Film & TV

What Is a Table Read? How to Set Up a Table Read, Including Who to Invite and What to Provide

Written by MasterClass

Jun 19, 2019 • 4 min read

A table read is one of the most important steps in the production process for any feature film or TV series. It offers an opportunity for your cast, crew, and other members of your creative team to gather together to hear the script read aloud. Whether you’re a first-time writer or a film industry veteran, table reads can give you invaluable insight into your script.

Close

What Is a Table Read?

A table read (also known as a read-through) is an organized reading of a script in which the speaking parts, stage directions, and scene headings are read out loud. For episodic television, it also provides an opportunity for many members of the production team to read scripts for the first time.

Table reads are an essential part of the script development and writing process, as writers use them as an opportunity to fine tune their stories, sharpen their dialogue, and make other necessary adjustments. These table readings usually occur towards the end of preproduction, before shooting begins.

Why Are Table Reads Important?

Table reads are a great way to hear your film, maybe multiple times if you can. This will help with pacing and character, and will perhaps inspire rewrites if you hear things that aren’t working. For actors, the first table read is an opportunity to discover a character out loud.

  • Confirm casting decisions: A table read is often the first time you will hear the entire script read out loud by actors. In many cases, you will have already cast most, if not all, of your main roles. Listening to these actors inhabit their roles for the first time can help you confirm whether they have been properly cast or if adjustments need to be made. If there are roles that have not yet been cast, table reads can be a great way to allow an actor you are considering to read the role in question to determine if he or she might be right for it.
  • Identify problem areas in a script: Even great scripts can have issues, and sometimes it’s hard to pinpoint a script’s problems until you hear the whole thing read out loud. Whether it’s stiff dialogue, boring stretches, or plot moves that don’t make sense, sometimes it takes a table read to truly determine the places where a script needs work.
  • Gather everyone together: Table reads often serve as the first occasion in the production process in which the cast and production team are gathered under one roof. In this sense, table reads offer an opportunity for the entire filmmaking group to meet each other, socialize, and discuss the script.

Who Attends a Table Read?

Table reads are generally attended by various members of the production team, including:

  • Cast members. Members of the cast will read their parts during the table read.
  • The screenwriter. The screenwriter is present to hear the script read out loud and identify areas where changes may need to be made.
  • The director. A director will attend a table read to take note of the actors' performances and begin thinking about the visual language he will use to tell the story.
  • The producers. Producers are there to meet with department heads and analyze the script for potential practical and budgetary challenges.
  • Department heads. Department heads (such as the production designer, the director of photography, the casting director, and the costume designer) will examine the script for issues and ideas related to their department.
  • Financiers, studio executives or representatives from production companies. Executives will often attend to offer creative or practical feedback about the script.

5 Tips to Ensure Your Table Read Goes Smoothly

  1. Select a location. Table reads can take place anywhere, from a living room to a Hollywood studio backlot. All you need is a clean, comfortable location that can fit the participants. Whichever location you choose, make sure that it is relatively quiet—you don’t want background noise distracting from the script reading.
  2. Arrange your cast. Arrange your cast around a large table so they are all visible. It’s also helpful to place name tags or placards in front of each actor with their character’s name.
  3. Print out scripts. Make sure that every member of the cast has a printed copy of the script, as well as one for everyone who is watching the table read. You should also provide pens so that the viewers and participants can take notes as the table read goes along.
  4. Record the table read. It’s often helpful to record the table read so that you can review it later on. That way, you will be able to remember certain aspects of the script that worked or those areas needed improvement. You don’t need anything fancy—just a simple, static camera in the back of the room that records clear audio should be suitable. Oftentimes, the room’s audible response to a joke, a twist, or a key plot point is the best way to tell if your script is landing the way you want it to.
  5. Provide refreshments: Table reads can last a long time. A light snack or meal before or after the table read can help your team stay focused and energized. The actors especially should also have access to water during the reading, as they’ll be talking a lot.

Become a better screenwriter with the MasterClass All-Access Pass. Gain access to exclusive video lessons taught by film and television masters, including Aaron Sorkin, Judd Apatow, Shonda Rhimes, and more.