The “Business” of Script Reading in the UK
Written by: Amy Clarke
Scriptwriters are often advised when graduating from university or a script-writing course
that the best way to become top in their field is to read lots of scripts.
And a good way to do this and get paid for it is to work as a reader.
Sounds great! Sign me up!
So what is a script reader?
Script readers are hired to cast a knowledgeable and critical eye over a feature film, short film and theatre scripts. They are trained to look at the genre, character development, dialogue, structure and overall pace of each script. Once they’ve made their notes, they type up a full script report addressing each of the above and where improvements can be made or highlighting the strengths found in the script. Many readers aim to work for production companies who are sent thousands of scripts to wade through. It is the reader’s job to go through them meticulously and deliver one of three verdicts:
- RECOMMEND: (They feel a script should be put forward for production.)
- CONSIDER: (The script has a lot going for it, but needs some development work, which is something
the production company could assist with by providing a script editor.)
- PASS: (The script is not of expected quality and should not be taken forward.)
Script readers will also provide reports directly to writers looking for an in-depth analysis of their work. The reports readers send back can often help writers see their work from a fresh perspective and open up more possibilities for the next draft. Script readers are often writers themselves. As such, we have a sensitivity and passion for the industry and are able to provide in-depth insights into people’s work.
A lot of us have graduated from university degrees in film or writing, but equally, there are a number of Script Reader courses available in the UK if you have a different background but have always fancied giving it a go. The issue of being a script reader in the UK is finding regular work. Having been a part of the independent film industry in London for the last five years, I have witnessed the fiercely protective nature of our film industry in many areas, and this includes the work of script readers.
So How Do I Get a Script Reading Job?
When I graduated from my MA in Script-writing, it was recommended that I seek out script reading work. After optimistically firing off a load of e-mails to all the obvious places, I soon realized this was much easier said than done. After six months of getting nowhere, I started to connect with other readers on LinkedIn, asking for advice. Of the replies I got, they were all the same.
Script reading is not very viable, it’s not very well paid, you won’t make a full-time job from it, and it can be really difficult to get larger production companies to even take you on. In recent years, these companies have started going in house with their readers, hiring permanent staff on a part-time basis to read their scripts for them instead of farming scripts out to freelancers, This cuts readers off from the industry, even more, leaving these few people doing all the work.
On a personal level, I feel it also means there’s only a handful of opinions feeding back on a huge range of scripts in various genres. That’s not to say the readers they have aren’t worth their weight, but writing, as we know, is a creative process, and how each reader interprets a script can be very different. To have one or two voices speak on scripts for an entire company seems a rather reductive way of running a business that’s attempting to tell stories to audiences of millions with a variety of tastes.
The best advice one reader could give me over coffee was to keep applying to these same production companies every few months in the hopes you might just happen upon them when they have an opening. Even then, you’ll never make a living off it.
Now, most script readers aren’t looking to make a complete living from this work. Most of us are writers ourselves and want to do this as another source of income outside of our own creative work.
But it has become so closed off that it’s now something that for every one script reading opportunity, we essentially become hundreds of pigeons all fighting for the same breadcrumb.
This is demoralizing for trained and experienced professionals.
— To be continued in our March 2020 Issue of Cut Frame Magazine. —
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