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Secrets from a Script Reader: Getting a Job as a Script Reader

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One of the most common questions I get when people find out I’m a script reader is – how do you get that job? Like every other position in the industry, there is no one path to becoming a reader.

First, how did I become a reader, aka story analyst? Years ago, I noticed my community center was holding a class called “Read All Day and Get Paid For It.” Ok, intrigued! What’s this all about?? Reading the description of the class, I was delighted to discover it entailed reading screenplays for studios and producers. Since it was related to the industry and the class was cheap, I gave it a whirl.

Mind you, I had never heard of readers before. I had no idea what one did. If you’re reading this and you’re not sure what a script reader is, it’s best to read this column I wrote detailing what script readers do before reading on!

Back to my story. On the first night, I found out the teacher was a retired studio reader that wanted to pass on his knowledge. Looking back now, I’m so grateful that I came across this class. It’s rare you get to interface with a reader, let alone learn directly from one. I didn’t know that at the time.

After I took his class and learned about what studios look for in scripts, what coverage is, and tips on becoming a reader myself, I decided to take it to the next level. I took on an internship at a literary management company, which again I feel incredibly grateful for, because I had the opportunity to read everything under the sun – horror, comedy, drama, pilots, shorts. You name it, I’ve read it! I learned that my forte as a reader is features and received fantastic training in story analysis.

When my internship was over, I was brought on to another company that this management company owned as a reader and I began actively seeking out reader jobs. The rest, as they say, is history. I have been working consistently as a reader ever since.

There is no magic secret to finding a reader job or becoming a reader. It’s like any other job in this industry. You have to hustle and go after it with all you’ve got, because there are hundreds of others just like you that want that job. Sounds like a dream to just read something and get paid for it, right? Well, it sounds like a dream to everyone else, too. It’s also even more competitive, because experienced readers seek the same jobs as inexperienced readers.

To be a script reader, understand that being a reader is not all about reading. That’s just part of the job. You need to be good at script analysis and giving notes, which is coverage. Again, read my column on what script readers do for more info on that!

Presuming that you understand what the job of a reader entails, my first piece of advice for you is that you must be willing to work for free. Again, like any other job in this industry, you’ve got to be open to building a resume and making connections before you expect to get paid for your work. Paying your dues, as they say. Getting a script reading gig is not any easier than pursuing a career as an actress, writer, director, etc. You have to have some kind of passion for it. The work ebbs and flows just like it does for everyone else in the industry. That is, unless you get brought on as an in-house reader where you go into an office type setting every day, which is rare these days.

Most readers I‘ve met are freelancers, which is what I am. In-house readers are more rare, because companies farm out script reading to interns or assistants. Coverage turns into one of the many tasks they do, rather than having a dedicated reader with story analysis as their sole responsibility. Hey, it’s cheaper to have one employee that does two jobs versus having to pay two people, right? That’s why finding a script reading job that’s just dedicated to script analysis is harder to find these days.

You might consider taking on one of those positions that has script reading as part of the job’s duties, because you’ll still get script reading experience, which you can add to your resume. You’ll also start gaining contacts and connections in the industry.

Internships, like the one I did, are a great place to start building your resume as a reader. Some are virtual, which is more convenient. Where you decide to take an internship will dictate what kind of scripts you’ll read and what kind of training you’ll get. Not all reader internships offer proper training in story analysis. My suggestion is that you ask how much training you’ll get as an intern to feel out if it’s a fit for you. You’re not getting paid for your time, so what are you looking to get from the internship?

Anywhere you get experience doing coverage, ask if you will be able to use your work as samples. This is another key to getting a job as a reader: strong sample coverage. Sample coverage is what you’ll be asked for if you apply for a reader position, in addition to your resume. It’s like an actor’s reel. It shows your skills as an analyst. If you end up doing an internship for a company where you’re unable to use any of your work as samples, then one of the benefits of doing that internship has been lost. As an alternative, you might ask for a letter of recommendation to help you score a paying reader gig in the future.

Another avenue for gaining sample coverage is by seeking out scripts on your own and writing coverage on them. Ask your writer friends if you can read their scripts. Find screenwriters’ groups and offer to do coverage for them. This is a trickier path to take, because you’ll be flying blind without training or feedback to know if your coverage is really effective.

A tip for creating sample coverage on your own is to google “script coverage template” to get you started so that your coverage is in an industry standard format. You’ll find a variety of templates. Companies usually have their own templates that dictate what’s priority for them. To start out, you can copy someone else’e template for your samples.

After you have your samples and have developed some experience, you have legwork to do if you want to find a reader gig. Scour entertainment industry job listing sites for reader positions, such as Staff Me Up or EntertainmentCareers.net. These same sites also list internships for when you’re building your resume. Every once and a while, gigs and internships pop up on Craigslist. Cold calling is also an option. It’s what I did when I was starting out. Utilize IMDB Pro to search for production companies, literary management companies, and find their contact info.

Being a script reader is a typical stepping stone on the way to becoming a writer, producer, and director. After being a reader for years, I understand why that’s the case now. Check out my Facebook Live where I share how being a story analyst has helped elevate me as an actor, writer, and producer. If you’re seeking a job as a reader, it’s absolutely possible! With determination, legwork, and basically plain ole hustle, there’s nothing stopping you from becoming a great (and paid) story analyst.

 

 

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.