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.

What Is The Purpose of Table Reads to Writers and Directors? Star Wars 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.

What Is The Purpose of Table Reads to Writers and Directors?

Table reads, also known as script readings or table readings, are beneficial to writers and directors for several reasons, serving as an essential part of the pre-production process in film, television, and theater. Here's why they are so valuable:

  1. Performance Feedback: Table reads allow writers and directors to hear the script being read aloud by the actors for the first time. This provides immediate feedback on how dialogue and scenes play out in practice, highlighting what works well and what might need adjustment.
  2. Script Refinement: Hearing the script read aloud can reveal issues with dialogue, pacing, or narrative structure that may not be apparent on the page. Writers can use this feedback to refine the script, making edits or adjustments to improve clarity, character development, and overall impact.
  3. Actor Insights: Actors bring their own interpretations to the characters they portray. A table read gives actors the opportunity to provide their input on their characters' motivations and relationships, offering perspectives that writers and directors may not have considered. This collaboration can enrich character development and storytelling.
  4. Chemistry and Dynamics: Table reads are a good opportunity to see the chemistry between actors and how well they fit their roles. This can be particularly important for ensembles, where the interaction between characters is crucial to the narrative's success.
  5. Technical and Logistical Insights: For directors and the production team, hearing the script read aloud can help in visualizing scenes and planning shots, identifying potential technical or logistical issues that may arise during filming. It's an opportunity to think through scene transitions, special effects, and other production elements.
  6. Team Building: Table reads serve as an introduction for the cast and crew, helping to build rapport and a sense of community before the start of production. This can enhance communication and collaboration throughout the filmmaking process.
  7. Saving Time and Resources: Identifying and addressing issues during the table read can save significant time and resources during production. It's much easier and less costly to make changes to a script during pre-production than to revise scenes that have already been shot.
  8. Emotional Impact and Engagement: Finally, table reads can be a powerful way to gauge the emotional impact of the script. Writers and directors can see firsthand how certain scenes or moments resonate with the cast and, by extension, predict how they might affect the audience.

By providing a space for creative collaboration, feedback, and refinement, table reads are an invaluable tool in the development of a film, TV show, or theater production, helping to ensure that the final product is as strong as it can be.

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.

Breaking Bad Table Read - Season 5 Episode 9 - Blood Money | With All The Main Castwww.youtube.com

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.

Family Guy Cast Table Read | Surprising How Many Voices Seth MacFarlane Doeswww.youtube.com

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 arcs, development, 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.