The Table Read

Many in development neglect the opportunity for a table read of their script. It is a simple step that can feed animatics, if recorded, or just give a reality check to the writer. While the dialog might not be interpreted the way a director would drive the story, it is still of value in understanding what story elements are clear and what dialog doesn’t work.

The writer, director or producer might call for the table read and contact SAG actors to fill the roles. Sitting everyone in a circle helps each voice to easily be heard. If microphones are being used for recording purposes, it’s helpful to give everyone headphones. The use of microphones and headphones helps the actors speak in a more film like manner and still be heard regardless of the extreme shout or whisper.

I’ve found that most actors will do a reading for free if they legitimately have a shot at the role or it gives them an opportunity to work with a director they hope to work with in the future — Relationship building does make for future opportunities. If the person putting the table read together doesn’t have the ability to offer the role, then a small stipend is beneficial for an excellent performance. If the session is recorded for animatics, it should be treated as a performance with proper pay.

There are two types of table reads. The most common is the straight read-through from top to the bottom of the script. A narrator reads all the actions and headers, and the actors read their roles as it plays out in a linear fashion. This gives everyone a solid understanding of the story, its flow, and many times its pacing.

The second type of read is conducted on a sequence or scene basis. It’s typically done so immediate fixes can be worked and tested with the actors. During this type of read, actors are asked their opinions for word choice, dialog flow, and any other input to improve the development of the character.

There is a slight drawback in doing a table read, which correlates to the directors vision, or his unknown vision at the time. It’s common to have something feel flat in a read through that sparkles once put to the right action, camera angle and music. The conservative would therefore only use the table read to find script issues and not assume the read is explicit in how the film will play out.

The tool is not designed to move toward perfection, but rather catch the unseen mess waiting to happen. It’s far cheaper to correct a problem in development than during production when every hour costs thousands of dollars. With that perspective in mind, a table read is an excellent tool that would be prudently added to any writer, director or producer’s tool belt.

Have you ever done a table read? If so, what kind of experience did you have?

Copyright 2012 By CJ Powers