The First Read-Through

On Monday night The Fitzroy passed a small, but important milestone on its journey to the screen: we had our very first script read-through.

Normally a read-through is with cast, key crew and financers. It happens late in pre-production and is often the first time all the main players are in the same room. It offers the opportunity for everyone involved in production to get an idea into the way the actors may approach their roles and identify any problems in the script that might have been missed in script development.

This read-through was slightly different. We are at a much earlier stage of pre-production and still refining the script. We set up this read-through to help with the next draft, to specifically see what is and isn’t working and to give us a chance to really ‘hear’ the script. As we are a low-budget production, the tighter we can work the script and work out all the possible problems beforehand, the further we can make the budget stretch.

Back to Monday night

At the read-through were the film’s producers, our casting director, his assistant,  five wonderful actors (all of whom had very kindly given up their Monday evening to help us out) and me.

So there we were, half a dozen scripts printed and sitting around in a circle, not dissimilar to an AA meeting… I would imagine. All ready to go.

To be honest, I was really rather nervous. It’s one thing to write a script and have people take it away to read it. It is another to hear actors read it out loud in front of you. There is nowhere to hide. No excuses you can make. On set or in post, you can complain about time or the weather or whatever excuse you want to fall back on. In a read-through it’s the story and the script: warts and all.

Thankfully the read-through went extremely well. Even though the actors were cold reading the script, they really bought it to life with a wonderful level of enthusiasm and energy. After one hour forty minutes, we had read the whole script and The Fitzroy had had it’s first telling.

So what did I learn?

The whole process was a real eye-opener. In general, the script is working well. Even so, there is much to address.

Many of the jokes are hitting – much more than I expected – but just as many could be pushed further and made funnier. There were also a few that fell flat or just didn’t work at all.

A few scenes weren’t reaching their intended emotional resonance. I think this is probably due to how the scenes are working in conjunction with the whole script. As it is a second draft, they were just doing their part in pushing the story forward and not having an emotional turn for characters. This is something I really need to look at – the scenes should be doing both those things.

It was useful to hear which lines were clichéd and more importantly which lines were too ‘on the nose’ and needed more subtext. These stood out like sore thumbs!

It also put to rest some of the fears I have had about the script.

It is often said that if you can combine characters, do! Well I have two quite similar characters in the film and have been contemplating making them one character for a while. I’m glad I didn’t. Hearing them out loud made it clear that they were quite different and performed very different functions in the film.

One of the biggest surprises that came from the read-through was the pacing of the film. There has been an ongoing debate between the producers and I about whether the pacing of the film is balanced, and if any areas are sagging. The great thing was that hearing it out loud, we really got a sense of the pacing and it felt that the film flowed nicely. There were a couple of small sections that ever-so-slightly dragged, but nothing to cause real concern.

Overall the whole exercise was well worth doing. Hopefully after the next draft (or two) we can do another read-through. It is such a useful tool. It was also a pleasure to meet a group of really talented actors and actresses. I can’t thank them enough for their help.

The next step is to boot up the old script and crack on with rewriting.

Where’s that trusty old red pen?