Writing a screenplay can be an isolated experience.
Most of the time you’re alone, looking at a blank page with a lot of white space screaming to be filled with excitement and drama. You ponder and think and mull and wait for sparks of creative inspiration.
When lightning strikes, you type as fast as you can to try and capture that brief, momentary charge that comes with a new idea.
And then there are some days where inspiration isn’t going to cut it, perspiration will. Okay, not actually sweating while writing, that’s just weird… but sometimes inspiration doesn’t come. Sometimes you just have to get from point A to point B the best way you can and hope that it isn’t boring or unoriginal.
As you write, the characters voices become distinct in your mind. You can hear them interact with each other and they begin to take on a life of their own.
They make decisions you didn’t anticipate or say things you don’t want them to say. You get frustrated when they paint you into a corner and you’re left with having to fashion an inventive solution to get you out of this new-found dilemma.
By the time you complete the script, you’ve written and re-written the story so many times that when you read it, you’re not actually reading it anymore… you’ve got it memorized.
By this time, you’ve lost all objectivity. In your head, everything you’ve written on the page works perfectly. When you hear the characters speak they sound exactly the way you want, knowing every subtle hint you’ve layered in there and they have full comprehension of your subtext.
Unfortunately for you, the writer, since you’re probably not going to be the one who will end up acting out your masterpiece, your lengthy time with the material has probably skewed your perspective a bit.
So, whenever possible, it’s a good idea to get some actors together to read your script aloud. By doing so, you’ll be amazed at how quickly problematic phrases or wording will trip them up. Or how your once-genius subtext is so subtle no one but you actually knows it exists.
You’ll realize, for all the right reasons, that you have more rewriting to do.
We went through just such an experience with a read-thru of our romantic comedy feature called An Unfinished Work. I asked two actor friends over to the house, Stephen Ray and Vanessa Tompkins, bribing them with pizza and drinks, so they would agree to sit down and read the script out loud.
Stephen and Vanessa tackle the script.
I had not worked with either actor and it was nice to get to know them.
And hearing them read the dialogue aloud was a tremendous help. It brought to light a lot of small, fixable issues that we’ll have to correct in the next draft… areas where the character’s motives could be more clear, or where certain actions need to be augmented to make them more realistic.
Writer/Director Pete Bauer offers some guidance.
We strongly recommend this step for any screenwriter out there. You’ll be glad you did it.
In the overall film making process, there are a billion and one things that have to happen before a feature film can get made. Having actors read the script aloud during the end of the writing process is a great way to find whatever flaws still remain in your story.
Then you’ll only have a billion things left to do.