Wednesday, March 31, 2010

FAQs - How to get hired as a reader and the percentage of good material

Kristee sent in a few questions that pretty much qualify for an FAQ at this point:

1) What is the best company to work for as far as being able to get your foot in the door for script reading. I'm willing to take freelance, etc...

As far as I know there aren't any companies that are in the business of hiring readers who don't have any experience elsewhere. My experience is that you don't start as a reader - you work your way up to being one. I've covered my path to becoming a reader in this post. Most of the readers I know have similar stories. If you really want to be a reader, expect to start out as a PA or Development Assistant first.

2) How much does script reading pay? Could I quit my day job in other words.

Well, most readers aren't on a regular salary unless they happen to be development assistants. That means you get paid per script. These rates vary wildly among various companies. I wouldn't recommend quitting your day job for this. Companies are cutting back and the easiest person to cut is the guy who only pops into the office maybe once a week for ten minutes.

A lot of companies have started farming out work to outsiders only when absolutely necessary and have forced the assistants to do a lot more of the reading. The reason for this should be obvious - the assistants are already on salary and they aren't paid extra for these additional coverages. If you were in charge would you pay someone $300 to read five scripts, or would you rather just make someone do a little extra work for free on the weekend?

It's a really bad time to try to break into reading. The jobs aren't out there, the workload is shrinking and you're competing with guys like me who have a lot more experience. Reader jobs tend to go to people who have already made contacts in the business and guys like me are always looking for additional freelance assignments. If you don't have any contacts in the business yet, it's going to be hard to break into this end of it.

On that note, if any companies out there need new readers, call me!

3) What are the credentials you need to get into script reading?

Experience with at least one company, most likely. My post linked above probably answers this already. Basically, in order to get the job you want, sometimes you have to do it for free for a little while first.

Mr. Dearth asked another question that I get a lot in one form or another:

We hear of astronomical numbers thrown around about the spec market, the slush pile and the amount of scripts registered with WGA and/or entered into contests each year, but (knowing this is an impossible question to answer with any kind of certainty) where would you approximate the numbers actually are per year of new scripts submitted to the general market?

I couldn't even begin to hazard a guess.

And with that number, what kind of percentage would you estimate as far as scripts that are:

* Nearly ready for development
* Worth another look by someone else
* Technically sound, but not interesting enough
* Interesting but not technically sound
* Barely readable

I realize that you might only be able to go by what you've experienced, but I think it's always interesting to hear what we are up against from someone on the inside. Plus, getting a read or any kind of positive feedback can feel even more special when you realize the astronomical odds against that happening--at least momentarily.

Well, your categories are all a little to relative for me to come up with a useful answer. "Nearly ready for development" is sort of a broad topic. Something that's right in the wheelhouse of one company you read for might be completely inappropriate for another company in terms of subject matter, budget, genre, etc. Something that's totally ready for development at Handsomecharlie Films (Natalie Portman's company) might be completely wrong for Silver Films.

Part of being a good reader is knowing what sort of material the people you read for will respond to. You might find an action script that's completely ineptly written, but has a hook or a premise that is EXACTLY what your boss is looking for. If your boss also happens to dislike dramas, then the hack action script probably would stand a good chance of getting a CONSIDER over the emotional, deliberately-paced Nicholl Fellowship script about an 8 year-old boy who escapes the pain of an abusive home by trying to teach an ostrich how to fly.

Stuff like this is why you should always research the people you're targeting with your spec. And frankly, it's why some agents should be more discriminating about what they send out. There are at least a few times a week where I read a script that just based on premise alone would not be made by the people I'm reading for.

But if pressed, I'd give the same answer I gave here:

As far as "Professional submissions" (i.e. from agents, managers, other industry pros) the numbers break down like this, more or less:

Great - less than 5%
Good - maybe 20%
Mediocre - 50%
Bad - 20%
Awful - 5%

If you add slush pile submissions to this, the bad/awful percentages increase at the expense of Good/Great.

1 comment:

  1. I hope this is OK to mention here. I'm involved with the Scriptwriters Network, and they will train people to do script reading as part of their Hollywood Outreach Program. They have free one-day training classes a couple of times a year. There's both a screenplay program and a teleplay reading program.

    Check out the main site (, and if you're interested, you can send a message to with what you'd like to cover (screenplays or TV scripts) and it will be forwarded to the appropriate people.

    Susan :)