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08/03/2002 - The Prodco Reader Speaketh, Part I

Today read the thoughts of Ray Morton, a script reader for a wide range of production companies. Incidentally, Ray also writes an excellent column for the scriptwriting magazine Scr(i)pt, available at fine bookstores and kiosks everywhere.

I asked Ray the same questions that script reader "Taylor" answered in his interview over the last two weeks. I hope the difference in their individual replies will illustrate how different one reader can be from the next.

(The truth is, I didn't think far enough ahead to realize that identical questions might be awkward. But I think I spun it pretty well there, huh?)


GL: How did you start working as a reader?

RM: Like a lot of folks, I was a struggling writer. I had had some success, but not enough to provide a steady income. A friend of mine used to work in development in Castle Rock and used to solicit my opinions on scripts. One day, after having enough of my bellyaching about money, she suggested I apply to be a reader. She put me in touch with the story editor, who gave me a sample script to cover.

It didn't actually go all that well, because the story editor really hated my opinion on the sample script (she loved it, I hated it), but for some reason she started using me (who knows, maybe they were just short of readers). Once I started doing it regularly, I began to make contacts, which led to other jobs at other companies and so on and so on -- a process, that, thankfully, continues today.

GL: What type of company did you start reading for? Who (or what type of company) are you reading for now?

RM: I started reading for Castle Rock during their heyday. At that time it was a very high profile, mini-major feature production company. Since then, I have read for similar level mini-majors, a lot of independent producers and production companies (both with and without studio deals), several contests, and one total nutjob, fly-by-night whacko with deep pockets and no idea how to make movies, bad or otherwise. I currently read for a few independent producers/companies and a script reading service.

GL: What marching orders are you given in terms of material? Do you look for a specific type of project?

RM: Usually, the only marching orders I'm given are "Find a good script." Of course, just exactly what that means varies from person to person and company to company and part of the art of doing this job is figuring that out from employer to employer. Usually bigger companies with studio connections prefer material with mass appeal, although, again, what that means varies, although what it usually means is a very commercial concept and a role or two that can be cast by some hot stars of the moment.

Smaller companies that produce more independent type films usually tell me to look for something "edgy," although I have never been able to figure out exactly what that means nor have I ever found anyone who can tell me what that means, but I think it means that the concept needs to be a bit dark and anti-social and that the lead character has to be sullen and unlikable and can be played by someone with a really hip rep but with absolutely no box office appeal whatsoever.

GL: How many scripts do you read per week? Approximately how many hours do you work per week?

RM: It depends. I'm not reading full time right now, so I find that I've been reading between 1 and 3 scripts a week. When I am reading full time and am really busy it can be more in the range between 7 and 10. One time, I read 20 scripts in one week, but that was a nightmare and I don't recommend you try it.

GL: Sidney Lumet wrote that he never starts reading a script unless he can read it all the way through (although I suspect he gets better stuff than the average script reader). Is this the way you read? What's your M.O.?

RM: Although I didn't realize it, I'm pleased to know that I have the same M.O. as Mr. Lumet (Great minds think alike. Or, in this case, great and mediocre minds...). I prefer to read the script straight through, to experience it in one sitting as if I was watching a movie. Doing so not only allows me to give the script my full, undivided attention (which I think is my obligation to the writer and the person who is paying me to read the script), but also allows me to give the best possible assessment to things like pace, flow, timing, etc. There have been several times when, for some reason or another, I have been interrupted and have had to put a script down and pick it up again later. This proved to be a very unsatisfying. In almost all of those cases, I started over again and got a much better result.

GL: Did you ever read get handed a script from someone you happened to know personally?

RM: No, luckily that's never happened. If it did, I would probably refuse the assignment and have them give it to another reader. I have no desire to piss off friends or keep secrets from them either.

GL: Do you write coverage of every script, or are you allowed to skim through a particularly bad script?

RM: Again, it depends. When reading for producers and/or companies, I read and do coverage for every script. When reading for contests, however, I am sometimes allowed to simply read the script (usually to the end, although some contests permit you to bail out before that if the script is absolutely hopeless, although you are usually required to read at least a minimum of pages - 30 or so - first) and only do coverage if the piece has a chance of making it to the finals.

GL: What happens to a script if you Recommend it? What happens if you Pass?

RM: I'm tempted to say "I have no idea," but that wouldn't be very nice of me. If I Pass, that's usually it unless the person I'm reading for has a personal interest in the script or if I think there's something to the concept that makes it worth investigating even if the script is a dud. I don't give many Recommends. Recommend usually means that you think a script is pretty near perfectly written, totally castable and ready to shoot and there just aren't many of those out there. I tend to give more Considers, which means that a script is nowhere near perfect, but has a lot of potential.

In either case, what happens next depends on the company I'm reading for and its particular development hierarchy. If it's a one-person operation, that person will usually read the script. If they don't like it, it ends there. If they do like it, they usually begin taking the steps necessary to being putting the project together. In a larger company, the development executive I report to usually reads it, and if he/she likes it, they take it to their next level and it goes from there.

GL: Do you simply submit your coverage to agents/executives, or do they ever sit down with you to verbally go over your impressions of a script or screenwriter?

RM: In most cases, I will sit down with the execs or producers I am reading for and go over that scripts I've read. We usually don't spend too much time on the Passes, except to discuss why I made the pass. We usually spend more time on the Considers or Recommends, to go over the pros and cons, talk about what the problems are, what rewriting might need to be done, etc.


Return for the second half of Ray's interview next week.


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