The Bricks of Breaking In: Make Your Own Table Read With This Writing Tool
November 6, 2019
As writers, we often work in isolation; churning out pages then reworking and revising again and again. You’d love to hear your work read out loud, listen as your characters come to life to see if you’ve captured their voices and have consistency to the tone and flow of the script.
The reality of making this happen is tough, even for those living in the heart of the entertainment industry. Gathering actor and writer friends together for a read can be difficult to coordinate while juggling schedules. If you’re off working on your own outside of Los Angeles, it could feel impossible to even find people who can dig in and give your script a solid table read.
Now there’s an app for creating your own table read, allowing you to bring a wide array of voices together and making a table read accessible through your phone or tablet.
App creator Dan Conway developed tableread out of a void he was seeing with his own writing.
“I basically came up with the idea because I got into writing after being in visual FX and animation for years. I was writing screenplays and I’d read them back, but I wasn’t really getting a feel for the tone and the pace of the script,” he said.
While many screenwriting programs have audio playback, Conway often found them limited in effectiveness.
“The voices aren’t very natural and you’re just listening to the same voice over and over, so I thought I’ll investigate making an app where you can set the voices to a grandparent or a teen, a child, male, female and sit back and listen to the tone of the script and the pacing,” he said.
To use tableread, writers simply need to put their script into PDF format and load it into the app.
“That PDF gets broken down by the app into slug lines, dialogue, parentheses; whatever it needs to be, so it knows exactly what it’s reading,” Conway said.
The app has about 40 different voices in a variety of age groups, nationalities and sexes, with the possibility of making further adjustments.
“It has natural speaking voices and you can change the tone and pitch of every voice,” Conway said.
“So those 40 voices can turn into a possible hundred voices based on the settings you have.”
Beyond putting a voice to each character, the tableread app can also add a background score to your project.
“We’ve got drama scores, action scores, comedy scores. They can run in behind the dialogue so it feels more like you’re listening to a movie,” Conway said.
“It kinda feels like a dynamic read of a film rather than just a monosyllabic voice regurgitating back to you what you’ve written.”
Writers aren’t the only ones who find this app useful; when it comes to producing, Conway has found it valuable for exchanging notes with his collaborators.
“I use it all the time with my cast and crew. I can load in a screenplay, make my notes and make a note of who it’s for. I’ll send them the script as a tableread file and when they listen back, it will read my notes to them.”
Additionally, notes can be read and printed along the way, which enables production departments to keep track of where everyone’s at with a given project.
For performers, the tableread app offers a rehearsal feature. Actors can work solo and use the app as a scene partner. It’s also effective for groups.
“Say you have eight actors sitting around and there are six parts you need the app to do, you can set it so the app reads those parts,” Conway said, adding that tableread can also take on the role of the narrator as actors do their lines.
So what kind of benefits are writers seeing with an app like this?
“The biggest benefit to writers is that, let’s face it: .01% of screenplays get made, so this is kind of turning your screenplay into an audio play. You can actually listen to it and experience your movie,” Conway said.
“I think people get a big thrill out of actually hearing their dialogue read back to them in different voices and can imagine what the movie would be like. Writers can set up the voices, set up the music and then share it with their family and friends.”
The second biggest benefit writers have discovered is that the app helps with the logistics of scripts like picking up typos, because you can read over them a million times without catching certain errors, but when you hear them it’s nearly impossible to miss.
Listening to your script played back also engages your senses differently when it comes to analyzing what you’ve written.
“There’s pacing of it; just getting a feel for how the movie is unfolding is really important. The tone too and dialogue,” Conway said.
The app allows you to hear your characters speak and lets you connect directly to their voices. This enables you to easily flag moments when a character’s dialogue misses the mark and isn’t as consistent as you want it to be.
Conway and the app developers continue to grow tableread and have also expanded it.
“We’ve added a new feature where you can actually edit dialogue and action and save it back out in the script and export it,” he said.
Other things Conway has coming to the app include sound effects to go with the background music and scores that are already available.
“We’re planning on adding more for the rehearsals. Effectively what we’re doing is if you read your line and get it right, the script will continue reading, but if you get it wrong it will stop until you get it right. So it’s good for actors to learn their lines correctly,” he said.
The tableread app is available on both iOS and Android and can be found through Apple’s app store and Google Play. There is a free, basic version of the app that will simply read your script with your native phone voice (essentially, your Siri voice).
“It’s a really bare-bones thing. It will give you a preview of all the voices, it will give you a preview of all the scores. It will show you what the app can do without giving you all the functionality,” Conway said.
For the paid version of the app, which costs $2.99 a month, the user has access to rehearsal features for actors for table reads and all the voices. It also gives the notes ability and allows you to add a score. Additionally, you can import and export scripts and send them to your collaborators with your notes in them. It will also let you receive tableread projects from your collaborators so you can listen back to their notes.
If you want to find out more on how you can make a table read accessible through your phone or tablet, go to tablereadpro.com and see if a tool like this can make your writing and rewriting processes easier and more productive.
Written by: Kelly Jo BrickKelly Jo Brick is a TV drama and documentary writer. A Sundance Fellow and alum of Women In Film’s Writer/Showrunner Mentoring Circle, Kelly Jo is also the Vice Chair of the WGAW Genre Committee. She wrote the Telly Award-winning film PAUSE and the Frank Lloyd Wright documentary, The Jewel In The Woods. Follow her on Twitter @KellyJoBrick.