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Script readings are a great way to evaluate your script. Hearing your words spoken and seeing your scenes blocked brings your script to life in a way that reading from a page never will.
The simplest way to host a reading is to gather a few friends together. "Do the reading over a few drinks. It's cheap and fun," says screenwriter Andrew Bennett. Try to assign each major character to a different person, but people can double up on the minor roles or the narration.
Or consider a public reading. "I staged a public reading of my script before I attempted to write a new draft," says screenwriter/director Mary V. Dunkerly. "I taped it, which allowed me to review the entire process at my leisure."
Try to find actors to participate. Most screenwriters know at least a couple of actors they can approach. "Actors have fantastic instincts for getting to the essence of things," says director Randa Haines. "When an actor says, 'I don't understand this moment,' that's a terrific help to the writer. It means something needs to be clarified."
One of the biggest advantages of a reading is hearing your dialogue spoken. Does it flow easily, or do the actors struggle with it? Does each character sound distinctive? Is every word essential and does it move the story forward? "Listening to the actors, I could pinpoint where the dialogue dragged and where it was working," says Dunkerly.
Haines also suggests inviting a director to participate. "A director can help a writer move things around. She might look at the staging and suggest putting this scene before that one, or cutting all the dialogue out of another scene and making it purely visual. The actors can try the director's suggestions, and the writer gets to see the scene played out in two, three, or five different ways."
During a reading, refrain from directing or interpreting the action for the readers in any way. Allow everyone to work directly from the script. If their interpretation is wildly different from yours, that's a pretty good indication that the movie in your head isn't coming across on the page. Stay in observer mode. Take notes, and consider taping the reading. Encourage comments at the end. Write out a questionnaire so that you cover all the bases. Ask questions about your hero's goals, the plotline, and the pacing, and anything else you'd like more information on.
Whether an informal gathering of friends or a more formal event with professional actors, rehearsals, and invitations to industry players, a script reading is an eye-opening experience that can transform your writing.