You Can Produce a Staged Reading of Your Screenplay – Here’s How

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Actors (from left) Ross Buran, Madeline Zima, Betsy Sodaro and Abbey McBride read through a feature length screenplay in front of a live audience. Photo by: Cory Hackbarth

What’s the toughest part about trying to make it in Hollywood? Convincing someone to read your screenplay. But what if you didn’t have to convince anyone and they didn’t have to do any reading…? Sounds like the perfect scenario. It’s called a “staged reading,” and it’s growing in popularity as new channels of script discovery continue to open up amid the surplus of spec scripts on the market.

I recently attended a staged reading of a comedy film script Golden Arm at the Hudson Theater in Hollywood and asked the screenwriters, Ann Marie Allison and our own editor-in-chief Jenna Milly, who produced the staged reading themselves, the secret to their success.

A little about the script:

Golden Arm is set in the world of competitive women’s arm wrestling and the quirky characters who delightfully inhabit that colorful world. We follow a young woman, Melanie, who is down on her luck after losing to her bakery. She discovers she may have an unusual opportunity to win a $20,000 prize – enough to buy her bakery back – if she participates in an arm wrestling tournament. Melanie struggles to find her confidence as the reigning champion, the hulking Sarah Silverback, threatens to take her down.  Big egos go into competitive overdrive as our protagonist navigates her way through this strange world that is as vital as it is funny.

So, how did the screenwriters put on this event to showcase their work and hope that someone — a producer, executive or investor — might want to jump on board to help make the film…? Here are 10 steps that will help you get it done.

The audience trickles into the Hudson Theatre in Hollywood. Photo by: Cory Hackbarth

No. 1 — Secure an inviting space at a convenient location.

The writers split the bill to rent a 99 seat theater for a one night show in Hollywood. The Hudson Theater is used to this kind of event and they guided these first time theater producers though the entire process which went off without a hitch.

No. 2 — Rehearse the actors with a director

The writers pitched the idea to female comedy director Maureen Bharoocha (Jimmy Kimmel Live!, Hairpin Bender, UCB Comedy Originals) who lent her talents in coaching the actors and also assembling the key players.

Nicole Byer delivers a line during the reading. Photo by: Cory Hackbarth

No. 3 — Add name value

Whether one of the actors is on a hit TV show, performs in the local comedy troupe or is simply connected through your PTA, try to have at least one actor who is a “draw.” With the help of Bharoocha, the writers secured several comedic actors Nicole Byer (*Loosely Exactly Nicole, Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates), Betsy Sodaro (Dr. Ken), Madeline Zima (Californication, I Am Watching You) and Abbey McBride (Barely Famous, Veep).

No. 4 — Have a designated person to read scene directions

Fellow screenwriter Ellen Huggins (The Rachels, Fatal Flip) read the stage directions.  This person is the anchor of the read. He or she should be an actor or at least someone who is articulate and charismatic. Also, be sure to go through all the scene directions and cut all non-essential directions. You want the reading to flow and be mostly dialogue driven.

Crew from top left includes Paul Welsh, Madeline Zima, Nicole Byer, Mike Faiola, Ross Buran, Betsy Sodaro, Maureen Bharoocha, Lauren Knutti, Abbey McBride and Ellen Huggins. Photo by: Cory Hackbarth

No. 5 — Make sure your screenplay is polished

Do not spend the money/time to read a screenplay that isn’t ready. Feel free to do informal table reads as you are developing the screenplay, but the staged reading should present have a finished product.

No. 6 — Social media is your friend

Take professional photos and video of the reading to promote on social media. Create your own twitter hashtag and Facebook page too. The best way to get your script out there is to put it out there.

No. 7 — Paper the house.

Particularly if you’re reading a comedy script, make sure you have a full audience. The writers invited their friends, the actors friends and promoted the event on social media.

No. 8  — To block or not to block

Blocking a staged reading is a great way to keep the audience engaged. If you have too many cast members however, it could get messy.

No. 9 — Treat the reading like a performance

Some screenwriters may want to get feedback after the reading, if so, have someone moderate the talkback. You could also organize a Q and A to allow audience members to ask questions and give notes.

Actor Ross Buran hangs with director Maureen Bharoocha at the after party. Photo by: Cory Hackbarth

No. 10 — Thank the audience after with food and drink.

The snacks don’t have to be fancy – pizza and Two Buck Chuck work fine. But reward your audience members for taking the time to come out, find a parking space, and be a part of the event.

Who knows one of them might just be someone who can get your hands into a development exec, a producer, an investor or someone who can take your script to the next level.

Have you ever staged a reading of your script? If so, we’d love to hear about your experience.

author-avatar

Shanee Edwards graduated from UCLA Film School with an MFA in Screenwriting and is currently the film critic for SheKnows.com. She recently won the Next MacGyver television writing competition to create a TV show about a female engineer. Her pilot, Ada and the Machine, is currently in development with America Ferrera’s Take Fountain Productions. You can follow her on Twitter: @ShaneeEdwards

9 Replies to "You Can Produce a Staged Reading of Your Screenplay – Here’s How"

  • comment-avatar
    Inspector clouseau February 14, 2017 (1:03 pm)

    Much easier to accomplish if you live in southern Cal.,Chicago or New York. These cities have an abundance of name actors as well as industry professionals and connections. In most other areas you’ll end up with a local play for the local folks.

  • comment-avatar
    George Thomas Jr. February 14, 2017 (1:39 pm)

    Script read-throughs are invaluable, whether you can stage one for a crowd or do one at home. The important thing is to engage with actors who can provide valuable character feedback.

    • comment-avatar
      Jenna Milly February 14, 2017 (3:34 pm)

      Thanks! This was our first time doing one like this, and I highly recommend it!

  • comment-avatar
    Paul Rich February 14, 2017 (2:06 pm)

    I’m confused. It says “No Replies to …” followed by Leave a reply. ??? I have questions. Who do I contact? Is there an email? Phone number. My main question is, for purposes of of segueing scenes that cannot be explained properly in a reading, I would like to use a narrator to explain action sequences or flashbacks or flash forwards. Also, what producer is going to watch a full reading of an entire screenplay? A narrator could cut time the time.

    • comment-avatar
      Jenna Milly February 14, 2017 (3:33 pm)

      For this one, we cut about 20 pages of action, so the script that was read was only about 80 pages. We had the narrator summaries sequences with one or two lines to move the story along.

  • comment-avatar
    Jeanette Hill February 14, 2017 (2:16 pm)

    Love it! Exactly how I do staged readings for my stage plays!!

    • comment-avatar
      Jenna Milly February 14, 2017 (3:33 pm)

      Great! So fun!

  • Writing - karelbata | Pearltrees February 16, 2017 (6:38 am)

    […] I'm the kinda person that likes to 'begin with the end in mind' (I think that's a Covey quote); I would prefer to specifically do an outline of how I want my novel to run. Unfortunately I had no solid plot ideas when November 1st rolled around. In fact, I haven't had very inspiring plot ideas since my early teens, I think. You Can Produce a Staged Reading of Your Screenplay – Here’s How | ScreenwritingU Magazine. […]

  • comment-avatar
    Tim Johnson February 21, 2017 (11:38 am)

    We’re huge fans of table-reads too over at ScriptLadder.com. You can automatically assign and highlight all the actors’ and narrator’s parts in seconds (which is great since even “small” screenplays can still have 20-30 speaking parts). And even the audience can read along on their devices – goodbye paper! You can watch a short video of how it works here:
    https://scriptladder.com/tutorials/tableread-basics

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