So this Blog poast is all about the power of the read-through. Feel free to be super-excited about this.
Firstly, what do I constitute as a read-through? Well, it can be as big or as small as you can achieve, organize and need. I’ve neatly categorized these into 4 tasty little sections:
- You. Just you. In a room, reading out EVERYTHING – action lines, dialogue etc… like a right old nutter
- You and your partner / flatmate / mum / brother / neighbour – two of you, lines split between you, sharing the action-line workload (10 pages and swap, that kind of thing). This is what I do with my partner Jess on EVERY first draft I’ve ever written in the past 5 years. Poor lady.
- A group of friends who you trust and can actually do read-throughs (i.e. nobody who is massively shy, clams up when speaking publicly, hates you etc…)
- A group of actors (who could also be your friends, of course – I’m blessed with knowing a lot of actors, thankfully).
The larger the group the better, because of the post-read-through discussion (optional) and the more readers you have, the more you can step back and listen. My favourite read-throughs have been the ones where I don’t read at all – or take a few minor roles – so I can see how everyone else interprets my words. More on this shortly.
So what can you get out of a read-through?
The simple answer: A BOLLOCK LOAD OF THINGS
The more complicated answer: SEE BELOW
When you read your script (in your head), you might find yourself subconsciously skipping over paragraphs or scene descriptions or pieces of expositiony dialogue, but you won’t think much of it at the time – like skipping over words / paragraphs in a novel. It doesn’t spoil the read too much, right? You know what’s coming, so you’re excited to get past some of the setup scenes…
In a read-through you literally cannot hide from it. Every single line is read out loud and can only be read as quickly as you – or someone else – can read it. Unless you’re Alvin, Simon or Theodore, you’ll be reading at a quite ‘normal’ speed. So you can’t just skip over sections. You have to listen to it. ALL of it. Every single word you’ve written.
This should be a joy – this is WHY you’re writing it, right? To have someone perform it – but reading through every single scene and line and piece of dialogue ensures you witness the real pace of your script.
Notice I say “of your script” not the real pace “of the movie”. A read-through doesn’t reveal how the movie-of-your-script will be paced, because you might spend a full page describing a dystopian future full of underground city-scapes and the movie-version flies through it in seconds, making it fast, pacy and thrilling. Vice versa too – you might write “John buries his dog”, which reads swiftly on the page but might be painfully slow on screen.
HOWEVER, a read-through will reveal the pace of your script – how someone coming into it cold may experience it – and also firmly show you the pace of the dialogue scenes. These dialogue-lines will be close to the final movie version (if filmed word-for-word) and help show which scenes last waaaaaaaaaaay to long and which ones zip by. I’ve literally deleted an entire scene of expositiony dialogue based on a read-through and laced the information subtly throughout the rest of the script instead.
No one should ever be bored reading your script. It should be thrilling to read, even if it’s a tranquil period-piece. A read-through can really highlight the boring moments.
Related to pace (see above for glorious details), boredom can come through plotting, character, dialogue etc… and can be seen through either your own surprised boredom or the general lack of attention from the other readers.
If you find yourself wanting to skip ahead to the ‘better bit’ then it’s safe to say the bit you’re currently reading isn’t quite good enough.
This is where it’s beneficial having more readers and not participating in the reading yourself – you can ‘people watch’ but also ask the readers which parts sagged / bored afterwards. Always a fun discussion…
One test that works for me is the allocation of characters to actors (well, readers…). Often you will have less ‘actors’ than roles available – in my case it's just me and Jess! - so you have to cunningly divide the roles so they don't clash too much.
This is helpful in two ways -
WAY ONE - You can find out who your characters talk to the most, as you want to give readers characters who don’t talk to each other much (otherwise it could be really confusing, unless they’re super-good at accents…).
This can be especially revealing when you realise your antagonist doesn't speak to your protagonist or your love interest has had more interaction with her boss than her would-be lover.
There are nifty little devices on Final Draft that also show this (they do loads of stuff - you can even do a profanity count!) so it’s worth checking out that too.
