Like it or lump it, the role of the industry script reader is becoming increasingly important in film and TV. With the volume of scripts being written, increasing year-on-year, the challenge for those in power becomes one of filtration – everybody wants great writers and everyone wants hits, right? But hardly anyone has the resources or manpower to fully “cover” (read and get a report written) the amount of material they’d like to.
Enter, stage right, the script reader. A usually sophisticated and hardy soul, the truly outstanding script reader is so few and far between that the great ones barely have time to congratulate themselves on getting that first reading gig for Warner Bros. before they’re buried in a giant tidal wave of PDFs.
It’s rare, however, for readers to move on that quickly, at least in the UK. So how does a script reading career progress? And what type of script reader jobs are out there to choose from? And how much do they pay?
Types & Tiers of Script Reader Jobs
As we explain in our “Effective Script Reading” course, there are essentially 3 tiers of job in this sector, and although the hierarchy isn’t absolutely set-in-stone, it’s tough to bounce straight from Stage 1 or even Stage Zero, to Stage 3. These tiers are:
- Script reading for FREE for reputable, but very small companies, on the rise.
- Paid pro script reading for SIGNIFICANT, established production companies, lit agents and funds.
- Paid pro script reading for MAJOR, A-LIST, ultra-prestigious companies and even the Hollywood studios.
In real (theoretical) terms, these 3 stages might translate as:
- You get a job as a script reader for Steel Mill Pictures, a respected but small UK production company.
- You advance and get script reading jobs for the likes of BBC Films and The Irish Film Board.
- You advance and get script reading jobs for Warner Bros., Paramount, Scott Free or Working Title Films.
When you are starting out as a script reader, your goal is to arm yourself with collateral, so that when companies ask you “who do you read for?”, you have concrete, credible answers for them. This does not mean: “I read for Naughty Badger Films” or “I read for Low-Rent-Gangster-Flics-R-Us”. You do this by reading for free for respected companies and individuals, who in turn connect you to the bigger players, or help you enhance your CV.
You have to look at the company you’re approaching, and try and gauge their relationships – who do they obviously deal with? Who do they know that might be able to pay you if you impress their friend/colleague? Have they been awarded funding by the BFI? Has their company been mentioned in positive dispatches on ScreenDaily? Only script read for reputable companies – there are a great many companies looking to exploit new script readers, and although you might gain some experience working for a low-profile company, it won’t help you answer that crucial question: “who else (of note) do you read for?”
Then when you are reading for free, you need to ensure that your script coverage is as good as humanly possible. Some fortunate souls manage to by‐pass reading for free completely through the quality of their connections. However, if you don’t know anyone, then it’s a necessary evil if you want to progress in your career as a script reader.
Who Might Hire a Script Reader?
There are various different companies, individuals and organisations who need script readers. They include:
- film production companies
- independent film producers
- Hollywood studios
- film distributers
- film sales agents
- film financiers and funds
- Training organisations and funding bodies
- Funding schemes that appear from time to time
- Screenwriting competitions
- “marquee” name directors
- literary agents
- talent agents
- actors themselves
- TV production companies
- Regional funding agencies
- Film festivals (occasionally)
Getting jobs as a Script Reader
Script development is one of the most information-driven areas of the film and television industry. One of the ways you prove yourself as a script reader is by getting to that promising new writer or BAFTA-winning script before anyone else. In this frenzied race where everyone tries to out-read and out-network one another, you can never read enough scripts, make enough phonecalls, or network enough. A very senior development person once said that being “on it” in this way is what impresses the executives and producers most, more even than good taste and script judgement.
And in the world of script readers being “on it” is equally important, and developing an “eye for a gap” is vital, too. There are some “guerrilla tactics” that you can use to help seize every opportunity or create one for yourself.
10 Ways Script Readers Find Work…
- First in line... – have your finger on the pulse of the industry so you will be the first to know about any opportunities.
- The Skilled Coldcall – this is tough for most people, but easier with repetition. Research who you want to ask for, be pleasant, find a connection to them, keep them talking, and ask for less than you want (ie. advice or coffee).
- The Eye for a Gap – spot an opportunity and be proactive.
- …and Creating or Manufacturing Your Own Gap! – be creative and find a way to create the opportunity you seek.
- In by the back door… – a camera DP worked at a cafe at Pinewood and met the people he needed to meet in the company and eventually became part of the SKYFALL camera department.
- Information Overload – browse IMDB, follow important people on Twitter, read trade publications such as Variety, Screen Daily, BFI, etc.
