As screenwriters we spend a lot of time alone with our work. But sometimes you need the kind of concrete feedback that only comes from other people experiencing your story, to re-energize you and prepare you for that next rewrite. And that’s just what a good table read can offer.
Whether you’re reading a first draft in your kitchen with friends or the shooting script with a full cast before filming begins, nothing beats hearing a script out loud with live actors. A table read can show you if any dialog falls flat, which jokes don’t land, or when plot holes appear – and this information is often crucial to a successful rewrite process.
Make your next table read as useful (and as fun!) as possible with these ten easy tips, compiled over the last few years of our own successful read-through events:
1. Set A Date and Choose a Private, Quiet Space
Come up with two or three possible dates and times for your table read, and use a service like Doodle to find the one that the most people can attend. Choose a space that is free of disturbances and has plenty of room for all your guests.
2. Start and End On Time
You’ll get much better feedback if you respect everyone’s time and commitment to your project. Leave a window of time at the beginning of your table read for guests to arrive, and be sure to leave time at the end for a discussion! If your table read starts at 2pm, for example, you may want to plan to start the actual reading at 2:30pm to give your guests time to arrive, chat, and find their seats.
3. Invite Experienced Local Actors
Whenever possible, invite experienced actors to read the parts at your table read. Screenplays aren’t in a common reading format, and the table read will go smoother if your readers are familiar with screenplay format and direction. The surest way to kill the momentum in an action-packed table read is to trip up friends or readers with unfamiliar screenplay formatting. Use experienced actors, and provide the script in advance if possible. And pick an excellent reader as the Narrator – he or she has the most lines in the whole script!
PS – Worried about finding local actors to invite? Websites like Stage32 are a good place to start. Start cultivating relationships with local actors and fellow screenwriters NOW so that when you’re ready to host your next table read they’re just a phone call or email away.
4. Don’t read your own screenplay
As the screenwriter, it’s your job to observe, listen, and take notes during the table read. Don’t stretch yourself too thin by trying to manage the table read and read lines or stage directions – just focus on taking as many notes and gathering as much feedback as possible!
5. Keep Your Actors Together
Have the actors sit close together and face each other – a circular or U-shape arrangement is preferable to one long continuous table. This makes it easier for actors speak quietly or with great emotion and still be heard by everyone in the room.
6. Make it a Show!
Decorate the room with a few images – either printed and hung or collected in a computer slideshow – that relate to your story. Place printed name cards in front of the actors playing major parts to help both actors and spectators get the names straight early on. You may also want to play some background music as people start arriving to help set the mood for the reading. Remember, you’re reading a movie script!
7. Have Great Food
A table read is about more than just screenplay feedback – it should also be a fun, festive event! Have a variety of appetizers on hand for your actors and guests, and be sure to provide plenty of water (or ask guests to bring their own water bottles) so that your actors can stay hydrated throughout the reading.
8. Give an Introduction
Give your guests and actors a short introduction to the story – and to the table read process in general, if you have any guests who aren’t familiar with it – before you begin, and encourage them to make notes as they go along. Don’t forget to thank them for coming, and let them know that they should stick around after the reading is done for a Q&A with the screenwriter (that’s you!)
9. Take a break!
An intermission can be useful, especially if your screenplay is on the longer side. Take 5-7 minutes at some appropriate point for people to use the bathroom or get something to eat. Be sure to start back up on time – it helps keep everyone’s attention and energy up!
10. Let ScriptLadder simplify the planning so you can focus on the feedback
It can be time-consuming to manually print scripts, highlight parts, and organize your actors before a table read. Fortunately, ScriptLadder offers a number of unique features that make it easier than ever to host a table read:
- Actors read the script on their laptop or tablet – no need for printed copies!
- Cast all your parts in seconds, automatically highlighting each actor’s parts
- Share the script online with your actors ahead of time
- Actors and even spectators can leave valuable feedback notes right in the script, which are immediately emailed to the screenwriter when the table read ends.
- For a full tutorial on using ScriptLadder for your next table read, check out our quick video tutorial!
Ready to get started? Click here to join ScriptLadder and start organizing your table read today! And don’t forget to click here for your free Table Read Cheatsheet!