WAY TWO - You get to pick ‘who reads who’. This can boil down to ego and - as an occasional actor - I find myself noting and thinking about who the best characters are and who would be excellent at playing them.
This works like being team captain and picking your team for dodgeball, and should have the same principle here – it’s less about who’s the ‘best’ but more about who is left on the bench.
At this stage you might discover your protagonist is actually “Spotty McLazy Kid” and is the LEAST appealing character in your script… and that can be devastating. This actually really helps to make your script more commercial as it’s super-important to think about casting (at any stage in the scripting process).
All your main characters should be appealing to play, even your ‘day players’. Look at Shane Black’s writing – even the bit parts are remotely interesting. Okay, there’s always going to be the occasional Waiter (“Can I take your order sir?”) but for the most part all characters should have something appealing to them.
My word, this is the most important of all. How you read something in your mind and how it’s said out loud are vastly different. If a character says “You’re my goddamn nemesis” then it reads okay on page… but saying it out loud sounds f*cking ridiculous.
Often this occurs with lines that are screamed or shouted, which read fine on the page but sound false / out of place when said out loud. Like someone screaming “Die!” or “Noooooooo!” or another bold declaration. Sometimes it works and sometimes you sound like Darth Vader at the end of Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith, screaming into a bucket. Noooooooooooooooooooo!
It also helps hearing the suddenly-very-obvious exposition spouted from someone’s mouth and witnessing the unnatural syntax of some characters’ voices. You can also find out what sounds accidentally hilarious or what lines are difficult to say.
5.) IN ONE GO
How often do you read your entire script “in one go”? Probably very rarely. When editing you’d sit through dozens of sessions, smashing through each page with careful precision until you get lost in the trees.
Doing a read-through forces you to read your entire script in one sitting. This is especially useful to reveal all the things mentioned above, but it also shows you TONE and whether you’ve kept it consistent throughout.
It also reveals continuity, character arcs and character consistency. What might seem normal when editing the script page-by-page (over a few days) may appear screamingly out-of-place when all those pages are connected together and read out loud.
6.) FREE PROOF-READING!
Proof reading can be VERY expensive, and unless you’re a massive spelling / grammar pedant your script is probably littered with teeny, tiny mistakes than you’ll naturally skim over because you’ve read that page FOUR GAZILLION TIMES.
When you grab a bunch of people to read-through your work, they’ll stumble on mistakes and – more likely than not – mention the errors. I always make sure to ASK them to do so (interrupt at any time!) because sometimes a reader might feel pedantic or embarrassed to point out your mistakes. Tell them you want it, like a sadomasochistic lover of your own failings.
It really helps identify if dialogue-lines are labelled incorrectly or a last minute ‘find and replace’ job has gone horribly wrong. I remember changing one character’s name from ‘Lance’ to ‘Harry’ at the last minute, using the ‘find and replace’ function in Final Draft… only to forget to specify it has to be the EXACT WORD ONLY. I ended up with words like ‘AmbuHarry’ and ‘GHarryd’ and ‘VigiHarry’ and ‘NonchaHarry’. The read-through was hilarious but also very f*cking embarrassing… but better than me sending it out to some producer who’d take one look at it and throw it in the circle-file under his desk, forever considering me to be either utterly mad or in love with someone called Harry.
If you can’t pull together a group of decent read-throughers or don’t trust your mates to read something out loud without shitting themselves, then there are groups available to help out.
Start with writing groups (you’ll be surprised how good writers can be at doing read-throughs) but there are also professional groups like The Watermark Collective (www.thewatermarkcollective.com/) who will hire actors to perform your script – definitely worth it.
Finally, it can also help sell it. How? If you have a lot of decent actors in it, you could record it and send it out to a Producer or seven. That’d be a unique pitch – “would you like to listen to my script”? You can also invite execs along to a read-through. Both bold moves, but it’s a bold industry so well worth considering.
So – in short – the key reasons why a read-through could benefit your script are:
REVEALING TONE, CONTINUITY, CHARACTER ARCS & CONSISTENCY
Basically – DO A READ-THROUGH on every script you write.
And why not?