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Script Readers in Hollywood… They Do What Now?

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What’s that, never heard of a script reader before? Or maybe never heard from one? I’m not surprised! Script readers are a largely silent group in Hollywood, a vital part of the system that you rarely hear about. We work for studios, producers, directors, agents, managers, distribution, sales agents, and even sometimes name actors. What all these entities have in common is that they constantly receive scripts and, well, someone’s gotta read ‘em.

I’ve been part of this profession as a working reader, aka story analyst, in Los Angeles for years. Hey, read all day and get paid for it, easy gig anyone can do, right? Yes and no.

You might like eating chocolate cake, but consider if you had to eat chocolate cake all day, and especially the ones that aren’t made well. Now you’re getting the idea. Script readers are referred to as gatekeepers, because we eat all the badly made chocolate cake so that the higher ups don’t have to waste their time with it. What gets past us is the cream of the crop, the artesian, master crafted, delectably yummy chocolate cake. Am I making you hungry? I’m hungry.

Let’s continue. Reading is only part of the job. The other and more valuable service a reader offers is in the script analysis we provide, which is written in a report called coverage. Coverage is a report detailing what the weak and strong points are of a screenplay, sometimes with development notes. Development notes are suggestions a reader offers on how to strengthen a script and/or make it more suitable for the particular company it was submitted to. Coverage also includes a logline, synopsis, and a rating of pass, consider, or recommend.

95% of the scripts I read are a pass. A “pass” means no one needs to take their time to read this; we aren’t going to consider this script at all. The reasons why are varied and wide ranging, which is what the coverage is for. It details why a script was passed on.

Now, don’t go thinking that a script was passed on just because it was poorly written. That’s not always the case! There are a number of factors that play into why a company might pass on a script. It’s possible they have another script with a similar premise already in development. Perhaps the script is a romantic comedy and it was submitted to a studio that only produces horror films. The script isn’t in that company’s wheelhouse, so even if it’s well written, it’s a pass!

“Consider” means that the script has something going on that we like about it, but some things need to be changed. That ranges all the way from small changes to a complete rewrite. Development notes are usually always offered with a “consider.”

“Recommend” means a script is good to go and someone needs to buy this property and make it right now. “Recommend” is the ever-sought-after rating, but it is indeed difficult to get, and for good reason.

A strong reader will not only be able to say if your script was bad or good, but an exceptional reader can state specifically why aspects of a script are effective or not, and offer suggestions on how the script could be stronger. This is my forte. So, for a very simplified analogy, I ate your chocolate cake and the honey you added is working well with the cacao, but there’s a bit too much sweetness, so maybe if you added a pinch of salt and cut down on the honey it would be even better.

Why might you not hear from script readers very often? I think part of it is because we’re usually multi-hyphenates that don’t just exclusively read for a living. I’m also a screenwriter, actor, and producer. I can talk scripts all day, but it also relates to the other things I do, which I am all consumed by. Sometimes instead of having a dedicated reader or readers, companies will have interns or assistants that are also taking care of other tasks read scripts as part of their duties. Script reading is often a stepping stone to other professions in the industry. The other reason why I think that you don’t often hear from or about readers is that, essentially, higher ups use our coverage to act as if they’ve read a script when they haven’t.

Yep, you read that right.

So, most likely they won’t want to talk about their readers or broadcast them much! One of the reasons why being an effective reader is important to a company is that Joe Schmo from such and such company that received your script could get a call from your agent asking what they thought of your screenplay. Joe Schmo will find my coverage and talk to your agent as if he’s read the script. That means my coverage has to be accurate and clear in helping Joe Schmo with his business dealings.

My coverage can help to sell a script and get a film made. I read for sales agents and distribution. I make sure they know what property they are selling and dealing with from my analysis when they go to marketplaces like Cannes, TIFF, AFM, etc. 

I like to say that script reading is where the creative side meets the business side in the biz. What I do helps both screenwriters and companies. I give notes to writers and speak their creative language, and I also speak the business language for a company to understand if a property, your script, is a fit for them.

You see, we’re not all a ruthless lot that will tear your script limb from limb, as is the stigma often attached to the script reader title. We also like to eat chocolate cake…or maybe that’s just me.

Joanna Ke

About Joanna Ke

If grace married silliness, their child would be Joanna Ke. Joanna is an award-winning filmmaker that thrives in the industry as an actor, writer, professional script reader, and producer. She champions diverse stories led by women both behind and in front of the camera. Joanna has been creating stories ever since she was a child, performing skits for her sisters and scribbling in journals before she even know how to write. She studied the craft of screenwriting with the late, great Syd Field. As a professional script reader, she is known for her ability to masterfully analyze screenplays. Joanna runs the twitter account @femcharacters, highlighting the unfortunate way women are often portrayed on screen. She also isn’t too shabby as a stunt performer and sword fighter. Wielding her broadsword is a favorite both on camera and off.