All About Script Reading
Script reading can be a VERY misunderstood job. Writers often have beliefs about script readers that don’t even vaguely match what REALLY happens ‘behind the scenes’! Some common wrong beliefs about script readers include …
- They enjoy tearing writers down
- It’s an easy job
- They don’t really care about the scripts
- They make megabucks
- They’re jealous of writers who do well
None of the above is true in my experience. This is one of the reasons I launched this blog … I wanted to demystify the submissions process for writers. After all, the more writers understand what script readers look for, the better their chances of getting noticed.
However, I am just ONE script reader. I thought I’d throw B2W’s virtual doors open and ask script readers what THEY think!
Here’s 21 script readers in their own words, sharing their expectations of the job versus its realities. Ready? Let’s go …
1) Script Readers WANT to Find Good Writing
‘Script reading can feel like a slog when there is a lot to get through, but it is so worth it for the gems that you might come across!’
BIO: Tumi Belo is a script reader for the British Film Institute (BFI). She’s also worked as an agent’s assistant and at production companies.
2) Script Reading is demanding
‘Script reading is much more demanding than you might initially think. A reader must be able to summarise a script (sometimes a book) into a logline and a concise 3/4 page synopsis … and that’s before you even get to the business of exploring the strengths and weaknesses of the text itself. It’s also badly paid, so I had to juggle it alongside a full-time job.’
3) Readers Have To Hustle For Work Like Screenwriters
‘I enjoyed learning how to be a script reader and thought that would be the challenging part. The reality of being a script reader is you need to hustle for the work if you’re going it alone and build relationships.’
BIO: Andrea Cobham is a script reader, screenwriter and actor, currently reading for Bafta Rocliffe. Also champion tea drinker. Check out her website at www.undercoverreader.com or follow her on Twitter: @undercoverread1.
4) Tone Matters Just As Much In Script Reports
‘I think for me one of the biggest surprises is how much tone matters and how different a report for a producer is compared to a report for a writer. It’s definitely a crucial skill to be able to tailor your writing based on who will be reading it.’
BIO: Annie Lockhart is a script reader currently assessing applications to the BFI’s Development and Production Funds. She is also training to be a script editor as part of Eleven Film’s Duly Noted scheme.
5) Most Spec Screenplays Are Sadly Not Ready
‘The experience changes with every employer. Some are looking for artistry, some are looking for great characters, some are looking to make a quick dollar in the chaotic independent film finance world. But they almost always need to know how much of a great finished product do you have, rather than ‘potential’ followed by lengthy development. This is telling of the industry at large: there’s too much “content”, not enough time. Make life easier and bring me something I don’t have to do much for or with. But incredibly (though industry-wide is known as a universal truth), most scripts I’ve read are not nearly ready.’
BIO: Simon X. Frederick is currently a script reader for BBC Films. He is also screenwriter, director and producer.
6) Writers Need To Sweat The Small Stuff
“It’s always a surprise to me to open a script and see improper formatting, countless spelling and grammatical errors and a general sense of lack of care around something you’re asking someone to ‘judge’. There are so many resources to at least make your script look right so we can focus on making it the best story possible.’
BIO: Jenny Frankfurt is the founder of The Finish Line Screenplay Competition, which provides extensive script development notes to improve your script while it’s in contention to win. Writers can resubmit new drafts at no extra cost.
7) You Won’t Get Rich Script Reading …
‘What I didn’t quite anticipate was how often I would be giving out the same (really rather basic) advice, particularly when reading for competitions. On a practical level, when I first started out script reading I genuinely thought it would pay enough for me to live on. I think it’s a shame given the millions upon millions that have been poured into the industry in the last few years, that more of this cash hasn’t trickled down to those at the lowest levels.’
BIO: Tom McDermott is a script reader for the BFI and other development and production funds.
8) … BUT Script Reading Is The Perfect Side Hustle For Writers
‘I always hoped script reading wouldn’t be a full-time job and it’s definitely lived up to that expectation. There are big periods of time where I’m not doing any at all. But that’s fine with me – because this time is filled with scriptwriting, copywriting, and family. Script reading is a brilliant part-time, freelance option especially if you’re a writer, as it gives you loads of insight into what’s trending and how fierce the competition is (and damn, it’s fierce).’
BIO: Amy Rich is a freelance script reader and screenwriter. She’s been selected as a CBBC New Voices writer, as well as the BFI’s Short Film scheme.
9) Assessing Story In Spec Scripts Is Different To Produced Stuff
‘I was surprised by how different the process of assessing a scripted story is from assessing a finished film, which is what I was used to as a programmer. Detecting what works and what doesn’t in a script is more demanding on your brain. You have to create that film in your own mind as you read, watch it unfold and be alert to where it gets stuck or leaves you unsatisfied for some reason.’
BIO: Gaia Meucci-Astley is a film programmer and script reader based in Bristol. Her experience includes film curation, script analysis and reporting, film programmes planning, research and coordination for festivals and film organisations.
