When I first got into this game, I was under the impression that table reads are reserved for big-budget films and TV shows, studio movies, or theatrical plays, but that’s only because I didn’t understand their true purpose. In principle, you should conduct two key table readings: one after completing the second or third draft of your script and the other during pre-production. Your first table read serves a very important purpose – it opens the table (literally) for discussion about your screenplay. It answers questions you may have and allows people (whose opinions you value) to give you honest feedback about the quality of your work. Are your characters relatable? Did the plot make sense? Is it exciting? Boring? Too slow? Too fast? What are some of its flaws? What did people like or dislike about it? Are there any plot holes? Was there something that didn’t make sense? These questions and more should be answered by the end of your first table read.
It can also be really fun!
So, after finishing your second or third draft, invite a group of friends, colleagues, actors, and directors, and ask them to donate two hours of their time to sit with you and your friends at your home, drinking wine, eating cake, and reading a script that goes into production a few months from now. All you ask is that people give you honest feedback, a fact that should be reiterated before the reading starts. Hand out feedback forms, have snacks, and show your appreciation for the friends and colleagues who came through for you (they didn't have to show up, so the fact that they did is amazing!).
Once the reading is over, you should take the time to have an honest discussion about your script. That discussion is going to open your eyes to new ideas and get you brainstorming with fresh thoughts and interesting prospects; it’ll answer questions and give you a real picture of opportunities missed and/or goals accomplished. I’m telling you – it’s worth doing. The best part about these table reads for me is that people tend to give you feedback even if they're not writing it down. If the scene you wrote is hilarious, people will laugh out loud; if the scene is sad, the room will instantly go quiet; if the scene is tense, you'll be able to feel it in the room. A table read really gives you insight into what it will feel like to screen the best version of your film to a group of people you care about and whose opinions you value.
Both Pixar and Marvel are known for running “Brain Trust meetings,” in which filmmakers who worked on the company’s other films contribute feedback and offer support throughout the process. Read the book Creativity, Inc. for a fascinating look into what a “Brain Trust” really is; it will change the way you approach the business of making art.
This table read for "Beauty and the Beast" looks incredibly fun and gave everyone the chance to see what the dance numbers before even stepping on set.