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Review of the Women in Film and TV Script Table Read Session

A few of weeks ago it was the final session in a live, online six-week table read club organized by Women in Film and Television, the leading membership organisation for women working in media.

This is my breakdown of the experience, with addition tips for getting the most out of a table read.

The actual happenings, scripts, content, and shenanigans that occur within this particular 6-week group are private. It’s a place for writers to share work in a confidential setting, so I won’t be sharing any names or details of the work we reviewed, but even without that information, this should be a useful article for someone interested in taking part in a table read.

First of all – what is a table read?

A table read is where you gather a group of performers and writers, to read a script out loud, with an opportunity to provide feedback to the writer afterwards.

Why do a table read? What are the benefits?

When you write, you exist a lot of the time in your head. You hear the words, the intonation, get the jokes, and feel the rhythm of the piece all contained in your own noggin. Within your mind’s ear, a piece can flow beautifully.

But if you only hear your writing inside your own hear, it can create a couple of challenges. Firstly, you may not catch an awkward, stumble-prone sentence.

For example,

Where’s the flipping fudge and fishcakes from the farmer’s feast, Geoffrey?!

... may seem perfect on paper, but when you hear it out loud, you find it doesn’t have the poetry or rhythm you imagined.

You might also start hearing lines that felt like sharp, witty dialogue but sound clunky or cliched when delivered by an actor.

The other challenge of only writing and reading to yourself is the proximity you have to your work. You are SO close to it. Everything makes sense to you, but this doesn’t mean everything makes sense to fresh eyes and ears. Those scenes you cut on page 12? They referred to a key piece of information needed to set up a key reveal on page 42.

It’s not just scriptwriting, any writing benefits from reading out loud. After 14 years writing sales copy and training people in copywriting, reading out loud will tell you in an instant if you will sound persuasive and conversational to your reader, or just plain obnoxious.

The benefit of having a group of people read your work—ideally with some acting chops between them—is that you sharpen your ability to review and improve your work.

How do you become part of the WFTV table read?

WFTV organise table reads several times throughout the year. To apply for a place, you need to submit 10 pages of a script for consideration. If you’re accepted, you’ll have the opportunity to submit 25 pages for the read. This doesn’t need to be a complete script, it can be an extract from a longer TV episode, or from a feature.

You also need to commit to attending every session. This is important and respectful. It’s not fair to get feedback on you script from everyone if you don’t turn up to provide feedback on someone else’s. For me, scrappy attendance really weakens the power of the group. Any group really.

How is the session run?

With this group, we met weekly, for 6 weeks, every Wednesday between 10am-11:30am. After settling in ,the session is divided simply into two parts – roughly 30-40 minutes are taken up by the read, and the remaining time is used for feedback.

The entire group receives a copy of the upcoming script a few days before the session. The group is split between 6 writers—who will each have a session focused on their script—and 6 actors who will be doing the reading. Everyone is welcome to provide feedback.

The writer also has an opportunity to introduce the script with any useful context and background, or you can choose to ask people to just dive straight in. If you are submitting an extract, it can be helpful to include detail to introduce the except – but this isn’t mandatory.

After the read, feedback is provided by people using the ‘raised hands’ function in Zoom. Anyone can give feedback (multiple times if desired) as well as ask questions and get answers and responses from the writer. When no more hands are raised, it’s time to wrap up.

First impressions...

The first session coincided when I was in Las Vegas for meetings, so with my alarm set, I got ready for a 2am Pacific start time. Everyone introduced themselves and there was a variety of roles from the film and TV industry, including script editors, producers, and commissioners.

The first thing that struck me was just how different it was to hear a script acted compared to reading it on my own. It sounds obvious, but it makes a huge difference – especially when the actors bring their own nuanced performances to the roles. I discovered bits of the script that I missed when reading for myself, and listening to the read as a performance made it much easier to give feedback as well.

I was also impressed with the quality of feedback. Comments were thoughtful and considered, and yes, it was a positive space but that didn’t mean there wasn’t constructive criticism. People were respectful when raising issues they didn’t understand. It was also constructive – there were a lot of ideas put forward for plot suggestions, character development, and all without being overwhelming.

I noticed each week that the writer took plenty of notes because the feedback was actionable—something that you could practically use to improve the quality of your script and your writing.

What's it like getting feedback on your script?

Getting feedback can make you feel vulnerable. You’ve worked hard on a piece of writing, you think it’s good enough to share, and you’re opening yourself up to people pointing out the parts that may not be up to par. What can make this even more nerve-wracking is that you don’t know who is giving you feedback. Do they have your best interests at heart? Are they having a bad day? Do they just not like your piece? Are they wrong?

I felt the feedback that I had was useful. I’d submitted 25 pages of a half hour episode. It was great to hear that the dialogue, character voice, and pace, were strong, and that it was very funny—which helps for a comedy. As I was still working out the final scenes for the full episode, the questions about structure helped me take a step back and see what was needed to round out the piece and make it feel complete. It also gave me a renewed enthusiasm for the piece now that I had some new ideas and perspectives to consider.

How do you get the best experience from a table read?

Commit to the group… in time and attention.

If you’re part of a group that meets regularly, give it your full commitment. Turn up to every session. It’s common courtesy. And give it your full attention. There may be scripts in a genre you don’t like, or that have characters with opinions you don’t agree with. Any creative work is subjective. The point isn’t to turn up and say you don’t like it because you don’t like sci-fi, or drama. It’s to cast a critical eye over character, plot, pacing, dialogue. By reading other people’s scripts and going through this critical process, you become more well-rounded when critiquing your own work. You’re not just doing this to be a valuable member of the group, you’re doing this to become a better writer.

Be receptive to ALL ideas

Sometimes a criticism requires you to provide context. For example, a question about a character’s purpose might need you to explain that it will become clear in episode 2 of your series. But be wary of feeling the need to explain everything away. You don’t want to be so defensive of your own ideas that you miss a new way of doing something with your script. When getting feedback, write everything down – or record it. It stops you dismissing anything out right and gives you the opportunity to review it more objectively after the session. From there you can decide what to take on board, and what doesn’t suit your creative vision.

How do you take part in a table read?

The WFTV table reads are only open to members, and currently a WFTV membership is £100 + VAT for the year.

But that’s not the only place to get your work seen and heard. Local writing and theatre groups may already be running something similar in your area, and there’s nothing to stop you hosting your own with friends. Even if it’s just to get the experience of hearing your work read out loud, the experience will be valuable.

If you have a local group doing a table read of your script – you could also invite a producer to come and see your wok being performed. In my last blog about the Big Comedy Conference, several producers expressed their enthusiasm about attending events where new writers and voices are being showcased.

Ultimately, being part of a table read forces a spotlight onto your work which stops you working in the darkness of your own mind. It also prepares you for getting professional feedback as you do more work in the industry. No-one is ever going to look at your script and say – perfect, no need to do any more, you smashed it out the park first go.

Have you taken part in a table read?

What was your experience? Have I missed out any key features or benefits? Do you want to shine a light on a club or location with excellent table reads? Let us know in the comments.

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