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Welcome to Virtual Table Reads

Updated: Mar 27, 2023

What a wild ride 2020 has been for everyone, everywhere.

I think it's pretty safe to say that not a single industry has remained untouched by the pandemic and the ensuing on-again, off-again lock-downs. Our lives have been revolutionised as a result and let's face it, much of it has been less than ideal.

As writers I think we were ahead of the curve in terms of how to survive for long stretches at a desk in isolation; that's the gig a lot of the time. But adjusting from face-to-face interactions to online meetings came with its own challenges for those of us a tad awkward presenting ourselves on-screen.

Luckily, actors are usually pretty comfortable with cameras. And one of the big positives to come out of lockdown for creatives is the advent of virtual table reads.

You may have heard about a few low-profile actors like Jennifer Aniston and Brad Pitt doing a virtual table read of "Fast Times at Ridgemont High" back in the late summer:

For anyone still not sure, a table read or read through traditionally happens in pre-production phase when the cast, director and writers get together in a room to read through the script. It's essential in the development phase and can throw up pacing and dialogue issues that are still not quite working.

But you don't necessarily have to wait until this stage to reap the benefits of hearing your words read aloud. There's nothing stopping writers reaching out to actor friends or contacting actor's groups or studios and offering up a script for a table read - and thanks to Covid and zoom, you don't even have to be in the same country to do so.

Actors might be enticed to perform the read as a training exercise but if you have the funds, offering payment is obviously the preferable option. The cost would probably not even exceed that of a good script editor or notes, especially if the actors don't mind doubling up on roles. In return, you'll get tangible proof of where the script is zinging along and where it's lagging.

Screenwriting is above all else a visual medium. But with certain genres where dialogue is fundamentally important - like comedy - a read through can quickly reveal the weak spots. Given the opportunity to record the actor's voices, you'll have an invaluable resource at your fingertips.

The script you choose for a table read should be in pretty decent shape structurally, meaning it has most probably already benefitted from independent feedback. But the insight you'll gain from hearing actors read your dialogue will definately push your work to the next level and give it the final polish difficult to obtain otherwise.

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