Screenwriting : Script Length by Thomas Thorpe

Thomas Thorpe

Script Length

I received the following comments from a CI coverage reader. Do you agree?

"The general length of a feature is somewhere between 95 – 110. Cracking the spine of a spec script that’s only 87 pages long sends off warning bells in a reader, because it usually means there isn’t enough character/world setup or the writer ran out of plot halfway through."

Steve Cleary

I generally agree with this. Maybe even shorter for comedies. They say "Lost in Translation" was only 72 pages. What's a CI coverage reader anyway?

John Ellis

With the industry standard at 1 page=1 minute screen time, studio readers want to see that page count because most films are 90-110 minutes.

Thomas Thorpe

CL = Coverage Link. I would think that the length of the script has little to do with its quality, lack of character set up or plot. If this really is a standard that sets off "warning bells" we'd better put in more filler.

Thomas Thorpe

Sorry, it's Coverage Ink at coverageink.com

Matthew Corry

I don't know that 95-110 would be the general accepted length. Some scenes are long shots which take ages on film but on the page, not so much. Sure you can't hand in a 70 page script and call it a feature but if a reader got an 89 page screenplay and thumbed their nose at it because it wasn't 6 pages longer, they're not doing their job right.

John Ellis

You're right Thomas. The length of the script has very little to do with its quality - in an objective sense. But I'd like you to take something at face value - if I'm wrong, I'm sure many will comment and straighten me out - readers' primary job is to say No. Anything that allows them to say No to a script faster is going to be popular with readers (we're talking studio/network/prodco readers, not coverage service readers). They read 100's of scripts and simply are not going to take the time to finish a script if they can find a reason not to. Brutal truth, but truth nonetheless. So things like format, readability, length and others things that have little to nothing to do with the story are key No's, and something the writers MUST adhere to, to even have a chance.

Thomas Thorpe

Wise words. I wonder how often the negative filter misses a masterpiece.

Tao Ryan Moua

Yes, a "feature" script must be at least 90 pages. That's approximately a running time of 1:30 without opening and closing credits. Put it away for a month and re-work on characters and world set-up as they have advised.

Dan Guardino

I agree with John but Readers tend to toss out screenplays that are too long not 80 something pages. A comedy script is normally less than 90 pages and screenplays with a lot of action are shorter because a half a page of action can account for several minutes of screen time. The one page per equals one minute of screenplay doesn't apply to every screenplay. It's just a theory Hollywood came up with when screenplays were not nearly as lean as they are today.

Sometimes I wounder about these people that do coverage for a living. I never used one before so I guess I should be glad I saved my money.

Matthew Corry

I've submitted screenplays less than 90 pages to coverage services and recently to a director and no-one has ever said a script "has to" be over 90 pages. It's literally never come up. I've never got feedback saying the script has to be over 90 pages at all. I definitely try to keep it around that mark but once again, if a reader had an 89 or 88 page screenplay and refused to read it because it didn't have the magic 90 number on it, they're not doing their job.

Dan MaxXx

It's your typical coverage jargon. Nobody told Nolan to bump up Dunkirk's page count of 82 pages.

I dunno your writing format but I wouldn't stress over page count. Go over the entire feedback and gauge weaknesses.

Usually, shooting and in final editing, folks cut down minutes so you'd better have pages or visual action to trim. A feature film is minimum 80 minutes.

Ken Koh

No. It depends on the quality of the script. Write me a great script at 70 pages I'll make it. Bear in mind Sundance Film Festival considers 50min a feature length.

Jacob Buterbaugh

Your intentions also need to be considered. If it's a script you intend on producing and directing yourself, 80-85 pages isn't a bad length. I mean, if I were working on a self funded or crowd funded project, I'd rather budget, schedule, and produce 80-85 pages than 90-100 pages... Less pages of script are less pages to eff up.

Beth Fox Heisinger

The reviewer is talking about immediate first impressions, a typical reader assumption when observing page count -- a script under 90 pages may "send off warning bells." The reviewer did not say it has to be anything. I assume the reviewer also talked about the writing, the story? What genre is the script? More context would help. ;)

Ray Biddle

That reader should just do the job, then see if 87 pages was a problem.

Tony Martinez

It should be long enough to reach the end of the story....

Chris Courtney Martin

Shorter scripts are coming in vogue, especially on the indie side.

Hernán Crespo

I agree, the key words being "general", "warning bells" and "usually".

Dan Guardino

A spec script that’s only 87 pages long shouldn't send off warning bells.

Beth Fox Heisinger

Sure, it "shouldn't," but unfortunately, it does or rather it may. "Warning bells" or "wrong signal" or "may cause someone pause" or "concern" that's just semantics, a choice in phrasing for a common assumption made by people both outside and inside the industry. I view this sort of thing as one of many annoying, inconvenient hard truths when it comes to screenwriting, one that does not weigh too heavily given specific context. Genre sometimes plays a factor too, for example, horror and comedy tend to be shorter, around 90ish pages, and drama and thriller tend to be longer, 90ish to 110ish pages or more. Again, these are generalizations—I'm using the words "tend to" here. Lol! The point is: it's just one of those things that may come up... because readers read thousands and thousands of scripts and develop a quick, subjective, personal assessment system, they recognize patterns that may or may not signify something—which is absolutely unfair and very frustrating. It's incredibly reductive. A low page count may give the impression that the script is too thin. But.... we're not talking any specifics here, no creative context, we're only talking broad stroke generalizations. 'Cause it does truly depend on specifics—a specific individual screenplay, its concept, its intent, its execution, its writer(s) and the individual person reviewing it. A low or high page count may be a "warning bell," sure, to some people, but should the concept and writing be highly effective and thoroughly entertaining then that stupid, silly, page count first impression assumption will dissipate immediately. One should hope! :)

Ray Biddle

Thomas. If this is your biggestbworry, let iy go. Most readers are not worth their notes.

