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Thursday, February 16, 2006

A fellow wrote asking if I'd read his 178 page script. (I occasionally do screenplay evaluations for a fee.)

No, no script wants to be 178 pages any more than movies really want to be 3 hours. (And I'll warrant most of the 3 hour movies out there have 150 page scripts that the director got carried away with shooting.) Who wants to sit in a theater for 3 hours? There are rare, rare exceptions. Braveheart didn't feel too long. I wouldn't take a knife to Titanic. But the last Lord of the Rings movie, theatrical version, could have been 45 minutes shorter, without losing any of the magic or the feeling. (Did we really need to see Legolas kill the poor oliphaunt?)

My guess is if you have a 178 page script, you are trying to tell too many stories. If you pick one story to tell, and throw out everything that isn't that story, you ought to be able to get your script down to 120 pages. Just ruthlessly eliminate any scene that does not forward the story or reveal character.

Even better, tell your story to someone out loud, off the top of your head, without looking at your script. Then throw out any scenes you didn't remember. If you can't remember a scene, the odds are excellent it's superfluous. You may need to add one or two scenes back in if you cut a big gaping hole in your plot, but your script will be better for it.

On the level of scenecraft, it is possibly your scenes are running long. Try to trim as much as possible from each scene's head and tail. See if you can't get in later. Maybe you don't need all those hello's. See if you can't button the scene half a page earlier and get on to the next scene. We don't need to see the guy make his goodbyes and leave. Cut to the next scene (don't use an actual CUT TO:, just cut) the moment the scene is resolved.

Now, read your trimmed scene out loud. Bet you can cut one out of every three sentences of dialog once you put some acting in.

If you're willing to kill your darlings -- and you must kill your darlings, dear, as Eudora Welty [EDIT: William Faulkner] said -- you may well end up with a really tight 105 page script. And how great is that?

6 Comments:

"Did we really need to see Legolas kill the poor oliphaunt?"

Um, yes!

Do we really need to see the hobitt hug-orgy on Frodo's bed at the end?

No.

The script I'm writing right now is starting to run long too. Mostly because the later scenes were not as precisely mapped out as the earlier scenes. Whatever, I'm gonna keep going and finish it as is. (I think it will be 120 pages when I'm done.)

On my re-write I will cut it, condense it, concentrate it, make it pure.

You are right about beginning and ending scenes. The ball should always be rolling, and the transitions are so so so important. To me at least.

By Blogger Jutratest, at 1:03 PM  

For my part, cut from the awards ceremony at the top of Minas Tirith to the scene at the pub in the Shire, and Frodo looks around and nothing has changed ... and that's all he ever wanted.

Roll credits.

By Blogger Alex Epstein, at 1:42 PM  

Less is more.

Less is more.

Less is more.

Should be stapled to every single writer's forehead.

By Blogger RKBentley, at 6:22 PM  

All excellent thoughts. The final page count on my epic is 134 and I'm trying to trim... Comments like these give me new angles to examine with the scissors, so thanks!

I have to agree with your choice of films. Braveheart and Titanic did mask their length quite well, as opposed to some other epic wrist-slashers. Troy comes to mind.

By Blogger Abigail Prescott, at 11:28 PM  

It was Faulkner not Welty who said "kill your darlings."

By Blogger Robot Porter, at 4:18 PM  

My longest was my first. Came in at just under 160. Quite proud of it even though I knew fairly little of the craft at that time.

One day I'll do another rewrite knowing what I know now (or then) just to see what I can cut it down to.

By Blogger Mackey, at 1:32 AM  

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