voicing their lines and the AD calling the screen direction. It's a get acquanted social event more than anything. The director may take notes, but he cannot rehearse the cast on the day at all per SAG. I have heard of people doing a table read with no budget in place, but as with pitch trailers, I don't comprehend why its a good idea.
Royce - a table read at the beginning of production is more than ceremonial, but you're right, that is the first time the cast and director get together to read the script and get acquainted. Scripts are also often read at "backers' auditions" for the purpose of attracting investors. We here are referring to a process for the writer to hear their own script being read by actors, which is a different experience from reading it to yourself. Plays and screenplays are meant to be performed. As a writer, it is very helpful to hear a script in order to put on the final polish or decide how much further you want to take it.
The Black List Table Reads do not use cast, leads, and always are without production in place. Most of the reads I've attended in LA, New York, and elsewhere have been this format. What you describe I'd call a production table read.
Robert- That is a great idea invite investors to the table read we camn't make it without the $$.
If the goal of the table read is gathering feedback for the next rewrite, guiding the feedback is a good idea. One simple format -- "pops/drops." have a moderator ask 3 simple questions: what popped? (always nice to start the discussion on a positive note) what confused you? where'd you drop out of the story or find your mind wandering?
Mark – that’s similar to what I now do with most of the parts read by actors that I’ve already auditioned for those parts with a few place-holders thrown in. I deal with it as a table read, an audition call-back/audition and rehearsal all rolled into one. And yes I do find actor feedback very valuable as I rewrite and tweak the script.
I just had a blog posted here about my table read. https://www.stage32.com/blog/OFF-THE-PAGE-The-Anatomy-of-a-Table-Read