ALLIGATORS IN A HELICOPTER

a pro script reader ponders movies, reading, writing and the occasional personal flashback

Friday, September 23, 2005

Mailbag

Scott --

I recently discovered your blog, and noticed that along with Fun Joel and Josh F., all of you guys work/worked as readers.

I used to write coverage for my friends, who were assistants at various agencies, in exchange for all the free scripts I wanted. I figured I ended up writing 30-40 of them over 2002-2003, while I was in school, but they soon left their jobs and I forgot about it.

I never realized that you could actually get paid per script. I always figured it was all the assistants who were doing the coverage, as part of their job.

What does one have to do to get work as a reader? Do you have to work in an office? What is the average pay? How many scripts can I read per week? I've heard from friends that you can either be in-house, which is more of an office job, or a freelance reader... Is that true?

B.


All good questions.

Basically, reading work varies, depending on the company. Some make the assistants or the interns do it. Many have at least some paid readers, to get the better stuff covered (or anything covered better), or to take the workload off the people in their office.

I've never known any in-house readers with offices, though I suppose they exist. Otherwise, there are union readers (who work for the major studios, though the union is pretty much impossible to get into) and freelance readers like me, who work for smaller studios, TV networks or production companies.

I'm very fulltime, which means that on average I probably read 5 books and 8-10 scripts a week, for about 4-5 different companies (I used to work almost exclusively for Miramax/Dimension, but that stopped when they started going through their divorce). But there are readers who only read a few things a week; it depends how much time you want to devote to it, or how much the people you are readers for need you to read.

I read in my apartment, or out at a coffee shop; sometimes people messenger work to me, and sometimes I physically pick it up. All of the coverage (around two pages of synopsis, and a page of comments) I write on my computer, and e-mail in; only very rarely am I e-mailed scripts to read.

Many people that I work for, I have never even met.

If you have samples, that's good; if you live in L.A., that's important too. I'd suggest just calling production companies or agencies, tell them that you have some experience and are looking for part-time reader work, and see if anyone bites. Often people need readers, but it is hard to know where to look for them, so you might get lucky. They'll probably ask for a resume and samples; they'll probably even ask you to do a sample coverage of something they give you.

Scripts usually start about $50 each, though it can be a little more depending on the company. Books escalate by page length; generally it is about $100 up to 300 pages, and then jumps by anywhere from $20-$50 for each 100 pages after that. But everyone pays differently, and usually experienced readers get paid a little more.

Good luck, and let me know how it goes...

16 Comments:

At 10:13 AM, Blogger The Hopper said...

Thanks for the info. When I moved out here after NYU I called a few contacts looking for a reader job and when nothing panned out, I kinda quit. Now I feel motivated to look around again.
Thanks

 
At 10:40 AM, Blogger Maura said...

I just received my copy of Scr(i)pt today, and there's an article in it about how to become a Reader. (As an aside, that job title always reminds me of a comedy sketch by legendary funnyman Bill Hicks.) You might find it useful, along with Scott's very fine advice.

 
At 3:47 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Scott,

C'mon man. You don't read 20 books PLUS 40 scripts a month. No way.

But I can't figure out why you'd make it up.

Reader Ben

 
At 4:58 PM, Blogger Scott the Reader said...

I just checked my records for the first six months this year, and I am off in my estimate, only because my work has been skeewing more toward books this year.

In the first 6 months of 2005, I read/covered 180 scripts, 155 books, 1 DVD and 1 legal document (don't ask).

So that's an average of 30 scripts and 26 books a month. Though I think that's more scary than 40/20; 6 books takes longer to do than 10 scripts.

No wonder my wife is so bitter.

 
At 7:44 PM, Blogger Grubber said...

What your saying is, relaxing with a book on your holidays is not high on your adgenda?

How thick are the lenses on your glasses????????????

 
At 10:19 PM, Blogger CharlieDontSurf said...

The SCRiPT atricle seems to be more about how to cozy up to managers and agents by offering to read and do coverage on material for them(for free), less about how to become a professional reader/story analyst.

Though I imagine that going along with the route outlined in the article would work, as long as you had the understanding that if they liked your work they would then start paying you for each additional script.

I'm going for this job so I'll blog about my success or total failure.
I'm also the one that sent the question in the first place.

 
At 7:59 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm curious, Scott, about the defense mechanisms you must have developped over time to do this kind of work. Or does it have have to do with a certain personality type. In which case, what qualities do you feel are necessary to make a good reader? What attitude must a reader have? My outsider's impression is that the reader must at the same time be detached and involved.

Daniel L

 
At 9:56 AM, Blogger Scott the Reader said...

I guess it helps that I enjoy reading, and go into each thing I read like it's a new story that I hope will wow me. I want them to be good, and I try not to get too disappointed when they aren't.

I try not to bring any baggage, and just read things on their merits. Sure, some scripts are bad, but when I'm done I write them up and move on.

So I don't really need a defense mechanism; it's just a script. Some suck, some bite, but few cause any lasting damage.

 
At 10:55 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"I try not to bring any baggage, and just read things on their merits."

Also a good attitude to apply in other areas of life, imho.

Daniel L

 
At 9:53 PM, Anonymous chuck said...

Not entirely sure if this is the right place to put this but the emai address on your blog profile is coming back no good.

I’ve been read around town a few dozen times at production companies and agencies. However, I’ve only been able to talk my way into seeing the coverage twice. Both times it was very helpful for the next draft.

What’s the dynamic behind a company not sending the writer the coverage?

 
At 11:21 PM, Blogger Scott the Reader said...

It probably saves a lot of awkwardness. If it's good, it's hard to explain why the company isn't interested.

If the coverage is bad, it invites the writer to protest why they think the coverage is wrong (rightly or wrongly), while it likely will go against the gentler reasons the exec probably gave for passing (like "we have something similar in development", rather than "this script really is quite awful").

Plus if I thought the reader was going to see it, I might be tempted to be more gentle, and maybe my boss doesn't want that.

 
At 6:50 AM, Blogger Fun Joel said...

Sorry it has taken me a while ot comment on this -- I'm still on vacation in NYC and have taken a break from the blogosphere as well as from LA. But I fly back later today, and plan to post on my blog about this as well (since H'wood Grunt did also email his questions to me).

In brief though, my experiences are not MUCH different than Scott's, but I might have a few other little details to add. Thanks for posting, Scott, and for asking, Grunt!

 
At 2:39 PM, Blogger Fun Joel said...

FYI, I finally posted my comments about this over on my blog!

 
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