10) You May Be Asked To Assess Books As Well As Screenplays
‘Many production companies in the UK take readers for book coverage rather than scripts. For the companies largely focused on adaptations, this is a natural course of action; after all, reading books takes much longer than screenplays. But not many books have enough visual potential for the screen … Plus writing coverage for books requires a slightly different skillset too as one has to think in terms of adapting the material. Reading books usually pays twice as much as reading scripts, although there’s a catch here: you can be very lucky and receive a neatly-written 100 pages novella or a beefy 600+ pager instead. Both have happened to me. It taught me to always get a bit more information about the novel before committing.’
BIO: Kamila Stopyra is an awarded screenwriter and London Film School MA Screenwriting graduate. Her reading experience spans many companies, including Protagonist Pictures, Tiger Aspect, Mammoth Screen, Big Light Productions, Coverfly and Stage32. Check out her website.
11) Script Readers Are Like Midwives
‘At its best script reading is a crucially important job. You are one of the midwives in helping a project come to fruition – particularly when reading for publicly-funded development schemes. Your recommendation can influence whether a project is greenlit and a writer’s first commission. This can alter their whole career trajectory. The moments when you read a truly brilliant script are the most rewarding. The downside of the job is that it can feel like a bit of a hamster wheel and – depending upon who you read for – the quality of the scripts. Constantly saying ‘no’ can be soul-destroying.’
BIO: Kumari Salgado is a freelance script reader for BBC Films, BFI, Kudos and Mammoth Screen.
12) Time Management Is Crucial
“I did a lot of research beforehand and it helped manage my expectations towards script reading and consulting. The first – and still most valuable – lesson I learned is how to give constructive feedback rather than prescriptive suggestions. Time management is probably the most challenging aspect of this job. I have to be strict with myself on how much time I allocate to each project.”
BIO: Eleonora Mignoli is a freelance script reader for several award-winning UK production companies and international screenwriting and writing competitions.
13) Even Scripts Submitted Via Agents May Not Be Great
‘When I started reading scripts I was surprised to see that the average quality of the screenplays circulating the industry is lower than one would expect, even when they are recommended by agents. This means everyone is looking for the next great script and – if you truly have written an exceptional one – someone will eventually pick it up. The difficult part is probably getting someone to read it.’
BIO: Alessandro Riconda is a freelance script reader/editor supporting the International Features team at Netflix and a script coordinator for high-end TV shows. His credits include Master of None, The Peripheral (produced by Kilter Films) and an upcoming Marvel Studios production.
14) Script Reading Can Improve Your Business Skills
‘The title ‘Script Reader’ sounded perfect for someone like me who loves reading. But… it rather undersells all of the other skills you’ll need to make it a success. For a start, it’s not a leisurely, relaxing style of reading. There are deadlines to meet and the more scripts you read, the more money you’ll make. I thought I would gain a deeper understanding of screenwriting and a better awareness of the industry. I did learn these things, but I also learnt how to build a website, how to market myself, how to set up as a sole trader and how to do my own taxes.’
BIO: Sarah Frankland is a freelance script reader who is currently working on her first novel.
15) Script Reading Can Get Repetitive Like All Jobs
‘I love helping other writers with their scripts. One thing I didn’t really expect, was that I’d be suggesting the same fixes over and over again. It seems screenwriters experience the same sort of journey as everyone else. We make similar mistakes. I kinda love that though. It means I can concentrate on tailoring my help to the writers’ strengths.’
BIO: Drew Hubbard is a script reader and creator of Pride Reads, a monthly lgbtq+ writing newsletter helping ALL writers write better lgbtq+ characters/stories.
16) GOOD Script Readers Don’t Tear Down Writers
‘Isn’t it just about telling writers what they’re doing wrong? No, an effective reader ensures a sense of positivity in their report. There is a very specific skill in being able to break down a script into its elements whilst understanding story structure, narrative and character arcs as well as voice, style, tone, market and dialogue. Readers aren’t there to tell you how bad your writing is, they are there to advise you on how it could be improved upon.’
BIO: Stu Laurie is a script reader for Coverfly and Scriptapolooza. He is also a Script Supervisor in the UK. Stu has worked on various series for BBC, ITV, CBBC, Netflix, Tiger Aspect as well as Feature Films, Short Films and Commercials.
17) You need a varied skillset
‘I’m glad I became a script reader because I’ve learned a lot and the work is very satisfying. Doing something you love for money is the dream, right?! But to earn a lot of money, you need to a) take on a lot of work and b) accept that reading for other companies and competitions won’t be well paid. You need to work fast and efficiently to achieve a) and make b) worth your while. It’s not easy, and there’s a lot of pressure with fast turnarounds. Did I expect to just be script reading? Perhaps. In reality, I’ve ended up using a varied skillset to create my business! Some days I’ll be consulting on scripts, writing feedback or judging competition reads. Others I’ll be proofreading or style-editing a script or novel, helping with marketing (pitches) or designing book covers or ebook interiors.’
