Posted by: michellemuldoon | February 17, 2014

The Value of a Script Reading

Aliyah O'Brien and Shauna Johannesen read Birthday Blues.

Live cast reading of Birthday Blues Act 3 at The Cold Reading Series in Vancouver.

I’m about to embark on my latest draft of Birthday Blues and once completed, I’ll arrange for another script reading with some of Vancouver’s very talented actors taking on the roles and providing feedback. I know writers who question this practice, and to that I say, if you expand your concept of what will help your script, then maybe you might find something in your script you didn’t expect to see.

Too many writers treat their screenplays like they’re their children. News flash, they aren’t. Unless, of course, you plan to sell your child to the highest bidder and let them do as they will with them, because that should be your goal with your screenplay, and that’s exactly what happens when a producer gets their hands on it.

A script is just words on a page; words that will change as the script develops, and words that can be replaced by even more appropriate words. They aren’t precious. They are tools that serve the story.

How does this relate to a live script reading? A script reading forces the writer to relinquish control of their words to the actor. While the writer creates the world and characters, it’s the actor that breathes life into them. When this happens, characters take on another interpretation; one of many if the script is optioned or sold (thanks to director and producer notes).  The writer will have the opportunity to hear their dialogue either sing, or drop like a lead balloon clanking its way down the mountain as it hits one awkward bump after another.  Don’t laugh, I’ve had both experiences and there is no worse feeling than the instant you realize your dialogue is heavy-handed, on the nose, or just plain unusable. Yes, it sounded great in your head, but hearing dialogue is a different matter.

Will you get usable feedback from a live reading? In a nutshell, yes. Here’s the thing, though, it’s not the same feedback you’d get from another writer. Don’t expect the actor to tell you if the structure is sound, or the first act catalyst is strong enough to initiate the protagonist’s journey, or that your act two break comes too late (unless they’re also writers who study the craft).  What you can expect is that they will tell you if the dialogue is organic, if the mechanics of the journey conform to conventions they’ve seen in other scripts, if the characters were clear and imaginable, if there were inconsistencies in how the character responded to a crisis, if character motivations were easily actualized, if they found the story arch gripping, interesting, or fun to read, and lastly, if the story and characters were layered in a way that would draw them to the role.

In today’s world, attracting talent is crucial for a script to develop further. Do you want to know if talent would want to sign on to your script? Then get some talent to read it.

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