Thursday, October 13, 2005

Script Reader UK

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The role of a script reader is a thankless and anonymous task but every production company will tell you that they are vital to the submission pile and to some extent, the development process. Producers and development executives simply don’t have the time to read every script that comes in the door and they rely squarely on the reader’s report and recommendation. All the readers I know or have met are usually involved in the industry in another similar respect, such as script editor or writer, so they have a full and frank appreciation of what a screenplay should epitomise. These are the readers who are consistently regarded and relied upon because the other readers who come and go are invariably interns or people looking to get to the next stage of their career or wannabe writers who want to read just a couple of scripts and then go on their way.

To be a reputable script reader, it takes a bit more dedication than reading a few scripts online and thinking you know what's what. Readers new to the process have complained to me that it takes up too much time and it pays too little (roughly about four hours’ work @ £40 a script). And others moan that they’ve read too much that week but the scripts still keep on coming. Well, it does take up time and it does pay whack but the execs have a never ending spec pile that needs to get covered, so the work has to be done regardless of who does it. They don’t care as long as the script gets read but they’ll always lean on the more reliable readers if someone’s going to let them down.

I’ve received a few emails lately about how to become a script reader in this country. Fun Joel and Scott the Reader have written excellent posts about how to become a reader (check the links) and even though they are writing with an American slant, what they say is pretty much how it pans out here in the UK.

Still, it seems worth repeating, so I thought I’d reiterate here but make it more interesting by explaining how I did it:-

I had done a lot of sitcom and sketch reports in my job at the Channel 4 comedy dept but when I left, I asked an assistant at Film4 if I could read a couple of feature scripts so I could assemble ‘sample coverage’. I then wrote to a number of production companies around town asking if I could read for them. I didn’t hear back from a lot of them, and I got rejections from most. Now while I was lucky to have the Film4 contact from my Channel 4 job, no-one else in the film industry had a clue who I was, so what I was doing was no different if I was straight off the ferry from Ireland.

One of Tiger Aspect Pictures’ readers left to do some other job and my letter (actually it was an email) managed to land just at the right time. They were fresh from their Billy Elliot success and were receiving a lot of submissions. I met the Head of Development and she gave me a regular supply of 4-6 scripts to read a week, and the occasional book. They produced Billy Elliot with Working Title 2 and said they’d recommend me to them as ‘there was always a lack of good readers’. After a while, I couldn’t afford to live on Tiger Aspect’s scripts alone so I contacted WT2 myself and again, the luck of the Irish, one of their readers had taken a job on Ali G’s film so they needed someone else. Me!

I then went for a development assistant job at Miramax which I didn’t get but I cheekily suggested that I script read for them instead and they said ‘yes’. Working Title then recommended me to Pathé Pictures and I read for their acquisition and development departments - the acquisition stuff giving me a chance to read the classier style of script, or at least, the ones that were actually getting made.

All of this meant that I was at home a lot of the time, reading scripts and scribbling reports (not to mention writing my own scripts). Because of my passion and obsession with everything to do with screenwriting, this work came fairly easily to me. Sure, it was frustrating and lonely at times but all the while I knew it was worth it for the sake of my own writing and to maintain a continual source of active contact with the industry, however minimal.

It is this type of dedication and commitment that execs and producers are after with their readers. They want people who know how to read a script and more importantly, they like readers who can articulate a synopsis with insightful comments to match. They don’t want glib, dismissive, cynical or superficial reports that bring more attention to the reader rather than the script they’re covering. It’s all about the script, and is the writer worth a mention. The reader remains thankless, anonymous and on to the next script.*

I was extremely lucky to get the Film4 samples done but if you don’t have this kind of access to the industry, it can still be done with the right approach and - cliché police, pull over - being at the right time at the right place. My best advice to someone who wants to be a reader and has no prior experience is to approach agents and/or production companies, and offer to read their scripts free for two weeks. This will give you enough time to gather a range of sample script reports. After that, the production companies may pay you to continue reading for them (agents won't) and if they don't, you'll be able to approach other pro co's with your sample reports in hand.

But if you’re thinking it’ll be a cool gig for a week or month or two, then you’re better off trawling through Drew’s Script-o-Rama for the research you’re after. As a regular reader, you’ll find yourself unwittingly sucked into the routine of dropping off scripts/picking them up. It’ll seem never ending, it’ll sometimes feel not worth it, but for those dedicated to the craft of screenwriting, there’ll be no other option than to continue to read the good, the bad and the ugly. Authors read books, musicians read music, scriptwriters and script editors should read scripts, wherever they can find them.

If you're serious about becoming a script reader, then I heartily recommend Effective Script Reading course run by Industrial Scripts.

