So I have this TV pilot "Monsters" which I intend to enter for the Red Planet competition, I entered Draft 2 last year but it's had major surgery with the help of various readers since then. And it's much better now.
It just so happens that my daughter's acting class is run by a friend of mine, Victoria, (actress, director, producer and teacher). She suddenly suggested that I have it read by her adult group. So the day was planned, the Saturday just gone, and this is my report on same plus some hopefully sage advice.
The first issue was the number of actors available. I didn't know, but Monsters has something like 28 male parts and 18 female parts and obviously there was no way I'd get that many. So, after it was proposed at Victoria's group we got an estimate of 6 female actors and 4 male.
I went through the script and created a grid of which characters appeared in the same scene as other characters. Then I figured out groupings for 4, 5, and 6 female actors plus 3, 4 and 5 males such that no one had to double up in a given scene. Clever me.
Also it meant that I didn't know how many scripts to print out so I had to guess. Turns out I can get 4 x 60 page scripts from one £7 ink cartridge on my printer, which is about 3p a copy so it's not too bad.
Saturday dawns. I check the website of the studios where we're going to be doing it. It's emblazoned with a big red sign saying "All classes closed". There's a problem. I call the studio, there's no answer. I call Victoria, currently en route with my daughter. She makes phone calls. We can't use the studio, there's a problem.
It's 12:30pm we're supposed to start at 2:00pm. I call the sound recordist. No answer, oh god, I think, is he on his way? I leave a message.
More phone calls, desperate phone calls, can we get another venue, I find one but it's out of town and we don't know what transport people have, if any.
Call from Victoria: She's found a back room of a cafe in central Manchester just round the corner from the studio. Will that do, it's £25? Yes, I say, why not. It's even got tables which the studio didn't.
I call the sound recordist: he's in. I tell him about the change. He can't be there. He has no transport and can't get the equipment there. In a burst of tact, I tell him that's fine as I have an alternative solution. Once off the phone I cannot believe it. At no point during our e-mail exchange did this guy mention that fact he needed transport but didn't have any. When someone offers help it's great, but to offer help that couldn't be provided? My alternative solution was: Don't bother recording it.
By now I'm running late. I leap in the car with my scripts and head off into Manchester. Victoria promises me that there are always parking spaces nearby. I'm dubious but I trust her. She's right. I get into the area, find the original studio, find Victoria and find a parking space. I've brought plenty of change (and paper money too).
The cast are there and we head off to the Mod Cafe, for that is what it is: The vegetarian Mod Cafe on Oldham Street. The back room isn't actually a separate room, it's the bit under the stairs but it's not on the main run through the cafe and we might get an audience but that's what it's all about.
We re-arrange the furniture, I get introduced and there's 6 women and 2 men not counting me. Victoria suggests that she can play a set of male parts, sounds good to me. No one has read the script before except my daughter so I'm not quite sure what I'm expecting but hey, it's fun.
Having seen the various "Dr Who Confidential" shows they do on BBC3 I know that TV read-throughs have someone reading the "action", so I suggest that I'll do that. And we're set.
Thing is, this is Draft 4 and I already know that it's getting detailed changes in Draft 5. But that's okay, this will help me see what the script readers said was wrong with 4. I hope.
We settle down, I do a brief bit of setting (this is SF, set in 2063, there's been two plagues...) because that stuff will be coming up first in D5, but aren't in D4. And we start.
It's going well, considering that they've never seen it before they do a good job of reading. (Which I do have to take some credit for - everyone says I write good dialogue.) After about 20 pages I'm hating reading the action. One of the actresses, Tia (?), offers to read it. And she does an excellent job. Now I can just listen, it's much better that way, and I can make annotations on my script scratching out bits of unnecessary dialogue.
They laugh at the funny bits and, towards the end, Tia speeds up because the action is driving it. (Philip Shelley said the last 17 pages were really good, that matches his experience.)
And we get to the end in about an hour, which is right. Interesting.
Afterwards they all said they liked it, which was nice. But when one said "I want to know what happens next!" That was best. But I'm a realist, the compliments are lovely but there's still plenty of work to do.
We had some drinks (which I paid for, as my thank you to them); after a while everybody drifted away and I paid the man, Martin, nice guy. And a hero for us.
It wasn't perfect: I'd completely missed one female character. And managed to have someone playing against themself in one scene. Plus Tia was doing the action in the scene she also had a character in. But neither was a big issue.
Was it worth it? Absolutely. I gained the objectivity to see that the first part of the story lacks dramatic drive, unlike those last 17 pages which really cook. I'd recommend the process to any writer. But try to make sure you have enough people to read, do a character grid and make sure you can do it with just a few actors. I also wanted to produce a set of character cards with a brief description to hand out but the time constraints meant that didn't happen.
So now I have to fix everything in D5 because it's the last draft I'll get out before the Red Planet deadline. I also found out a piece of TV inside information (that I absolutely cannot repeat) which means that the 0.00001% probability that a spec script gets made suddenly takes a leap as far as Monsters is concerned - and that means "One Night in Paris" and "Running" are on hold until Monsters is fixed.
It's at times like this i wish I didn't have a day job - until I remember the financial situation I used to be in. Don't give up the day job. Just work harder.
What's on the turntable? "The Great Gig in the Sky" by Pink Floyd from "The Dark Side of the Moon". What can I say? Except "Sheer genius".
Sounds like a tremendously valuable experience, sir. The only script readthrough I've attended was thrown by Mr Piers, and that was clearly great stuff, too.
Yes definitely. Find your nearest acting class (or indeed, some real actors) and start. Actors will do anything for pizza (or so I've heard). Shooting People's casting list would probably be a place to start as well.
(Just making it up as I go along.)
I've found hearing actors speak your lines really shows you when something is clunky. Especially if they haven't had a chance to practice.
Glad it went well. And did the cafe audience give you a round of applause at the end?
In true British style no one batted an eye-lid or took an interest.
(And when I said "find some real actors" I didn't mean to be demeaning, the guys were great.)
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