Screenwriting : Table reads by James Murray

James Murray

Table reads

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.

Steven Harris Anzelowitz

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.

Mark Vincent Kelly

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

Robert Rosenbaum

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.

Steven Harris Anzelowitz

Robert- Hear!! Hear!!

Tim Johnson

James, I'm not sure what part disappointed you but I've hosted 4 table-reads in the last few years and highly recommend them. Writing is solitary work so after you write FADE OUT it's a great way to celebrate socially, and of course to see how it "plays" to real people. It's also an excellent motivator to actually finish your script - nothing like putting a date on the calendar and knowing 15 of your closest friends are coming a week from Saturday to read it! Here are a few tips from my personal experience: - Make it a party: offer appetizers and drinks, so if nothing else it's a great time with friends and oh yeah, we did your table read. That way even if the script is a clunker people leave feeling good. :) - Start and end on time, it's just a good way of showing respect for your attendees. - Remember these folks know it's a work in progress. If it's intro'd that way it takes a lot of the pressure off -- It's a party with a table read, vs. THE BIG MAJOR TABLE READ OF MY VERY IMPORTANT SCREENPLAY. - Use Real Actors: at least for the main parts. At my first table-read I only invited my non-actor but highly educated friends and I was shocked to learn how many would stumble on simple words or couldn't string two sentences together! It really ruins the momentum of the story. Same with picking a very-good-reader as the Narrator, as they've got the most lines! If you can get them copies of the script ahead of time, even better. And, the screenwriter should NOT be a reader. His job is to sit back and listen and take notes. - Have some photos or graphics on the wall or a computer slideshow playing, maybe some mood music too, whatever relates to your film and puts people in mind of what's coming. It's a movie, after all. Putting namecards in front of the main actors helps too. - Invite everyone to take notes and stick around for feedback (one of the main reasons for doing it in the first place) - It's ok to have an "intermission" at some key midpoint. It's tiring doing all that reading and people appreciate a food or bathroom break. Plus their energy and excitement is way up again for the big climax. I don't print paper copies anymore either, just do it all online for convenience since most people have access to a tablet or a laptop these days (phones are still pretty small for a prolonged reading). Good luck!

William Martell

My problem with table reads: I write silent films.

Cherie Grant

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.

Doug Nelson

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.

Steven Harris Anzelowitz

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

Cherie Grant

AGREED Doug Nelson.

Robert Rosenbaum

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.

Steven Harris Anzelowitz

Robert- I could use the help why don't you private message me for that.

James Murray

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!

Robert Rosenbaum

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

Royce Allen Dudley

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.

Robert Rosenbaum

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.

Mark Vincent Kelly

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.

Steven Harris Anzelowitz

Robert- That is a great idea invite investors to the table read we camn't make it without the $$.

Shari D. Frost

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?

Doug Nelson

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.

Robert Rosenbaum

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

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