- Rounds of Coffees – find names, get in touch to ask for advice, meet people, ask them if they’d connect you to a couple of other contacts. Repeat. There’s a skill to it, you mustn’t push your luck too much with the favours, but it’s not rocket science.
- The Road less travelled… – use your connections to theatre, actors, or directors, as well as any foreign language skills you may have. If you can read and assess scripts in a foreign language, arrow in on companies with an international presence.
- Face Time – talk and meet with people face to face. It can be helpful to know what someone looks like, so when you see them at events you can approach them.
- Persistance – Extremely important. You will be rejected, but keep going.
To enhance your industry intel and increase your chances of hearing about opportunities, you can take the following steps:
- Think about joining IMDbpro.com – an invaluable contacts and information tool for $20 or £12.73 per month.
- Create a Companies House subscription – this is great source of information on TV and film companies.
- Know what people look like so if you come into contact with you’ll recognize them.
- Sign up to as many film mailing lists as possible (it can be tedious weeding through these lists as they arrive in your inbox daily, but just one of these snippets of information could lead to a job).
- Try and identify areas that other script readers aren’t capitalizing on (looking for “under the radar” indie producers is a good idea).
- Read the trade papers and magazines – particularly Screen, Variety, Deadline and The Hollywood Reporter, religiously.
- Make sure to keep in touch with key contacts. Set alarms in your calendar to reconnect with people of influence every 8-12 weeks.
- Attend every networking event, however small, and definitely attend the big ones. Going to Cannes is pricy, but you’ll invariably have a great time, and meet lots of people who will be helpful to you in the future.
- Form lists in Excel of producers and companies you’d like to work for.
- Follow the money – go on the BFI’s awards database and use it to make lists of the companies who are awarded money. If you live outside London pack your days with meetings. Come up to London once every 2 or 3 weeks, and every time you’re there meet between 5 and 8 people (any people involved in the business!), including lunch and drinks in the evening. The whole day costs between £30 and £50 (depending on where you live), which is a lot to a script reader but it’s a great way to get your name out there and really build connections.
How Much Do Script Reader Jobs Pay?
Like in any job, script readers must pay their dues. This is why it is often necessary to work for free. Unpaid script reading jobs may not pay in cash, but they do provide opportunities to get experience and make connections with the right people. An important part of script reading is building your resume and skill set. Because it can take years to progress from one tier to the next, script readers need to be patient and passionate about the work they are doing. Paid script readers in the UK typically earn £50.00 per script, with an extra bonus for a fast turnaround. If a script reader is asked to read a book that is being considered for adaptation, they could be paid £80-100 per book. In the US, script readers earn about $40-60 per coverage, which tends to be longer. However, if they join the script readers union in the US, they will be paid more.
Should I launch my own public script reading service?
This is widely frowned-upon in the corridors of power for the simple reason that unless you’ve “made your bones” and got hired by major companies, and ploughed through those 2,000 industry-level script reports, what are you selling?
A screenwriting degree? The fact that you “get” story better than the milkman? The fact that all those English lit essays you wrote means you’ve got some textual style? The fact that you read a few scripts and wrote a few reports on a peer-to-peer site?
Until you’ve been there, done it, and got the industry T-shirt you just don’t have anything credible to sell, in the eyes of the executives and agents.
a) read for major, major companies over a prolonged period of time (say, 5 years) OR
b) held a major script development job of significance for a company everyone knows and rates…
…you’re going to be harming your career before its even got started. Throw in the low pay, the fact that writers aren’t stupid and will only hire bona fide consultants with demonstrable industry experience and, well, most execs and industry pros are foxed why people keep having a go at launching their own script reading services.
Bide your time. Wait. “Make your bones” in development, and then if you want to run your own outfit years later you’ll both fully equipped to do so, and respected. You can check out how a typical, successful career in script development pans out via the chart below:
How to Become an industry Script Reader
Our 1-day “Effective Script Reading for Film & TV Course” has been running for 4 years now in central London, and has rapidly accelerated the progress of many readers.
The course is the first to focus heavily on the skills required to locate and gain script reading jobs – jobs which are never publicly advertised and require a specific range of skills and a certain well of resourcefulness to acquire.
Containing both a pre and post course homework assignment, our course can’t turn you into a great script reader overnight, but it can save you a lot of time, wasted man-hours and mistakenly blown opportunities in the process.
Just click here to read further information about the course, or to book your place.
Enjoyed this article? Read our pieces on “11 Reasons for the High Turnover of Script Consultants” and “Evolution of a Script Development Professional”.