*occasionally, the production company may take you to lunch or have drinks with you & the other readers to thank you for all your hard work, so it’s not all bad, and of course, they are pleasant and courteous whenever you drop in.

33 comments:

Anonymous said...

When you say "drop off and pick up" do you mean they dont do things by post?

I live in a provincial town, would only London readers be in with a shout?

Danny Stack said...

Generally, they're a bit reluctant to send stuff in the post but they will (two-three scripts) if need be. If they like you enough, they'll post 'em but they won't like to make a habit of it. Bike courier is another option but that's usually for 'overnight' coverage or if you can't make it in but they need to get scripts to you.

The Irish Film Board don't care where you are, they'll post you a whole box full by special courier!

Anonymous said...

Who can I contact at the Irish Film Board if I want to offer my services as a reader?

Danny Stack said...

I'm all for sharing the info but it helps if you put a name to your comments, it's quite easy to do even if you don't have a blog.

So, in a similar fashion, I'm just going to say contact the Irish Film Board directly and ask who to speak to regarding script reading - as a public body they have to be polite and direct you to the right person.

Griff said...

Great post guys, as always.

What kind of CV do you need to be a script reader ? Do you have to have some "official" screenwriting qualifications, or some scripts in development ? I'm currently working as a tech author so I've got the proofreading and copy-editing side covered... I can spot a gerund/infinitive mixup from 200 miles: but creatively all I've got to show is some short stories published and a bit of amateur theatre writing that's been performed. But I want to have a go at scriptwriting so I figure that script reading would be a great place to start from. Any advice gratefully received. Cheers all!

Griff said...

Addendum to the above: Despite appearances to the contrary from my previous post, I am in fact aware that there is a little more to analysing the quality of a script than proofreading its grammar. My question is not "I want someone to give me a script reader job right now" but "what kind of thing do I need to do to put myself in a position where I would be seriously considered for script reading ?"

Clare said...

i need to write an SA for collage on who decides what scripts get filmed and why? could you help me out?

Anonymous said...

HELP HELP! Sorry but my comment is more of a desparate need to find who is out there! I have just finished my first radio drama script, I sent it to the bbc writers at cardiff and had very very good reviews but I AM DESPARATE to find anyone who has professional experience to read the rewrites etc. So PLEASE is there anyone who can help?

simon north wales email: byron6_uk@yahoo.co.uk

Jane said...

Hello Anonymous

I've written several radio scripts for Radio 4. If you take a look at my blog on www.freelancemum.blogspot.com it has my contact details and some information on how the radio 4 commissioning system works.

cheers
Jane

Pinkos said...

Danny - this blog is a very helpful and honest resource, 'tis appreciated. I will be living in Bristol shortly and have several script reports that I would like to use as evidence of my abilities in order to try and get some work. Don't suppose there is anyone in that area that you know of that might be open to such pitches? cheers Pinkos

Danny Stack said...

Hi Pinkos. Bristol is a very busy media city. A lot of production companies are based there, Endemol, BBC and Aardman etc. You should check out Bristol Media for general info: http://www.bristolmedia.co.uk/ while South West Screen might be a good place for script reading work.

Pinkos said...

A good shout. Cheers Danny. They'd be good for researching jobs too I would imagine? Am new to this blog but have been sifting through the previous years' content...gazooks there's a lot of golden stuff on here. Long may it continue.

Matt Cruse said...

Good piece, Danny. I ran the Beeb's comedy script unit for five years a while back and, I can tell you, good readers are very hard to come by. The problem was that jobs were given to any Tom, Dick or Harry and I didn't have any control over it until quite late in the day. I had three exceptional readers (one of whom was also a script editor), then those who couldn't get through a single half-hour sitcom script, and those who just wanted some easy money. The "best" report I ever received back simply said: "Too boring." Needless to say, that reader received no more work from me. :o)

Antonia said...

Great piece of info, Danny. I'm into writing radio and theatre scripts at the moment, but may try tv later.

Are radio script readers as much in demand as other medium?

Yours

Antonia

Danny Stack said...

I'm not sure Antonia. I've never been a radio script reader, but I would imagine they exist in some capacity, maybe not as popular or widely used as normal script readers...

Antonia said...

Well, thanks for the great info. Love the blog!

Jon said...

Hi Danny, many thanks for your encouragement. I took the script factory course, it's not as easy as it looks is it!? I wondered if you could give any advice on how the tax thing works. Yep, the big T word. I've never been self employed before, and am finding it impossible to find any information specifically related to this field. Any advice is appreciated. Cheers.

Danny Stack said...

