BY THE NUMBERSComplications Ensue
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Sunday, May 14, 2006

Q. I was once told, by a story editor I worked with, that an action-adventure story should have roughly 1.25 to 1.5 times the number of scenes as pages - so, a 100-page action-adventure script should have about 125 to 150 scenes.

Do you agree with this as a guideline? And is there a similar guideline for other genres? For a comedy, a drama, a romance, a thriller?
Where do these brilliant story editors come from?

The scene count depends on whether you're cutting back and forth between two locations or not. If, for example, your climax is the shootout in the OK Corral, you might have multiple shots (capitalized, no scene number) but it's all EXT. OK CORRAL - DAY. If your climax is a karate fight in a building, you'll crash from INT. ROOM -- NIGHT to INT. STAIRWELL to INT. ELEVATOR SHAFT etc. If your climax is a conversation, you've got just one scene.

How many scenes were there in the climactic fight in Rocky? I haven't read the script, but it's all INT. RING -- NIGHT. So there is no reason for there to be new scene descriptions.

Counting scenes is silly. Does your script seem slow? Try raising the stakes or the pitch or the pace. If you feel you're spending too long in one place, cut someplace else. It's all about how you tell a story.

An action adventure should have as many scenes as it takes to keep the pace up. You get a new scene slugline whenever you change the location or the time. The two prescriptions have nothing to do with each other.


Hmmm...while in many ways I absolutely agree with you (that the two things - page count and scene numbers shouldn't be a prescription), I saw that The Matrix is 130 pages, and has 220 scenes - and most are legitimate scenes (change of location or time)...Terminator 2 is more of a shot list, and at 110 pages has 215 sluglines, but a lot are shots within scenes, as opposed to legitimate scenes....and the big winner (whatever that means) was Bourne Supremacy which at 130 pages had 360! scenes/sluglines - and though some of it does read like a shotlist, most seemed like legitimate scenes...then read through an action master like Shane Black (I found The Last Boy Scout) and unfortunately the link didn't have numbered scenes, but I'd guess it to be at around only 80-100 scenes in a 166 (wow) page script - but it had a lot of action sequences....

This site - Screenplays For You - has a lot of scripts in pdf and so can find some with scene numbers...check it out...

Admittedly some of these were production drafts while others were writer/preproduction drafts, which will have an effect on how it might be written...writing to sell it can look very different than writing to shoot it...

So who really knows...but I think you make a good point in terms of pacing in relation to story and stakes as the priority, as well as in my mind, to present it/write it so it 'reads' well....

By Blogger wcdixon, at 2:09 AM  

Alex, thanks so much for taking the time to answer my question - I really appreciate it!

Reading your blog has really encouraged me to take a more organic approach to my screenwriting, which I'm finding very freeing.

Thanks again!

By Blogger Stephen, at 2:17 PM  

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By Blogger 123, at 2:28 AM  

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By Blogger 123, at 2:29 AM  

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