Wednesday, May 18, 2011

How to Get a Job as a Script Reader

Leslie writes: I'm very good with story development, and I'd love to read for a living. Do you think it's possible to work as a script reader from Atlanta? And, how in the world would I go about this?

I've gotten a number of emails from people who'd like to be script readers - and unfortunately, it is not an easy gig to land. There are a lot of experienced coverage writers floating around LA (and beyond), but the demand is shrinking. Many companies that used to use freelance readers now simply farm out the work to assistants and interns. The Bitter Script Reader has blogged more extensively about this. Even with years of experience, he has trouble finding enough work to sustain him. I was working as a reader for two different companies, but one recently decided to focus on their current development projects instead of looking for new ones. No more books for me. Luckily, my friend who works at the company passed my coverage samples on to a friend at another company who was looking to replace a reader who quit, so I may have a new gig. There are some jobs out there, but in my experience, the only way to get them is through friends and word-of-mouth. You're not going to find these jobs posted on websites anywhere. They generally don't even make it to tracking boards (email groups that Hollywood assistants and execs use to share information). Similarly, my other reading job came about through a friend I used to work with at the agency.

Script reading can pay decently, though many companies have not raised their rates in several years. My writing mentor says that I get paid about the same as what she was paid as a reader in the mid-90s. Also, it's unlikely that you would get enough work to make it more than a supplemental income. The majority of my (small) income comes from working as a tutor and exam proctor, and I also do some paid blogging (which is also a hard-to-find, low-paying job).

On a practical level, there's no reason that you couldn't read from anywhere. You can get PDFs by email and send your coverage by email as well...but I'm not sure you'll be able to find a reader job from outside of LA, unless you have some really solid contacts here. I think companies will want to see that you have some kind of industry experience that informs your coverage. You might be able to identify strong dialogue and a fun concept, but do you know how much it would cost to make? Do you know if there are similar development scripts floating around? Would actors want to attach themselves? I think it would be hard to know what companies are looking for in a script if you haven't at least had an internship in Hollywood. (My coverage has certainly improved a lot since my first internship!) So the practical, short answer to the question is: Be an intern or assistant first.

For more about script coverage, check out my post How to Write Script Coverage.

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The Bitter Script Reader said...

This is probably the post you're referring to. Or at the very least, it covers the bases of what I've likely gone into in recent posts.

I'm pretty much in 100% agreement with you on everything you discuss here.

Scott said...

Here's an alternate take:

You don't want that job. Really. You don't want it. Aside from the fact that coverage is a glorified book report and the process of writing it is a misery in and of itself, I can wrap my head around a desire to do that or try it, cause hey, maybe it's your cup of tea.

But the real reason script reading is a horrible job that you don't want is that 99% of what you read will be downright awful, or painfully mediocre (trust me, mediocrity becomes almost as painful as bad after you've read enough of it). Most companies don't need to pay a dedicated reader or someone with reading experience, because even unexperienced assistants or interns can, for the most part, weed out the bad scripts. Are they gonna pass on a good one every now and then that they shouldn't have? Sure. But farming this work out to assistants and interns is largely effective in the purpose of keeping the worst of the lot off an executive's desk without having to pay a dedicated reader.

So again I say stay away. Find a better use for your time.

Amanda said...

Scott - I can see what you mean, and there is also the issue of script reading making you too intellectually exhausted to work on your own material. But in terms of the dredge, I guess I've been lucky; I'm often sent scripts with major talent attached and sometimes even scripts written by Oscar winners. A couple weeks ago I was assigned a script that I already had saved on my desktop and was planning to read anyway. They're not all bad!

TParkerBerry said...

I don't think it is possible to earn a stabile living as a freelance script reader... no matter where you are. They simply don't pay enough and the work is not that consistent ($50-$75 per script usually). You would have to read an unrealistic volume of material for multiple companies... and even if you managed to secure that amount of work, it's hardly worth the effort. Even salaried assistants can have trouble making ends meet in a city like Los Angeles where the cost of living is fairly high.

That being said... freelance script reading is not a terrible place to START. Myself and dozens of my friends and colleagues in Los Angeles started by writing coverage for various production companies. Finding/landing a job as a script reader requires a little finesse, but it's not a tremendously difficult thing to do if you actually know how to write a standard coverage report. Rarely will you see a reader position advertised on a job board, so either you have to know someone (which is how I got the position) or you can do what several friends of mine did when they first came out here and cold call production companies. With the latter example, you have to be prepared to be told to go away a lot, but in some cases you will get some one who will ask for samples... if they like the samples they'll send you a few scripts as a test run and if you do well with that then you'll be a working freelance script reader. Until they just stop sending you work... which happens all the time.

Unlike the Bitter Script Reader's experience, I've found the position to be entry level (not something you work up to) and in most cases it has absolutely no upward mobility. You are simply a faceless email account and more often than not you are handling overflow of scripts that the assistants and interns at the company don't have time to get around to. if you are interested in a career in the business BEYOND reading... you are better off trying to find an assistant or unpaid internship position (which can turn into an assistant position) rather than working as a freelance script reader.

In terms of working full time and making a living on reading... the only way I think it could be feasible is if you work for the studios where I hear there is actually a "readers union" of sorts. I have not met a single person that is actually a member of this... but I've heard through hearsay and conjecture that it does exist. And if it's anything like the other unions in this industry, I'm sure getting in to it is some sort of Catch 22.

Unknown said...

Great post! I want to be a script reader.

robbiebernal said...

Amanda -

Thanks for the article. Any thoughts on the Black List? I saw that they are looking for readers and wondered if this advice applies there as well.