May 8, 2019

What Are Table Reads and Why Should You Use Them?

Practice makes perfect. And builds chemistry. And helps you make important trims. So why aren't you holding table reads? 

When you're making a movie or a TV show, you want the cast to have chemistry. It's hard to find ways to get strangers to embrace, especially when you're working on refining the action and dialogue. But what if you could kill two birds with one stone? That's where table reads come in. These simple exercises give your cast time to interact and find chemistry and let you hear the dialogue out loud so you can make trims and refine each scene. 

Today we'll go over the art of table reads, how you can prep for them, and why they're important to the process. 

So grab a water bottle and a name card and let's go!  

What is a table read? 

A table read is a gathering of the cast, writer(s), and director where they read through the episode or feature. It's where everyone gets to hear the story out loud, take notes, and can circle up after to make revisions. In television, table reads are done prior to recording an episode so final edits can be made. 

Table reads are an invaluable tool. If you're working on a pilot, they can help your cast gel before you shoot. On a feature, they can clue you into important changes that can affect or combines scenes to make your days easier to make. 

Credit: LucasFilm

How to organize a table read 

The best table reads I've been to have lots of snacks, a few bottles of water per person, name cards with the actor/character and other crew positions, as well as printed out scripts so everyone can follow along. You'll also want an assortment of pens and pencils so that everyone can make notes as they go. 

Table read example 

Table reads are common in both film and television. Often, we don't get to read the scripts of our favorite episodes or movies, so I love watching table reads to hear how the action is written and the dialogue pops. One of my favorite table reads to watch is this one from Breaking Bad.  

It's easy to see these images in our minds. The description of Walt and his journey really play well. I love seeing actors hop into roles and the subtle inflection they give each line. You can see the polish and nuance to the characterizations. 

Table reads are also important in comedy. 

You want to get jokes, alternate lines, and build the best half-hour of humor possible. 

This table read from Family Guy shows you how they get the script completely dialed in. They have to do these reads no just for chemistry but because they're going to send these shows off to be animated. They have to get the scripts edited and cut perfectly so they don't waste time animating stuff that hits the edit bay floor.  

Finally, I want to look at this table read example from Beauty and the Beast. Disney puts a lot of money into their live-action remakes. We know they practice choreography and fight scenes, so it's refreshing to see them putting the same amount of effort into the script and portrayals themselves. I love the way you can instantly see actors pivoting tone and inflection.

As a writer, sometimes I've lived so long with a character that I forget other people on the crew have to find them as well. These table reads and perfect moments for people to put their own spin on the voices within the story and begin to find the movement and diction that suits each role. 

What's next? Three Conversation Writing Tips from the 'Before' Trilogy

I don't think there is a more romantic movie than "Before Sunrise". Unless it's "Before Sunset". Or "Before Midnight". But aside from the romance, the conversations in these movies are what makes them sing. We go to the movies to see human stories unfold. We love characters, their arcsdevelopment, and story beats, but almost every movie is held together by a series of conversations that act as connective tissue. Conversations that get across wants, desires, exposition, and emotion. 

So, how can you write a great conversation?

Learn from three movies that do conversations better than anyone else.     

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