Film and TV

The Alamo Drafthouse Is Doing a Live Table Read of the When Harry Met Sally... Screenplay

The lowly writer always seems to be on the bottom rung of the Hollywood food chain. They craft worlds and characters using nothing but their minds, a bottomless pot of extremely strong coffee and a social phobia that makes them hyper-vigilant of human behaviors and emotions. Then it slowly gets chopped into bloody pieces of cinema chum as it moves up the steps by various movie studio overlords and artists who have their own, sometimes completely opposite visions before it reaches the screen.

James Wallace, the programmer, creative director and chief movie buff for the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema in Richardson, knows the impact a script can have on a film. It doesn't just give the actors and directors an excuse to pull down an obscenely large check. It breathes life into a film.

"If you've watched a lot of movies, you know it all starts with a script," Wallace says. "You can make a bad movie out of a good script but you can't make a good movie out of a bad script."

Which is why the Drafthouse and the Dallas Screenwriters Association have come up with an interesting way to shine a much-needed spotlight on the underappreciated art of script writing: ScriptsLIVE!, a series of live readings of iconic scripts that kicks off Wednesday with the romantic comedy classic When Harry Met Sally.

The idea came from the live script readings organized by Juno and Up in the Air director Jason Reitman for movies like Boogie Nights, Reservoir Dogs, The Princess Bride and the pilot episode of AMC's Breaking Bad, with entirely new casts for each film. Wallace says DSA approached the Drafthouse about doing their own live table reads as part of an ongoing series assuming, of course, that it would attract an audience.

So far, the chances are good for another ScriptsLIVE! show, since they've already started making plans for future shows with movies such as Ghostbusters, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, Toy Story 3 and Groundhog Day. Also, the When Harry Met Sally... experience sold every last seat in the theater.

"We had a similar idea we hadn't started working on yet and the idea they had was to educate people and show them what makes a good script and show them their favorite movies in a different way," Wallace says. "We wanted to get behind something that would also support the local film community and offer people a fun time."

Douglas King, ScriptsLIVE's producer and DSA board member, says the entire movie will play out through the reading of the script. The performers -- including Bryan Massey standing in for Billy Crystal as Harry Burns and Cooper Harris reading the part of Sally Albright -- won't get out of their director's chairs to act out the scenes. They won't even screen the movie. It's all designed to take place in the theater of the audience's minds, to give them a better understanding of how the script carries the movie.

"It's essentially what we call in the industry a table read," King says. "You're able to listen to the words of the scripts and dialogue and the actors' dramatizations but you're able to focus on the words and focus on the craft of screenwriting and that's what's important to us."

When Harry Met Sally... is the perfect choice to kick off the script-reading series, King says. Written by Nora Ephron, it's one of the most memorable and critically acclaimed romantic comedies of all time that's perfect timing for Valentine's Day and has a unique backstory that even the most well-informed movie buff will find interesting and educational.

"It's a classic movie," King says. "Everyone loves When Harry Met Sally... It's ironic that in the past week, we saw a script trade newsletter that posted an article about When Harry Met Sally... making an appearance on The Goldbergs and how they quoted from the movie and used clips from it. So I think it's a movie that everyone loves and enjoys it and wants to see how it was made."

King says the venue also helped raise such a unique level of interest in their series. The Drafthouse was DSA's first choice to stage it because of the fine line it walks between an art house movie theater and a house of worship for hardcore movie cultists.

"The first draw for us was that the Alamo seems to be plugged into providing a different experience for film goers," King says. "They're kind of an art house but they also play first run movies. They also do really great events on cult hit movies like Ghostbusters. One of the first things James said to me is 'You have to promise we'll do Back to the Future and I have to be in it.'"

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Danny Gallagher has been a regular contributor to the Dallas Observer since 2014. He has also written features, essays and stories for MTV, the Chicago Tribune, Maxim, Cracked, Mental_Floss, The Week, CNET and The Onion AV Club.