A screenwriter from Shooting people asked recently if anyone knew any script readers to help her develop her script and get feedback. There's a misconception about script readers that I have to let you know, having been a professional script reader for several film, TV and theatre companies over several years. When a script reader reads a script for a company, we are reading to a specific brief. Asking a script reader to read your script and tell you whether it is 'good' or 'bad' is a waste of your time and money.

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There is no such thing as a 'GOOD' script! A script doesn't exist in a vacuum, it is only good if the script is what a production company or funding body is looking for. For example if the company I am reading for, is looking for comedies, and your script isn't a comedy, even if it your script was well constructed and ‘good’, your script would be rejected and you as a writer, would get a rejection letter saying send us your next script. Sometimes in theatres, we would suggest the writer send their script to a theatre, we knew was looking for that kind of script. The most helpful thing you can do for your script, especially an early draft, is to have a LISTENING.

A listening is when a writer has a group of actors to read their script out loud so that the writer can hear the script and get feedback from the actors and invited audience. A listening is not a chance for you to get a pat on the back or for people to tell you how great you are, it is for you to test your material, to see and hear whether what you had in your head, has translated onto the page or not.


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Spend the money you would spend on a reader's fee, paying the travel of some actors or provide snacks and get a group of actors to read the script out loud for you. Have a couple of other people you trust, to attend as listeners. Either take notes or use a camera to record the discussion after your listening.


Do not invite unfocussed or unwelcome comments, if you want opinions about anything, be specific and let your actors ask questions which you can answer in the next draft. A listening is NOT a free for all! Lay down the ground rules before the start, so that everyone understands why they are there and what they are doing it for.

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You will be able to tell immediately if the script is working or not. If your script is a comedy for example, and no one is laughing, then the script isn't working. Ask your listeners to tell you the story separately, if they tell you the same story, then your story is clear. If they tell you wildly different versions of your story after listening to the same script, then your story is not clear.

If the actors are tripping over the dialogue, for example, then your dialogue isn't working. Say your script is 2 hours long, make the listening 4 hours, so that you have plenty of time to discuss, what worked or didn't work. This is the best way for writers to get useful and practical feedback, from more than one person in a single session and to test the script on its first audience. Also with actors, you can ask them to improvise around any areas of the script you are not sure of. A script reader can't do that for you.

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Here are some questions a writer can answer after a listening:

CHARACTERS

1. Do your actors like the characters? (Are they talking excitedly about or discussing any of the characters during a break?)

2. Do the characters feel and sound like recognisable people?

3. Do we learn things about your characters that we didn't know at the start of the script?

NARRATIVE/STORY/ PLOT

1. Is this the story you were trying to tell?

2. Which parts of your script is everyone paying attention to? Which parts make your actors/listeners restless, glazed over and bored?

3. Ask two or three people who were at the listening or have read your script, to tell you the story of the script on their own. Are they all telling approximately the same story or do they have wildly different narratives?


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DIALOGUE

1. Does the dialogue sound, like how you heard it in your head?

2. Is the dialogue speakable or are your actors tripping over their words?

3. Can you or any of the people listening, differentiate between the characters or are there several mix-ups with who is reading what? (This isn't because you've got bad actors or “they are reading it wrong”, these are strong signs that you need to rewrite your dialogue!).

INFORMATION FLOW

1. Do your characters repeatedly talk about something the audience already knows?

2. Are there any other repetitive information in your script?

3. An audience will commit more to your story if they have something to work for or pay attention to, especially at the beginning of the script. Spoon-feeding an audience with unnecessary information is one way of losing their interest. This reminds me of the opening sequence of Spike Lee's movie "Inside Man" The lead character played by actor Clive Owen, says "listen carefully I only say things once", immediately as a viewer, you feel that you need to keep on your toes in case you miss something.


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After this you will be ready for your next draft with a clear direction of what needs to be developed further. You can repeat the process with subsequent drafts until you feel your script is ready. When your script is as ready as it can be, you need to research production companies and their slate, to find the best home for your script. Alternatively you can ask an emerging director such as myself or a producer to read your script with a view to getting it made. A script is as good as the home it finds to get it into production and made. The best script readers are filmmakers, who read on the side, but spend most of our professional lives turning scripts into Film and TV drama. So if you want to hire a script reader, ask them what films they have made and ask to see them, before you part with your hard earned cash.

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