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Tuesday, December 8, 2009

227 Pages or less....

Dear readers, sorry I’ve been away for so long. Been busy with a lot of things.

One of them was of course reading contests and I came across this one that I have to share with you all.

The I won’t go into the story details, both to preserve the anonymity of the writer and the contest and because it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter one bit what the story was about, what genre it was, what the characters were like. None of that matters.

Because it was 227 pages long.

The formula for a properly formatted screenplay is: 1 page equals 1 minute of screen time. That means this little (pun) gem runs nearly four hours. Unless your name is Terrence Mallick, there is no way you should even consider writing a 4 hour screenplay.

What was this guy thinking? Did he think his writing was so brilliant that it would be a crime to give us just 2 hours when he could give us 4? I can tell you it wasn’t. Not that it would have made a difference. The writing could have been Charles Dickens combined with Chuck Palahniuk and the script would still have been a non starter.

Imagine if you were a reader and you tried taking this project to your boss.

“Boss I’ve got this really great script. It’s 227 pages long and-“

“You’re fired!”

Did he think his story was just too big? That there was no way to cut it down into a proper length? Well get a clue, Jack. A huge part of being a writer is knowing what to throw away. The old saying about having to “kill your darlings” does NOT mean you go all Joss Whedon on your characters. It means knowing that you have to toss scenes and characters when they’re not working, or if the story is just too bloated. There’s a term the guy should look up, “bloated.”

This all goes back to knowing the format. The first thing you have to learn as a screenwriter is the format. And that’s not just proper font, size, spacing, scene headings and transitions. It’s also about length. You can’t turn in something that’s 50 pages long and call it a feature. You can’t write something over 180 pages long and expect people to take you seriously. Format is the first thing a reader notices. Or rather if he does notice it you’re in trouble. A reader should, at first glance, say “Hmm, a script.” And not, “Hmm, the font’s wrong on this thing.” We’re looking for writers who not only have talent, but who will actually make an effort to learn this business. If a writer is too lazy to even learn the format, why bother with him? If he can’t even invest in a copy of FinalDraft, how much care is he going to give his story? (And yes, FinalDraft. It is the industry standard. You want to send an electronic file? There’s a good chance they’re going to want an FDR.) If you can’t be bothered to learn the basics of the business why should the business take an interest in you?


  1. Great post, Mike. Was wondering where you went. 227 pages - WTF! "If you can't be bothered to learn the basics of the business why should the business take an interest in you?" Excellent point. Couldn't agree more!

  2. 227 pages! I read the other day that the first thing readers do after glance at the front page (to check out who the writer's agent is) - is flick through to see how many pages the script is. Then I realised, just on instinct - I do that too. It's just a reflex - but yes, if a 227 page script landed on my desk, I think my heart would sink ... Good post Michael - it is all about knowing the format. It should be a given so that the reader can focus on the story.


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