Hi Jon! You might be interested in these posts:
http://dannystack.blogspot.com/2006/01/in-money.html
http://dannystack.blogspot.com/2006/04/tax-expenses.html

Jon said...

I must be doing something wrong. I've spent the last few months applying to countless production companies, agents, distributors and who knows what else. I haven't had any work at all! I was fully expecting to struggle by on the occasional script - but none at all!? Admittedly I'm emailing, maybe I should be calling. Any advice? - what I thought would be a good way to make a small bit of cash whilst writing has instead taken up all my energy!

Danny Stack said...

It can take some time, Jon. Be aware that they get a few script reading requests every week, so 1 email from someone they don't know or has little experience won't make much of an impression. Stick with it, and don't be afraid to use some hustle to help you stand out from the crowd!

Jon said...

Many thanks Danny, I really appreciate your encouragement, both by replying and running this blog in general. It's motivating!

Alex said...

Hi great blog - straight to the point. I have a question. I can't really afford more training so is there any other way to learn how to write a reader's report and well, anything else you need to do/ know ( apart from all the script stuff) Is there an industry standard report? Got to start somewhere. Hope you can help?

Danny Stack said...

Hi Alex - in the download section of my website, you can see a couple of sample reports that might be useful to you.

Anonymous said...

This is a great help and a brilliant insight into script reading. Freelance script reading makes perfect sense to me now. I have a background in publishing and prior to that i completed two internships one at a film/tv literary agency the other at a film distributor, my main tasks were reading and writing script reports (including a few 'high profile' scripts like 'the killer inside me' and 'ironclad'), sometimes sending the rejection letters, cruel stuff. Anyway I've had a passionate interest in script writing for he last 10 years. This blog has just give me a plan of action, in regard to embarking on a freelance route so thank you! I hope i can get some replies and start reading again! thanks Danny.

Mark

JonnyWilson said...

Hi. A couple of questions...
How much of an advantage is it to do a course in script reading? Does it really give you any kind of 'edge' over others?
Also, I have a sample script report that I did for the BBC, although it came to naught as they said they weren't actually looking for readers at that time. Should I be sending this out too when contacting production companies? Is it useful as a sample of my work, or fairly pointless given that they will never have seen the script on which my report is based?
Cheers.

Danny Stack said...

Hi Jonny

Script reading courses are certainly useful but not essential, depending on your luck. I'd recommend Industrial Scripts' reading course as it focuses a lot on practical issues, such as getting work and finding contacts. I think if you're nobody with no contacts whatsoever, then a script reading course will help to show that you've some basic experience at the very least.

That BBC report you did is VERY handy and you should send that out as a sample report, absolutely. Execs won't mind, especially if they've never seen the script, they just want to get a sense of your style and analysis.

Good luck!

JonnyWilson said...

Thanks so much for that. This is a fantastic blog. Great, practical advice for entering into what can seem like an intimidating world.

Much appreciated!

Melinda Fletcher said...

I was engrossed from beginning to end! I am interested in eventually becoming a Script Editor and have just spent four hours trawling through the mass of information on the internet, trying to decipher where-oh-where to begin! If only I had read your post four hours ago: straight-to-the-point information and all questions answered in one hit. Thank you so much! Now...time to get onto the script reading ladder and let the adventure begin!

Danny Stack said...

Thanks, Melinda. There's free downloads of script reports & various other info on the 'best of the blog' site.

Alan Parkinson said...

Hi Danny,

Long time reader and listener of the podcast.

I've just graduated with an MA in filmmaking and am currently developing two feature films. What I aren't doing is earning... Really passionate about reading scripts as a personal exercise, so would like to transfer this to paid work. I live in West Yorkshire (mainly find myself in Leeds and Bradford) and am finding it hard to locate production companies around here that need script readers.

Any advice? Any companies long distance still sending scripts through the post (ala the Irish Film Board, though I'm going a few years back now)?

Thanks in advance,

Alan

Danny Stack said...

Hi Alan - I think most companies send scripts via email now (PDFs) so a lot of places could be open to readers who aren't located in the UK. There's no reason why you couldn't read for Hollywood companies, e.g., if you made the right approach. It's all about that first break & using your contacts from there to get more work. It's a slog, and can seem impossible, but it can be done!

Luis Aponte said...

I know this was posted years ago, but I wanted to thank you for posting this information. Very helpful! If I may ask, what are you doing nowadays in reference to script reading/writing or the film industry in general? Cheers.

Danny Stack said...

Hi Luis - thanks for your kind comment. I'm still reading/writing (and some script editing), and have also started directing, to some degree of success. It's all on the main blog! (check blog updates for the latest)