Updated: Jan 13
It's safe to say 2020 was -- an experience.
Naturally, I decided to do what I do best: Bury Myself In Work™.
Hey, I'm a Capricorn. It's what we do.
In burying myself in work, I took on script reading for a prominent film festival on a volunteer basis. Toward the end of the summer, the festival's script department asked me if I would be interested in reading for pay.
So, being the beautiful, naive, sophisticated newborn baby that I am, I accepted, not knowing what I was getting myself into.
For four weeks, I was reading 50 scripts a week and reading around the clock. On top of that, I had to give notes to the writers for each script.
If you find yourself in this situation, here are some tips and general advice to keep in mind.
1. Say Goodbye To Your Social Life
Your family and friends -- even the ones in the entertainment industry -- won't understand what you're doing. And if they do, they won't understand to what degree you have to commit yourself.
You're reading around the clock, sometimes into the early morning hours. Then you sleep for a couple of hours and do it all over again.
For this festival, I signed a contract. This means if I didn't get this done, there would have been serious consequences...like possibly getting sued or blacklisted.
2. You Will Not Have Time To Do Anything
You won't have time to clean your house, cook for yourself, water the flowers you spent all summer nurturing, or have time for your entire workout routine. Why? Because you're literally reading around the clock (like 15-18 hour days of just reading). To deliver good notes, you have to read the script in its entirety.
People can always tell when you haven't read the script all the way through, and if your notes are bad, you get written up. So, you learn to read fast and write notes as you go.
You will have time to shower, sleep (if your body allows you to), and eat takeout. Sound extreme? That's because it is. That's what it takes.
Good luck scheduling time to go to the store (or even grocery pickup) and running important errands. It's much easier if you have a partner or live with roommates, but I was alone, so doing everyday tasks was much harder.
3. Take Your Sleep Breaks As Scheduled
What are sleep breaks?
Sleep breaks are exactly what they sound like. You take a break to go to sleep. This is important because you're staring at a screen all day. Your eyes will hurt. And burn. And cross.
It will get to a point where you look at something, and it dances off the page. One time my eyes got so swollen that I had to take one of those eye masks you put in the freezer for headaches and go to sleep with it on.
You have to take a break from your script reading and go to sleep. Do not look at your phone. Do not read anything else. Shut your eyes and allow them to rest. Seriously. No screens at all during this time if you're planning actually to sleep, and no more than an hour at a time.
I should pause here and say that I am happily unmarried and childfree; I realize following these tips is easier said than done, especially if you're a parent with young children. This is when you're going to have to rely on housemates/partners (or whatever applies to your living situation) to do a lot of the heavy lifting, if possible.
For single parents living alone, especially during this pandemic, it's still important you find time to rest your eyes, even if it's for two minutes. But trust me, those sleep breaks will save your life.
Pro-tip: Invest in glasses with blue-light filtering. You're welcome.
4. Put On an Upbeat Playlist
It will keep you motivated. By day three of marathon reading, the genre won't matter. Whether or not the songs have lyrics won't matter because it's about staying awake at this point. It's background music to keep yourself going.
5. Alternate Between Sitting and Standing
Sitting for 18 hours a day is going to make your legs feel restless. You will feel like your skin is on fire, so the compromise is to alternate between sitting and standing.
Sit for one, stand for one, sit for two, stand for three, whatever your process, alternating will save your damn life. Invest in an anti-fatigue mat; it will make standing more comfortable.
Also, get those laptop risers that allow you to turn your desk into a standing desk. Your neck will thank you later.
6. Reward Yourself with a Half-Hour TV Show Every Couple of Hours
You won't always be able to sleep, so this is the next best thing. I looked forward to this almost as much as my sleep breaks. Parks & Recreation is my favorite show, so I would watch an episode or two while eating takeout because sometimes I needed a comfort show to remind me of what I'm working toward: being the showrunner for my own shows.
7. Give Yourself a Time Limit on Each Script
You have to read the entire script, but the speed you do it is up to you. I gave myself a two-hour time limit on each script, including notes.
So, let's hypothetically say you're reading 7-8 scripts per day; if everything goes according to plan (it never does), that's roughly 14-16 hours of reading. And you still have to shower, sleep, and eat, and between those and reading, that's your entire day.
(Although I once read 21 TV pilots in one day, but we've established I'm not normal.)
8. Comfort Snacks Are a Must
Listen, marathon reading is not for the faint of heart. It does not play fair. I had these lofty plans of the meals I would prep and the healthy snacks I would have on hand.
You can pretend that you're going to eat healthfully the entire time, or you can allow yourself to be human and realize if you have fries as a meal multiple times, it's not the end of the world.
The fact is, you need the energy to keep reading and sometimes, having your favorite snack is enough to power through.
9. Make Sure You Dance It Out
At some point, you'll need to move your body to get the blood flowing. What a better way to do this than to dance it out? Don't like dancing or don't want to? Do a warmup to one of your workouts.
I used to box for exercise, so when I felt like dancing didn't cut it, I'd do some of the exercises the trainers would have us do during the active rests. Dancing it out (or however you chose to move your body) is quick, and you don't even have to leave your house to do it.
10. It's Not Easy, But It's Worth It
Marathon reading for film festivals is not easy at all. You will feel isolated. You will have doubts, and at 3 AM, you will ask yourself why you agreed to do this. Stay the course. When you get to attend the festival, as I did, you get access to unique panels from some of your favorite screenwriters who drop amazing gems.
I got to hear Ed Solomon talk about his struggles as a writer and his early days working on Laverne & Shirley. I listened to Bill Hader talk about how Barry became a TV show. Brenda Chapman talked about what it was like working on some of Disney's greatest movies and talk about directing The Prince of Egypt and Brave. I got to watch incredible films and root for my fellow filmmakers.
These panels, these experiences, these moments: this is what you're working for, and had I not participated as a reader for this film festival, I wouldn't have had access to the gems these individuals dropped.