18) Script Reading is NOT A ‘Get Rich Quick’ Scheme
‘I think the weirdest thing is that script reading is seen as some sort of ‘get rich quick’ scheme. That is how I saw it beforehand at first … But the reality is that reading a drafting a report can be time-consuming and draining. Especially if you care about the end product. I’d be a millionaire by now if I didn’t care.’
BIO: Anthony Hewlett is a screenwriter, assistant producer and script reader, who has read for the Bluecat screenplay competition and Scriptwriters Network.
19) It’s Underpaid, But Can Improve Your Own Writing
‘Expectation: it’ll be a great way to break into the industry. Reality: it’s isolating, soul-crushing, and heavily underpaid, but it’s a great way to improve your own writing.’
20) You Have To Be Careful With Writers’ Dreams
‘If your feedback causes a writer to lose complete motivation in their project, then you’ve failed. The goal is the opposite! Criticism needs to be well-controlled as a script reader. It needs to encourage the writer to improve, not give up. Someone may be sending you their first draft. They may know they have a long way to go, so don’t be the reason that they stop telling the story they want to share. Never presume you know everything. Never presume you know best. Everyone has different styles and different voices. You have to be open to interpretation. The most important thing you can do as a script reader is give writers the motivation to keep going.’
BIO: Kelsey Cromwell is a script reader for Stage32. She is also experienced in writing for Film/TV, Radio and Stage with a First-Class BA Hons degree in Screenwriting. Follow her as @kelseycromwell1 on Twitter & @kelseycromwellx on instagram.
21) You Have To Take It Seriously
‘Whilst many (including myself) get into script reading to support their own writing, it’s not something you can do half-arsed or just see as a side project. If you don’t feel impassioned by helping someone else with their work or become excited when you see the potential of a script (however far it might be from that potential!), you’ll be found out pretty quickly. I don’t agree that it can’t be seen as a means to an end, but, whilst you’re doing it, you sure as hell better take it seriously and, ideally, want to do it for its own sake.’
BIO: Gabriel Farrell is a freelance writer, script reader and consultant who works at Shore Scripts and for the Rocliffe Forum.
22) Script Reading Can Be A Real Masterclass …
‘I went into script reading thinking that getting paid to read stories destined for the screen was a pretty good deal. And it is. I never tire of opening that first page and all the sense of anticipation that goes with stepping into someone else’s world, hoping to be entertained, surprised, challenged, informed and, most of all, moved. The work is sporadic, not guaranteed and certainly needs to be combined with other income revenues. However, whether it’s writing coverage for busy execs, wading through stacks of competition entries or giving notes to writers, it’s an excellent way to hone your own writing skills and editorial judgment. Not to mention the fact that reading scripts from all levels of writers is a wonderful masterclass in the art of screenwriting itself.’
23) … Remember There Is No Magic Formula, Though!
‘Script reading has been the best experience getting to know different writers and all the beautiful and varied ways to start a script. I did expect to be blitzing a pile of scripts and having the ‘eureka!’ moment and passing on the golden one to my employer. The reality is reading and providing the best report is the job! Most scripts are well-written but there’s no magic formula on what grabs you. I think it’s a combination of things and the writer’s potential is always great to share with those looking.’
BIO: Sarah Granville is a script editor at The Story Collective. She was mentored at Film4, and provided script coverage for Tess Ross’ team. She has also worked at Douglas Road Productions and other independent production companies.
Lastly one last (unsurprising!) BONUS pointer …
24) You GOTTA Love Reading!
‘You’ve got to love reading to become a reader, and becoming a reader went way beyond my expectations. Not only was I suddenly provided with a constant stream of new stories. But what I rapidly learned about the craft felt like I had unlocked the holy grail of how to tell stories itself. Since those first days, I have been blessed to become immersed in a world populated with other writers’ creativity – seeing the world through their eyes, and having my own opened at the same time. Not a lot can beat that, in my opinion.’
BIO: Justine Owens is the Director of Screenwriting Contests at Shore Scripts which has helped 100+ writers gain representation, sell, and have their screenplays produced. You can follow Shore Scripts on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.
Want EVEN MORE Script Reading Secrets?
B2W’s course with LondonSWF, BREAKING INTO SCRIPT READING is running again this June (18th-19th 2022). It’s on Zoom again, so accessible from anywhere in the world.
The workshop is in its SEVENTH year now. B2W’s proud to have had a hand in training so many new script readers.
Here’s what course alumni Gemma Deerfield aka @screenwriterfemme – and script reader number 25 on this list! – has to say about the workshop:
‘I would never have felt confident enough to formally call myself a script reader without the B2W course. I had the skills just not the correct understanding of how to use them which Lucy so skillfully showed me and filled in the gaps in my knowledge. My expectations were met: I was prepared for the graft and the need to work on my own volition. I had all the extra guidance after the course to help me set up my online profiles and market myself. I’ve actually never taken a short course that was as useful as this in any industry.’
But the workshop is not just for wannabe script readers … It’s also perfect for writers who want a ‘behind the scenes’ look at how their writing is judged on the page. So if you want to ‘reader proof’ your screenplay, you’re welcome to join us too.