Many thanks to Bang2writer Matthew Prince, who asks this question:
I’ve written three scripts so far. Two have come in at 60 pages, with the third at 102 pages. Is writing well under 90 pages a bad sign, should I have written over 120 pages or does it not matter how many pages your first draft is?
First off, I’d recommend taking a look at this post about what the *right* script length re: page count, though the bias is on writers’ more common problem, which is writing uber-long monster scripts of 150 pages or more. Basically though, I never recommend writing more than 120 pages and believe – generally speaking – the closer a feature script is to 90 pages, the better. For more on script convention and how scripts “look” to readers and what this *can* mean, check out my run-down on The Format One Stop Shop.
When it comes to scripts – especially features – that come in “too short”, I’d wager your problem is likely to be one of structure. In other words, you ‘re probably missing a big chunk of your conflict somewhere… Your characters most likely need to *do something* which will contribute to the protagonist’s mission in *some way*.
On this basis then, I’d recommend going back to your treatment or beat sheet and plotting out some ideas and seeing where they could go. If you haven’t written a treatment or beat sheet before writing the script, that could be your actual problem too. Check out all about structure and treatments etc here.
Of course, like all things scriptwriting-related, there is another way of looking at the same problem: if your script comes in at sixty pages, perhaps the story NEEDS to be sixty pages. The problem there is, how does a writer know for sure this is the case? Well, feedback can help on this, either from your peers or a paid-for reader like me. Alternatively, writing that beat sheet may help convince you that actually, you don’t need the “extra” bits to your conflict. Either way, I’d still investigate the structure of your piece in whatever way works for you, just to be sure.
But end of the day, a first draft is what I’d call the “words on paper” draft. Don’t panic if it comes in as a monster OR a shrimp and don’t pat yourself on the back too early if it’s the “right” length. First drafts are never the best we can do, even if we think they are right now. So just be glad you’ve got it down on paper… and then START AGAIN. Good luck!
Would it be true to say that the first draft is more likely to be much longer than a shooting script? There's certain material that needs to be included in the early stages so that readers can 'see' the story. I mean the kind of things that are later taken care of by casting, set design, costume etc That said, I'm trying desperately to get my 138 page first draft script down to 125, knowing that the final script will be 90.
"A minute per page" is the ideal – so a 90 minute movie should be roughly 90 pages, give or take a few pages… By same token (30 mins = 30 pgs/ 60 mins = 60 pgs, etc etc). Whilst it's certainly true some scripts come in shorter or longer than intended, I'd go as close to the "minute per page" as possible and invest heavily in format and/or lean scene description to achieve this. More on this here: http://www.tinyurl.com/reqdreading
To OR Melling…..
Perhaps this will help –
At one point I submitted a 10-page section of a feature script for a competition. When selecting the section, I realised the exerpt came out at around 13 1/2 pages. I needed it to be under 10. So, I went through the section with a red pen, rewording or deleting anything that was not absolutely necessary to telling the story or developing the characters. I made it under the page count, and more importantly I understood a very important aspect of self-editing – it taught me to be brutal. I had to recognise what was most important in every scene. I discovered many elements I had once thought so vital became unnecessary.
I use that same red pen with every script. I write my 'frilly' first draft getting all my imagery and tone on the page, then my next passes are brutal. It works amazingly!
Just finished William Goldman's wonderful and hilarious Adventures in the Screentrade. He says a first draft script should ideally be 135 pages and that 90 pages is "far too short"!!! Meanwhile, I reformatted my script – Final Draft drives me nuts – and it's much shorter, without me changing a word. 124 pages!
I find that with my projects, my scripts are often significantly shorter or longer than the actual film, so I typically break the minute-to-page rule, it just doesn’t seem to apply to me.