Table reads is a term that’s been going around Hollywood more and more in the past few years. Everyone seems to be hosting one and videos of famous table reads can be found all over the internet.
There are now even some contests that offer table reads with known actors as a winning prize and you can find table reads events to attend online. They team up with Festivals and if you win, you get a table read of your script at a well-known festival like Sundance, which can be absolutely amazing to launch a writer’s career.
But you might ask yourself what a table read is and what the purpose of it could be. Is it really that necessary and should you consider hosting one?
A table read a gathering generally around one big table with printed copies of the screenplay where actors, writers, and directors read the script together. It’s a great way to test jokes in a script and see how the different storylines play out.
In TV, the table read happens before shooting the episode. While it’s common to host a table read in television and film, it is much less common in short films although we have seen it happen before and still advise it to anyone who is shooting a short film.
During the table read, everyone hears the story aloud, the dialogues are read, feedback is given, notes are taken, and revisions can be made before the production starts.
But what does a table read look like?
Usually, the setup is made of a table, seats, and printed copies of the latest draft of the screenplay.
The actors play characters in your script, directed by someone who reads the action lines.
The actors don’t play your script out physically, but they give your lines emotion and life (pace, voice, tone). Sounds weird? You’d be surprised at how much a good actor can bring to your dialogue lines without physically doing the action that goes with it.
You often discover things you didn’t even realize when writing those exact lines. It is a very magical experience.
Most of the time, the event will start with every actor introducing themselves and naming the character they will play today. Since table reads can be nerve-wracking, this is a great moment to get your actors to feel more comfortable.
Then, the director takes a moment to tell the table about their vision for this movie or show. The director also tells the table what they are looking for in terms of notes and they will then drive the read-through.
If you go to the Nicholl Fellowships Table Read, the performances are mind-blowing. You can see an example of a screenplay table read of 2019 here.
How to prepare for your table read?
To have a successful table read, you want to make sure that you:
Book a room for the participants
Book a room for the table read and allow 2 to 3 hours for the event.
You can book a room on PeerSpace or SetScouter.
Print your script with extra copies for everyone participating
Always make sure you keep extra copies of the script with you. Let the actors make notes if they wish and give you the script back at the end.
Cast your actors
Usually, the actors that do the table read are the ones that will be in the movie. However, sometimes writers want to test their script with a table read before they even enter pre-production.
There are several places where you can hire actors: Backstage, Casting Frontier and Actor Access are all good options.
Let people know how long the reading will take – and stay on top of the timing
When you host a table read you want to make sure you communicate to people how long the reading will take, how many breaks are planned and how much time will be left at the end for notes. Stay on top of your timing.
Have snacks ready
Have snacks and plenty of water ready since table reads can take some time. You want people to be comfortable, focused, and present in the moment.
Record the read
It’s always a good idea to record the table read. A simple phone or a basic camera will do the trick. You might want to go back to the recording later to focus on certain parts of the script, actors, or reactions in the room.
Sit back and take notes
As the writer, you don’t want to take any role in the reading of the script. This isn’t the time for you to be a character or read action lines. This is the time for you to simply listen and see the audience’s reaction.
Ask the table for feedback
Always have some time at the end of the read to get feedback, it’s a crucial part of the event and you want to welcome everyone’s feedback.
Make sure you focus on listening versus talking
When it is time for the notes, you want to make sure that you listen versus explain or talk. This is your time to receive important notes from the actors and the audience. You want to make sure that you listen carefully and take notes.
After your table read, it’s a perfect opportunity to rewrite your script and host a new table read with the updated screenplay.
While it’s not necessary to have an additional audience, it’s always a great asset to extend your invitation to audience members who just like you will focus on listening. Their notes will help you get a deeper understanding of how audiences will react to your movie.
After the table read, you will be more prepared than ever and it will help you make sure you’re avoiding any problems that might happen later.
Who is essential at a table read?
The director, the writer, and the cast are essential to a table read.
Additionally, it’s common to have producers attend the table read since they have to deal with any direct issues with the script and need to stay on top of the overall production.
The heads of departments are also often participating.
Depending on the size of your production, the studio executives will also be participating.
And lastly, the financiers are also most of the time attending the read to be aware of where their money is going.
You can also invite the director of photography, set designer, wardrobe, music director, and anyone else that is part of your production.
An audience is great to have other people who just like you will focus on enjoying the moment, script, story and give you their notes as audience members.
When is a good time to host a table read?
The best time to host a table read is during pre-production right before principal photography starts. It leaves enough room for changes but the shoot is also soon enough that actors are ready and available for the table read.
Are table reads common?
Yes, table reads are common in film and in television.
You can see two great examples of table reads here:
The high-budget table read of Beauty and The Beast.
The television series Breaking Bad.
So should you consider hosting a table read?
Our answer is yes if you can. Of course, you might not get access to the same kind of established talents if you host a table read yourself but it is an amazing way to test heavy dialogue scenes. Maybe something you could imagine doing with cast and crew before a final rewrite for example. If you’re writing a comedy, it’s an exciting and very honest way to test jokes too.
Additionally, table reads are a great way to confirm your casting. Do they truly work well together? Is this actor or that actress the right one to play that character? The table read is the first time you hear your entire script read by the entire cast. That’s when you can truly see if sparks happen in the room.
If there are any problematic areas in your script, the table read will make that very clear and give you an opportunity to make changes before you enter production, which will save you a lot of hassle and money, since once production starts it gets a lot more difficult to make script changes.
Table reads are an opportunity to get your entire cast together and get the creative juices flowing. It’s an intense event where people will throw many notes at you and you’ll get a lot of feedback. You want to be ready and take all of this in order to go back to your laptop and make impactful revisions to the script.
In sum, table reads are a reminder that a script is just the beginning of the magic of what making a movie is. The script is a huge piece, maybe the most important part of the process. Movies are the ultimate collaborative art and hearing your lines out loud shows that everyone can bring something more, something magical, to an already greatly written script.