Sunday, March 1, 2009

How to become a reader

I got an email this weekend from a reader named David:

Thanks for blogging and imparting knowledge on us aspirings. Every one of your entries has been extremely helpful. However, you've stuck to giving advice to writers and their scripts, what about your advice on how you become a reader? As I've learned about the job through you and others, it's been something I would love to do and feel I could really be good at. How does one become a reader? Do you start as an unpaid intern and make yourself valuable and get paid work from there? What would be your advice for someone considering being a reader as a long-term career? I would love to get your input! I'm moving out to LA in July and becoming a reader is the path I want to take.

As with every job in L.A., there are about a hundred different paths to getting to be a reader. My personal road was as follows: I came out to L.A. with few connections, but eventually got a hold of the UTA Job List through an alumni connection. (Nowadays, you can get it through Temp X at Through there I got an internship with a boutique management agency. Basically, I spent two days a week hanging out in the office answering phones and reading from the slush pile. These were looooong days because the job was incredibly boring. The phone seemed to rarely ring and the slush submissions were generally pretty weak. "Coverage" consisted of a grid, and four blank lines where we were expected to handwrite our opinion of the script in question. Most of what I read was pretty weak, and while my analytical skills weren't stretched, it at least got me used to the idea that 90% of the scripts out there are crap. Plus, I made a friend there, but more on that later...

After that, I did another internship while I continued to look for a paying job. This was with a much more prestigious production company responsible for several notable films in the '90s. However, at the time I was there, they only had one project in post production, and haven't released a film since. I mention this because at least at the time, interning at a production company was a great way to make connections and perhaps get hired on as a real employee at the end of your time there. Anyway, this was another two months of reading scripts, getting coffee and manning the reception desk.

After that, I finally got my first paying job... as a runner at yet another production company. I made sure to get to know the Development staff, and sure enough, it paid off just about a month into my time there. The VP of Development came down to the PA room one afternoon with a 500 page novel he needed coverage on. I jumped at the opportunity, spent the rest of my afternoon reading the script, went home, read for another two hours or so, wrote up my coverage that evening, and made sure that I got to the office before he did so the script and the coverage waiting for him.

Suffice to say, after that he started bringing scripts to me regularly. About six months later, they decided to make me a permanent Development Assistant. A little over a year later, a friend of mine who worked at an agency let me know they were looking for experienced readers, and my sample coverage got me hired. That job led to another freelance gig that has paid off well for me.

So basically, the best advice I can offer is to do whatever you can to get close to the people who work in development. It might take a while, so make sure you're prepared when the time comes to take advantage of that connection. It might suck to endure an internship or two, but often it makes it a lot easier to job hunt when you've got something like that on your resume - especially if you're straight out of college. Also, internships are great for making long-term connections. A guy I met at my first internship is a guy who four years later got me hired reading for the company where he was now assistant to the Chairman of a production company that I've served for almost two and a half years.

In fact, virtually every job I've gotten in L.A. has come as the result of some kind of personal connection, whether it's a friend, an alumni contact, or someone I met through a previous job. Don't neglect that.

Also, if you're coming out to L.A., be advised that this job economy is terrible at the moment. I've got friends with five years of experience as assistants who have been out of work for six months or more. It's probably best to have enough savings to keep yourself afloat for six to eight months. (It took me about six months to land my first paying job.)

Be advised there are different levels of readers. A union reader is the plum job to have because they're paid better and their workload is consistent and regulated. (In other words, you won't have to read 15 scripts a week to make ends meet.) A staff reader often will be on salary rather than being paid per script. Both of these are preferable to being a freelance or part-time reader, which might allow for a more flexible personal schedule, but with a trade-off of lower pay and an income dependant on reading as many scripts as possible in a given week.

I hope this answers your question, David. Thanks for reading!


  1. This post was informative and incredibly helpful! Thanks so much for answering my question. Looking forward to my move to LA and my quest to become a reader. Keep blogging!

  2. Thanks for sharing. ALWAYS interested in the inner workings of people at work in the industry. I got here through Scott Myer's "Go Into the Story" blog, where you were the feature of one of his posts.

    - E.C. Henry from Bonney Lake, WA

    P.S. Just so you know a little bit of who I am. I write feature length spec scripts. To date I've written 10 that I'm trying to sell. Got another one that's in mothballs, that I can't show anyone due to a cease and desist e-mail I got from V.P. at Fox studio; a re-invisioning of sci-fi they hold the right to... Anyway hopefully someday some my work will come across your desk, and I'll get my crack at entertaining you.

  3. "An 8 year-old boy escapes the pain of an abusive home by trying to teach an ostrich how to fly."

    Best. Logline. Ever. :)

    Gave me a much-needed laugh, thanks!


  4. Having worked on well over two hundred projects in production, I have established a theory that could be verified or contested.

    Spec script writers as a group do not know production needs and therefore they do not write for film! They write stories in script form which mostly need to be rewritten by a professional screenplay writer, usually at a far higher price than the original writer.

    many indy producers, however, usually require a different kind of script. They really need a screenplay already written which does not require an expensive rewrite by a more professional screenwriter. Thus, massive numbers of script rejections without reading the entire script.

    Some indy readers have told me that their accepted scripts must 1) Grab the reader in the first eight to ten pages, and 2) The writer must employ film terms and also make film sense in the story or it is a waste of time.

    Since now that over seventy percent of the films making it onto the screen in theaters are made by indy producers, Do you think that writers should adjust their writing to satisfy an indy producer without necessitating an expensive script rewrite by a more knowledgeable screenwriter? James Durgin, script supervisor.