Paige, I need your help. It’s my page count.

My script is too long! It’s a whopping 121 pages long!

I know it will be instantly rejected by everyone, everywhere. This is my passion project, and it doesn’t stand a chance. This is so unfair! 

Who makes up these rules?

And what about all those famous movies whose scripts are way longer than mine?

Yeah, answer that one “doctor!” 

I’ve been over and over and over my script and there is no way it’s going to get less lengthy. 

What can I do?

Too Long

Dearest T.L.,

Dr. Paige Turner

No need to go bananas. While I will refrain from prescribing a mild sedative, take a few deep breaths and exhale slowly. Better? Hope so.

I know writers obsess over page count, and while size counts, here’s a little secret I’m going to share with you Too.

For those of us working in the industry, page count does matter… Except when it doesn’t. 

While a lengthy page count may alarm some in the biz, yours is not shocking. A chubby 143 pages would send up red flags, as it hints that an aspiring writer may not be aware of industry expectations – our need to keep the proverbial “butts in seats” for about two hours. In my mind, the greater concern would be that this amount of heft from a writer yet to turn pro signals a potentially unfocused story.

There are times when svelte is overrated. TBBH, I’ve read scripts with page counts in the 90s that seemed to last forever. And I’ve read scripts with page counts in the 120s that flew by leaving me breathless.

Why? Because despite the skinny page count, the read was not – ahem – a page-turner. Neither well-executed nor a compelling story. On the other hand, the longer examples were solidly written, engrossing stories well told, that keep me on the edge of my seat. 

Rather than obsessing over page count, ask yourself if your script is really too long, or if you just need to find the right fit, someone who will appreciate your story as it is.

Moving on to your defense that scripts that had both popular and critical acclaim were far longer than yours, lets look at a few objective facts.

A of All: You are not a famous writer, at least not yet.

Second: I bet many of those scripts you’re referring to were written by auteurs – writing to direct.

Next: Let’s take a quick minute to look at some terrific first spec scripts that sold, launched careers AND won Oscars for Best Original Screenplay:

Little Miss Sunshine by Michael Arndt, 109 pages

The Fisher King by Richard LaGravanese, 120 pages

American Beauty by Alan Ball, 105 pages

Thelma & Louise by Callie Khouri, 136 pages

Good Will Hunting by Ben Affleck and Matt Damon, 145 pages

Just a few choices that came to mind. In no particular order.

Please keep in mind, T.L., these were the drafts I could readily find on my computer and may not reflect the page count of either the original script, nor the final shooting script.

Admittedly, they are some of my favorite screenwriters, as well as some of my favorite films.

But, that said these are all very talented writers, with distinctive voices, compelling concepts, resonant messages (read more on that here) and each script is simply, outstanding. To put it another way, they each possessed The Secret Sauce, the Something Extra that made their work stand out on the page, and made people in the industry eager to get involved the hard work of bringing their script to the screen.

The Secret Sauce counts more than Page Count – Every Single Time!

Does Your Script Have The Secret Sauce? This counts more than page count.
The Secret Sauce Counts More Than Page Count!

Lastly: I’m definitely not going to leave you hanging out in the wind.

Here’s my prescription:

Try this Writer’s Workout: The Post Polish Polish Pass

  • Read your script backwards. 
  • Read scene-by-scene. Are you getting into the scene as late as possible? Does the scene build and end on a strong note? Can you wrap it up with what I call a “bow” – a great line and/or a meaningful reaction?
  • Read page by page: look at the appearance – remove needless clutter. Are your parentheticals being used appropriately? Only to indicate the specific tone of the line or to indicate who the character is speaking to within a group if it is unclear.
  • Check for word repetition and crutch phrases that you use repeatedly and replace them.
  • Look for partial lines where space remains and you can enrich the scene without adding length.
  • Top Tip: Search for Widows aka Orphans – the line that has a single word on it whether in description or dialogue. When I started writing I got into the habit. Visually, they are unattractive. And they are a huge waste of space. Who knows how much you might be able to slim down your script if you get ruthless about it. But more importantly, challenge yourself to write a stronger, richer sentence and accomplish that with fewer words! 

One more: Find some powerful pointers from my pal, Barri Evins, on pushing past “good enough writing” to make your work excellent here.

Hope this helps!

Love You/Mean It, Paige
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