Friday, 17 October 2014

The Readthrough

It’s the big day. Well, maybe not the big day, but it’s a day. Judgment day. For you and your script. All the cast are sitting around a big table, along with the producer, director and half a dozen others who do stuff you haven’t quite figured out yet, but they seem to know who you are.

You are ‘the writer’.

Or one of the writers. But are you a good writer?

Is this script any good? Are you funny? Did you make the right choices? Is that stuff you insisted on leaving in the script going to work? Is it going to get a laugh in the room? Is it going to play? Does the script make sense? Will the whole thing judder to a dreadful embarrassing halt as the last ten minutes makes no sense, but they just won’t stop reading it out? Will the actors understand all the subtleties and nuances of your amazing dialogue? Will they trash a key line? Will anyone actually read or notice some vital stage directions that make sense of the whole thing? Do you feel sick? Is it hot in here? Can someone open a window? Is that what you really want to do with your life? Didn’t your mum say you should have gone into teaching? Or the law? Maybe it’s not too late to retrain. Are you naked and everyone's laughing and you're going to wake up...

STOP.

BREATHE.

It’s completely understandable, but if you approach a readthrough like this, it’s will be every bit as suffocatingly awful as you think it is, even it goes quite well.

But a readthrough of a script is not an exercise in pride or vindication. It feels like it is, but it shouldn’t be. A readthrough is just part of the process. A painful part, for sure, but once you’ve accepted that, you’ll have a much nicer time.

Your Script Isn't Perfect
What you need to realise before the readthrough starts is that your script isn’t perfect. It’s probably not awful, since you’ve been writing and rewriting this for a few weeks. Maybe even a few months. It might well work. There or thereabouts. But there’ll be bits in it that don’t work. They might be key moments that need fixing. The question is working out which bits they are.

A readthrough will show up all those weaknesses. So the readthrough is a good thing. Just like a trip to the dentist will show you which teeth need attention. People tend not to sit around and watch while you have your teeth checked, and draw conclusions about you and your talent from the state of your teeth, but you signed up to be a writer, so you know that people are going to look at your craft at some point.

It’s best to find those script flaws now in a badly lit, windowless, basement meeting room – rather than in front of millions of people on TV or radio, or in front of a studio audience, or even in front of three dozen tired production crew while you’re shooting stuff on location and it’s obvious that it isn’t working and it’s just too expensive to take time to fix it. So the readthrough is a good thing, even though it feels a cold shower. Of bleach.

The actors may well be sight-reading the lines, and they might make mistakes on some key bits, but you’ll just know from that readthrough what works, and what doesn’t; what scenes feel strangely long, or even pointless; what jokes you’ve clung onto from the start just aren’t funny, especially as you’ve changed the context of those jokes in the previous rewrites. You might even find the original moment, or motivator for the episode just feels oddly out of place now and should probably be cut. Great. You can now cut it.

What's The Worst That Can Happen?
The episode may fall apart completely in a readthrough. I had that once. It just wasn't funny. We were recording the episode in front of an audience in five days, and already pre-recorded some scenes. It was the worst day of my professional career. But we fixed it – because we all wanted to make a funny show. And it became my favourite episode. So, it doesn’t matter how wrong it goes. You can make it right.

So, once the script has been read, listen, think, consider, review and generally keep an open mind. The notes you’ll get will be a mixture of baffling, truthful, infuriating and infuriatingly truthful. And you’ve got time to fix the script so that it’s funny. Really funny. And that what you all want.


And keep bearing in mind that if you’re script is at this stage and the pressure is on you, at least you’re being paid. This is both what you wanted, and a lot less arduous than working in a factory, a mine or a corn field. So get over yourself. Your life is easy.