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Monday, May 4, 2009

So You Think You Can Read?

Since I started teaching the I Want To Be A Reader course, a number of students have signed up and completed it. But none with the enthusiasm and insight of Rouge Waver Michael Brownlee, who whipped up a frothy blog post about his experience:


Rouge Wave Pictures presents a new workplace thriller –


“Selfless coverage pro, Julie Gray, with only a computer, an internet connection and her vast knowledge of the craft, has only four weeks to turn a know-it-all screenwriter into a professional reader without losing her sanity or her professional credibility.”

Can she do it? Is four weeks enough? Can a know-it-all screenwriter be taught anything?

Spoiler Alert: Yes. Yes. And, thank god, Yes.

When I learned that studios hire people to read and cover screenplays I thought - How hard can it be? I know how to read. Besides, it’s got to be a better “industry job” than cleaning some junior executive’s cat litter box. Right? But after signing up for Julie’s I Want To Be A Reader course I discovered that there’s more to doing coverage than just reading a script.

The very first week I was blown away by how many elements a reader has to be on the lookout for. I quickly realized that reading a script for coverage would be nothing like reading one for pleasure. To start with I’d have to turn off my inner critic. One of the first assignments was a screenplay written with a dialect, where the words were phonetically spelled out. I loathe reading these. To be a professional reader you have to keep a certain distance and leave your personal feelings at the door. You read only what’s on the pages. That was probably the hardest and most valuable lesson I learned. (And one that’s actually helped me with my own screenwriting.)

As I read the scripts for homework, I felt like I was trying to keep a dozen plates spinning at once. Are the characters fleshed out? Does the structure work? Is the dialogue believable? With each week more plates were added. Writer’s voice. Synopsis writing. Reader comments. Trying to keep track of everything took constant focus. I struggled not to stop and jot down notes as I went along. After all, speed and efficiency are the reader’s two chief allies.

I was feeling pretty proud of myself when I finished reading a screenplay in under two hours. Then Week Three rolled around I learned that this probably wouldn’t cut it. Because a pro can read a screenplay and cover it in about two hours. Not only that, but she’ll do it three times a day five days in a row. What the what? I had been using every minute of the week between assignments to go back over my comments. Tinker with the synopsis a little. Even re-read parts of the screenplay to make sure I had all my ducks in a row. And we hadn’t even put all the elements of coverage together yet.

But when Week Four finally rolled around, and I had to write full coverage of three scripts, I was actually looking forward to the challenge. Because of the way the course is structured, learning one or two elements a week, I never felt overwhelmed. Challenged, yes. It felt good to get through those final screenplays, knowing what needed to be done and that I had been given all the tools to properly complete the job. It also felt good to have solved the mystery of what coverage is. Sure, there’s a lot more work than just reading a script, but now there’s also pride in being able to say “I can do that.”

Over four weeks, Julie walked me through all the steps needed to become a professional reader; from writing a synopsis that faithfully represents the script to keeping comments professional and on point to where to look for work. I highly recommend this course to anyone who’s thinking about becoming a professional reader. Now I have three samples and a letter of recommendation from Julie - a major foot in the door. And even if you aren't looking to become a reader, but are constantly looking for ways to improve your screenwriting, I would suggest you take it as well. After completing the course, I can honestly say that I’ll never look at a screenplay, my own or someone else's, the same way again. It’s like having new eyes. And that is worth the price of admission alone.


I am proud to say that Michael graduated with flying colors. Take advantage of my Economic Stimulus Discount, pay as you go and change the way you read scripts forever. Whether you're looking for work as a pro reader or just want to learn how to read scripts the way readers do, I promise you, you'll improve your own writing a thousand-fold. For more information, click HERE.

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1 comment:

Luzid said...

This is a great reminder of how vital a fast, clean read is.