Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Speed Reading

It may sound obvious to say it but one of the most important qualities in a script reader is that they have a genuine interest in reading scripts. A lot of people ask me how to become a script reader, and how many scripts a week they should read “before they move on” and I don’t know quite how to answer them.

In truth, you never “move on” from being a reader. You just stop reading and do something else. The fact that the ‘something else’ may be a more appealing job position, and the script reading helped you get there, is beside the point. Script reading is a tough job and should not be viewed as a handy stepping stone ahead of the runner/receptionist. Too many people view it as such and don’t last a week because they struggle to read and do coverage on a measly four scripts.

You’ve got to want to read scripts. You should be interested in the craft of screenwriting, and be reasonably knowledgeable about the industry, so that it informs your growing experience and opinion on what makes a good script tick. The good readers settle into this routine with casual aplomb. They won’t blanch or shudder at the sight of a ten script pile that has to be covered by the end of the week. They’ll get the work done and while it may not be enjoyable in the sense of reading entertainment, it will cement their reputation as reliable and efficient readers.

And as the efficiency grows, so does the speed of reading. This may be a bad thing as no doubt writers, producers and directors will bemoan the fact the reader is not carefully assessing their story. I can understand this complaint but as a reader, I would say that the speed of reading comes about from a familiarity with how stories are presented and subsequently unravel. A lot of scripts follow the same mediocre path. When a good or great script comes along, a script reader is riveted to the story and only too keen to give it a glowing report. And the speed in which the script is covered does not blemish the recommendation.

Speed reading becomes part of the process for the reader, the nuts and bolts of getting their work done. A script’s page count can be guessed just by the feel and weight of the sprightly tome. If it’s under 100 pages, it can be read in an hour. Anything over that, usually an hour and a half. If a script takes two hours or more to read, something is seriously wrong.

Similarly, a reader can assess how much time it will take him to read and cover a book. A standard print book of about 200 pages will take (me) about four hours to read. 50 pages per hour, taking notes as I go. One week, I covered 10 scripts and four books. That’s the most I’ve ever done. Reading like a lunatic to try to make ends meet near the beginning of my scriptwriting/script reading career. But by doing so, I got the process down to a fine routine. In general, an hour to read a script, half an hour to write the coverage (I touch-type fast).

This means I could read a book in the morning, then take a break for lunch and read two scripts in the afternoon and have their coverage finished by tea time. Not bad for a day’s work. Sure, it’s demanding and gruelling but that’s the nature of script reading. Good readers will find themselves sucked into the vortex of mass coverage and continuous work before, slowly, they either lose the will to live or move on with their writing career. And that’s when you stop. You don’t move on. You just do something else.


Dom Carver said...

So which stage are you at, Danny? Have you lost the will to live or are you moving on?

Danny Stack said...

Edging closer and closer to stopping altogether but still with the will to live (and read more)...

Lucy said...

"If it’s under 100 pages, it can be read in an hour. Anything over that, usually an hour and a half. If a script takes two hours or more to read, something is seriously wrong"

God this is SO true!!!

I actually really like script reading. I think it's cos I'm so nosy - I want to know what everyone else is doing. And it's surprising how many people you come across who other readers have read or you get a client who starts submitting ALL their projects to you and you see them grow as a writer...I love that. I can't imagine doing anything else.