This year at the London Screenwriters Festival we ran a new initiative called The Actors Table Read.
The idea was to take a sequence of three to five pages and workshop it with actors, a director and the writer.
We ran nearly 100 sessions and the feedback was actually better than five out of five because SO MANY writers give it ten out of five or five plus plus plus! Yes the maths is a bit ‘creative’ there, but that’s also I think the tone of the event! It’s possibly the most successful event we have ever run!
Why so successful? Something extraordinary happens when a screenwriter collaborates with other professional creatives. Something unexpected manifests. Something exhilarating occurs, and it stays with everyone beyond the session.
In the feedback we asked what writers got from the session… Elizabeth Swan kind of summarised the tone of the feedback, both in the room and on paper when asked ‘What did you like about the session?’ and she answered ‘Just everything’.
After analysis, we found common experiences which I have summarised so that you can learn from their experience too. Overwhelmingly it was a few simple messages repeated over and over…
- Cut dialogue…
We all love our dialogue, but once a human being brings their life experience and talent to it, it’s amazing how much becomes clunky and redundant. This was reported over and over. Write fewer words. Amy Amani shared ‘I was amazed at how much of my dialogue was cuttable…’
- Actors and Directors Bring SOOO much… (Amanda Duke)
Having the freedom to interpret, cut, re-invent and find subtext is an illuminating and exhilarating experience. Meanings changed, subtext manifested, natural script editing was performed. All of this was borne out of using the script as a foundation, a blueprint, a jumping off point, but NOT a rigid document to be used as untouchable text. Collaboration created so much more.
- Trust Your Work, Story and Characters
Eleanor Draper shared ‘the less there is in on the page such as dialogue and direction, the richer and more inviting the text becomes. It takes a writer to make a leap of faith to trust this process, but it does work’. Taking a step back and writing just the essentials, trusting in your characters, story and world will allow others to improve what is already there.
- Let the audience work for it
Many reported that in cutting dialogue and allowing for interpretation and subtext, the audience would have to work harder BUT it was also more satisfying to experience the story in this way. Taking it ‘off the nose’ allows us to find truth that resonates with our own lives and experiences. Remember, we are all meaning making machines and we LOVE human mystery. Pat Maher said ‘what works on the page may not work on screen – think visually – a look can be worth 10 lines of dialogue’
- I should do a table read for the whole script! (Matthew McMullan)
Reading the entire script out aloud seems like an obvious thing to do, but more often we prefer to read it in our mind, let alone getting a group of actors together to workshop it. As Brendan Cleaves said ‘I will always make enough time for a table read now!’
- Seeing your script come to life changes everything
The Actors Table Read was as much inspirational as it was educational. There is tons to be learned about your script by having it worked on by actors, a director and having it performed. Tons. But I could see from the way the writers were bouncing off the walls, the experience had fired them up significantly, even more so than I would have predicted. They were inspired!
- Cut exposition and staging
As Toby Gaffney suggested ‘The overwritten exposition opening killed interest pretty quickly and so strategic cutting can liberate a scene exponentially’. So it’s not just cutting, but rewriting and refining both staging and (where necessary) exposition to be both shorter and more elegant.
You can be sure the Actors Table Read will be back next year at the London Screenwriters Festival, only bigger! You can get your pass now at the Early Biord rate of £260 HERE
Onwards and upwards!