What's life like on the bottom rung of Hollywood?
May 21, 2008 8:56 AM   Subscribe

How much does a script reader make?

I have a friend who is a script reader. He works for a company in Hollywood that apparently just got relatively huge amounts (half a billion) of cash with which to make money. Apparently, this means he is going to get to move up the totem pole in the film production world.

However, he's always very reticent to give ANY kind of details on what he does, or would be doing in his new job. I get the feeling that he doesn't make much money or something, or that he has no plans lined up, and that he's embarrassed about what he does or something. Which is weird, because I just think it's cool that he's working in Hollywood at all. I've gently pressed for details for a number of reasons, one of which is just plain old curiosity about how the movie business works. I just think it would be interesting to know what Hollywood is like for the non-actor groundlings. Also, because I imagine it might be fun to take a look at a script every now and then. I don't think I could do that full-time, but the idea is still intriguing.

I feel like if I knew a little more about that industry, I could find openings to talk to him about his life a little more. So how does that system work? If he gives good input on scripts, could he end up producing movies? And how long does that generally take? What is the average age of a script reader and what do they make?
posted by nushustu to Media & Arts (4 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Studio / Production Company jobs in Hollywood are like many other desirable industries. At the lower levels you make nothing or close to nothing and work very long hours. But if you impress (find good scripts, give good notes, etc) then you can move up fairly quickly to positions of power that do make lots of money. It's a running joke around here to be nice to assistants because in 5 years they'll be running the studios, and it's often true.

Your friend is probably at that lower level right now, so he's not as proud as you might think he should be. But many execs started out in the mail room, so he's probably on a good path if he's smart and a hard worked.

I'm working as a reader right now for a production company as an internship while I'm in grad school at UCLA. I make a grand total of ....

ZERO dollars.

Though they do validate parking.

But it's totally worth it. It's connections, and learning the process, and becoming used to what goes on in these offices.

Average age is probably 22-27 years old, I would guess. It can vary, though.
posted by visual mechanic at 9:25 AM on May 21, 2008

I'm not an expert on the script reader side of things, but I'll give you what I know.

Aside from unpaid interns, there's two kinds of (dedicated) script readers:

1) Freelance script readers. They're hired per script. I'd have to check on current rates, but I think my friend was getting around $90 per script. You read the script and write what's known as coverage. Coverage is a 3 or 4 page document with an outline of the plot, characters, and a quick analysis of its commercial viability. I think each script would take a couple hours to read and do coverage. The benefit of this is you can have another job and still be a script reader (my friend was an actor that had auditions during the day, read scripts at night). The negative is it was feast or famine for pay. Sometimes you'd get 3 or 4 for a weekend, sometimes none.

I honestly don't think there's much room for advancement in this job. It seems to be one of those jobs that's only noticed if it's done poorly, but if you're good at it you don't get enough accolades.

2) The studios and agencies have dedicated script departments. Their whole job is tracking the scripts that come into the studio, getting them read, getting the coverage into a computer system that everyone in development can access. I believe they're all salaried employees, although they may employ some freelancers if there's an overload of scripts coming in. Because of the volume, this is a tough job, but there seems to be better opportunities for advancement. I have friend that started in the Story Department and is now an executive in development.

I did some script reading as an intern. It can be a really tough job. I'd imagine it being soul deadening after a while. As a front line for the scripts coming in you're not getting the ones from high level writers-- those are going directly to the executives/ agents/ producer. You're getting the ones from the guy at the car wash who happened to know an executive from grade school and decided to write a script "just for fun". They're often very, very bad. And if you enjoy reading as an activity, it's tough to force yourself to read bad things over and over. In retrospect, though, I do value reading those scripts because it helped me learn things to avoid.
posted by sharkfu at 9:34 AM on May 21, 2008 [1 favorite]

Matt Belknap the producer of the On The Page podcast (sorry couldn't find a better non-iTunes Music Store link) is a reader as his primary job. He talks about his job a lot during this podcast (which is mainly focused on screenwriting).
posted by mmascolino at 10:03 AM on May 21, 2008

I attended a Learning Xpress class in LA about getting in to this field.

Sounds great (Read for Cash!) but the reality's as sharkfu describes. Not just reading; the work's mostly writing summaries of what you've read; and your early work will be on spec (first I heard this term -- means, no pay) until you build a reputation.
posted by Rash at 2:46 PM on May 21, 2008

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