‘Dakota Skye’ Behind-the-Scenes Pic-of-the-Week #3
The table read.
For those not in the know, the table read is a long-standing tradition in the world of film and television. Sometime before the beginning of principal photography, you get every actor in the project, the director, writer, and producer, and various other department heads (Cinematographer, Art Director, Assistant Director, Sound), and sit around a table (or tables, in this case) and read through the screenplay while sitting down.
It’s not a rehearsal. In rehearsals you work through a scene, get inside of it, try to figure out how it works and what each actor is going to do with it. You run the lines over and over, infusing energy into the words and sometimes finding new words generated by said energy.
In a table read there is little to no ‘acting’. The actors have their scripts in front of them, their lines marked with a highlighter. Someone (in this case, Chuck our Assistant Director; in green in this second photo) reads the screen directions out loud, acting as a narrator.
Then everyone starts reading. It’s basically like a radio play.
There are a few reasons why this is done. First, it introduces the cast and crew to each other. That is very important. Meeting the people who are very quickly about to become a family. It also gives everyone involved a sense of the film, of the bigger picture. It can be easy to get caught up in just doing your job and forget about the project as a whole. But sitting through it start to finish with the actors saying the lines, it starts to feel real. You see where the laughs are (and where they aren’t). Where some problems may be. Sometimes the department heads notice things they didn’t before and it gives them time to make adjustments.
Plus, even though they aren’t full on ‘acting’, you do get to see a little bit of what the actors are planning on doing with their characters. They’re usually only going at about 25% (except JB; he has no lower gears) but you get a sense of how things are going to play.
Table reads are done by nearly every movie and television show (they do it weekly) in all of entertainmentdom.
I love them.
I hate them.
Like any narcissistic egomaniacal person who chose a profession that is primarily an outlet to lay bare your emotions, loudly proclaim your brilliant ideas, and obnoxiously display your talent for as many people as you can, I love almost any attention given to me and my work. I mean, think about it. You’re sitting in a room, all these people, and they are there to read something you have written as a group. It has been schedule, a room is reserved, there are refreshments, all to just read this thing that you wrote.
The table read is also the very last time where your script is your own. The last chance to hear it as written. Because once you get to shooting, once you are actually making the film, the whole thing takes on a life of its own. Lines get changed, beats get skipped, sometimes entire scenes go by the wayside. Over the next however many days you are going to watch (if you’re a writer lucky enough to be allowed on set; not everyone is) a large group of people do their best to translate your script to screen, and it won’t be exact.
A screenplay is not a work of art. Sorry, screenwriters. It’s not. Screenwriting is an art, but the final product does not stand alone. A script is nothing until it is a film, just like a blueprint is nothing until its a building. Before that, they are both just good (or bad) ideas on paper, but they are not fully realized things. A novel is a complete work. A poem. A story. But a play isn’t shit until someone acts it out (that’s why I hate reading Shakespeare. The only way to truly enjoy him, in my opinion, is to see it acted out, to hear that beautiful poetry spoken by skilled performers). A script for a comic book is a waste of paper until someone draws it. No one other than people in ‘the industry’ read screenplays for fun, unless it has already been made into a film. I’m sure lots of people own the published version of the Pulp Fiction script, but they only bought it after seeing the movie.
I’m okay with all of this. It is the nature and beauty of collaborate art.
But at the table read, it does feel good to hear your words one last time in virgin form, before the cast and crew have a chance to make them come to life in their own way. All you can hope is that they get it right at least 51% of the time.
But I love it.
I hate it because the flip side of all this want for attention is that everything is on you for those 90 minutes. If a joke doesn’t work you can’t blame the actors. If a scene doesn’t play, that’s on you. Whenever you offer up art you are actually asking to be judged. Eventually the audience is going to tell you whether they like it or not. The people at the table read are pretty much your first audience.
Presumably most of the people in the room are there because they like the script (at least on a little film like ours that had lots of volunteers) but there are also men and women there who are there to get paid and don’t know you and have no stake in whether they like the script or not.
So you sit there for 90 minutes and hope the jokes land. Hope the emotional beats land. Hope the story comes together. Hope that the more challenging lines you’ve written are actually performable (I’ll get to Ian Nelson’s reading of my favorite tongue twister line and why after hearing him nail it a dozen times I wanted to have his babies), whether, frankly, it’s any good when you read it out loud.
It’s scary. And, as anyone who has sat with me at one of these things, and I have only had the real privilege of maybe 5 of these things, I usually keep my head down, scared to look anyone in the eye.
The table read isn’t all about the writer but, I’ll tell you, from the writer’s point of view, it sure feels like it.
Love and hate.
Now that I think about it, a few weeks earlier we did do an informal read at Eileen Boylan’s apartment, with just the main cast and me and John and Shaun reading the secondary roles. That was much more relaxed and fun. No grips or cameramen watching and judging. But I was still nervous as heck.
That day was important, though, because it was the first time any of us met the force of nature that is JB Ghuman, Jr. I will have much, much more to say about this amazing man in a later post.
So yeah. My thoughts looking at these pictures. We started filming the next day, so I see a lot of optimism and joy and friendship, all of which would be tested to their limits over the proceeding three weeks.
But, while in the picture above I am laughing and enjoying myself, most of the time I had my head down. I get made fun of for it, but I can’t help it.
I want to be judged; I don’t want to be judged.
Man, writers are fucked up.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to get back to robbing liquor stores and stealing cars and smuggling guns and possible shooting a whole lot of people. If I never write another word again, you can blame GTA V.