Reader Question: How do you read a script?

More importantly, how does a Hollywood reader assess YOUR script?

Alandre Drakes asks:

I have asked this question elsewhere but I would really like your feedback on it. How do you read scripts? Do you still print them out or do you read them directly off of a device (PC, iPad, Kindle, etc.) and if it is the latter then how do you analyze the scripts. Do you take notes or use an application? I am really interested because sometimes it feels like I’m not really learning from the script if I read on a screen. Maybe it’s just a psychological thing. Anyway thanks for reading.

Good question. In a perfect world, I kick it old school by printing out the script, sitting down in a comfortable chair, my favorite kind of pen in hand, set aside ninety minutes, and just read.

But life has a way of making that not happen:

  • I am committed to being as eco-friendly as possible, so I have weened myself off paper. That has been really hard because I’m a tactile kind of guy and really like the feel of paper in my hands. But God only knows how much deforestation I’ve caused in my life due to printing out my own scripts (and all those revisions!), having at one time over 1,000 hard copy scripts in my library, and all the scripts by writers and students I’ve read in the last 25 years. So I try my best to only print out absolutely essential reads and then only on recycled paper.
  • In lieu of paper, I read scripts on my laptop. I used to hate that, but now that Adobe has changed so I can make annotations / notes in the margins of PDFs, I’m a pretty happy camper. While I have always liked scribbling marginalia in an actual script (again the tactile experience of that), the fact is I would then have to transcribe those notes into a Word doc, so two steps to achieve one end (my notes). For years I justified that because the process forced me to go through the material at a different levels of consciousness and awareness, and so in theory better insights. But I’m not so sure how true that was as opposed to just an excuse to continue working with paper. Now I can send the annotated PDF to the writer along with a doc that goes into more detail tied to those very notes.
  • The main issue — and I think this is true with anyone whose job involves reading scripts — is dedicating the time to actually doing it. If a script is not tied to a paying gig, it can take me months to get to it simply because I have so much reading (and writing) to do. I don’t want to tip my hand on another reader question coming up in this cycle where someone asked me how I manage my time, but suffice to say I have discovered a few practices, although rather draconian in nature (at least psychologically), that compel me into a time-space circumstance where I can sit and read pages. My goal is to give every script I read a fair opportunity to win me over. I just don’t feel I can do that by reading 15 pages of it here, 25 pages later, 40 pages after that and so on. I need to read a script in one sitting.

And that’s one reason why sometimes I loathe the very prospect of reading a script.

This last point is something every writer should have in their awareness at some level, even if six levels down in their consciousness. It’s why your most basic job is to make your pages entertaining. Fundamentally, you have to think that the people who are going to read your script hate reading. It’s the last thing they want to do. Sometimes to make this point, I paint a portrait of a Hollywood script reader:

It’s Sunday night. Late. A cramped apartment in North Hollywood. The script reader is sprawled in a chair. There are scripts literally everywhere. Most notably a stack by the chair. The reader finishes tapping out something on the keyboard of their laptop. Then heaves the world’s biggest sigh. They are beyond exhausted. Bloodshot eyes. Bloodshot soul. Mentally and spiritually drained. They look at their watch: 11:58PM.

And then they spot it: One last script to read. Shit! They thought they’d gotten all their coverage done, but no, this one little bastard slipped their notice.

Every molecule of their being is pulling them to stop, go to bed, get drunk, whatever, anything but read that script. But a job is a job. And the coverage of that script along with the others they’ve plowed through that weekend is due the next morning.

Here’s the thing: That script? The one they hate already before they open it?

That is your script.

So when I say you, as a writer, have to grab a reader by the end of Page 1, that is what I mean: That reader, that poor, blighted soul who has nothing against you personally but everything against you symbolically because your damn script is the only thing standing between them and some small shred of enjoyment before they lose their mind, that is threshold guardian who stands between you and Hollywood.

It’s now 11:59PM. They pick up your script and flip it open.

What kind of story have you written for them? Is it stellar enough to arouse their curiosity, elevate their senses, put some color in their cheeks, and win them over?

I know I’ve wandered a bit off-course here, but it’s important for us to remember our scripts don’t get read in a vacuum. There are real people involved. And more often than not, they really don’t like reading scripts. So whether you know it or not, you are in a battle. And your words are your weapons.

Whether they print out your script or read it on an iPad or laptop, make sure you have written a story that will pull the reader out of their own life experience and into the universe you have created.

In other words, make them…

Go into the story.

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For more articles in the Go Into The Story Reader Question series, go here.