There is some info missing for us to really say much.

I have a 75 page Felini-esque thriller. It is tight and doesnt need to go further. It will screen at 100 minutes.

Guidelines arent always followed.

Beth Fox Heisinger

Also, keep in mind... the whole one-page-equals-one-minute-of-screen-time rule of thumb truly depends on whose thumb is doing the measuring. Lol! ;)

And, Thomas, I would just take this comment about page count for what it is: a warning that your page count may unintentionally give an unwanted impression because it is outside the general "norms" of a feature-length spec script—at least according to this person's knowledge and working experience. Plus it's just a comment. Again, I assume there was more about the script concept and execution. Perhaps review the feedback in its entirety and consider the comment within that context. :)

Rich Karz

My spec’s have always been 110 -120

Max.

Rich Karz

Bottom line is actually the first 5-10 pages. You hook the reader or NOT!

Rich Karz

So folks I have wonderful coverage on a script at William Morris Endevor.

So i want to covert it to a 1 hr pilot series. Latino influence. I need a bright patner to write the pilot.

Action hero stuff !

Rich Karz

Note

This will sell

Thanks

John Ellis

Hey, Rich, DM me! I'm interested in what WME had to say about the story, see if there's enough for a series. If so, we can talk.

Sarah Gabrielle Baron

Hi Thomas. They are right. Try to make it 110 pages, if you're trying to break into the 'mainstream film' market.

Matthew Corry

So many different opinions on here which is why its so hard for writers trying to break through to know what to do.

Ray Biddle

Wayne, just write YOUR script. You will rewrite twice anyway.

No need to worry about page count. Everyone and their uncle has an opinion. Someone actually btought up Lost In Translation... just write it.

Most here are just trying to get aomething made. If the story works, you are good, if not...fix it.

Dan Guardino

Wayne and Mathew. If you are still confused split it down the middle. Most of my screenplays are between 100 to 105. FWIW I sold and wrote a few on assignment but I doubt page count had anything to do with any of it.

Dan Guardino

Rich. What makes you think it will sell.

Carol Chang

Would wrong formatting be a problem?

Thomas Thorpe

Thanks Wayne, but why would the coverage reader bring it up if it's not an issue? There seem to be many standards, e.g. format, courier font, cover layout, etc., which have nothing to do with story content, but which must be satisfied to make a script acceptable to a producer's readers. I have no problem adhering to mainstream standards, unless they aren't really standards (everyone has a different opinion) or they detract from the story.

Thomas Thorpe

Yes Dan, paid. See link above (coverageink.com)

Thomas Thorpe

Incidently, the script won first place in the

2017 Filmmatic Screenplay Competition – Winner in Sci Fi category

as well as:

Fantasy Sci-Fi Festival – SCI-FI Feature Film Logline Winner 2016

ThrillerSuspenseFestival.com – Logline is the 2016 logline winner 2016

LAfeedbackfilmfestival.com – Short Screenplay Excerpt Winner 2016

WILDsound Best Scene Writing Festival – Winner: 2017

2017Circus Road Screenplay Contest – Semi-Finalist

Dan Guardino

Carol. Yes formatting errors because it is a sign the screenwriter doesn't have a lot of experience and the reader might feel reading the script would be a waste of their time or just skim it.

Beth Fox Heisinger

Thomas, again, how about sharing some specific context about the script, your intent, the reviewer, and the evaluation. Would be helpful for the discussion. ;) Coverageink.com looks to be some sort of "service?" Are the reviewers nameless? Or was a particular person assigned? Could you request a certain reviewer? And screenwriting contests have no bearing on coverage. Page count is typical. It often seems to be regarded generally, much like general formatting—again, that reviewer comment was just a warning about reader first impressions, probable assumptions. You, of course, can ignore it. Coverage itself is a superficial "report card," done for and with the producer in mind, not the writer. Notes are better for writers; they give more constructive, in-depth feedback, offer helpful suggestions, etc. So... Why did you seek coverage? Were you just curious? Are you producing this script yourself?

Jody Ellis

Actually, the execs I've spoken with say they are much more likely to read a script that is 90 or less pages, because it's going to be a quicker read. Horror and comedy are usually around the 90 page mark, sometimes a bit less. The person who told you this sounds like they don't know what they're talking about.

About the only rule of thumb I follow is to never go over 115 pages. Not because I don't think a script that long can't be good, but because the majority of people in the industry have the attention span of a raccoon. A script that looks too long or time consuming is going to sent them scurrying off to the next shiny object.

Chris Courtney Martin

There's a lot of pressure for readers to nitpick because in most cases, they're allotted only a certain percentage of Recommends and Considers. That's not to say the critiques aren't genuine. But there's also the issue of most folks passing off preference as law. People can tell you what they think will give you your best chance, what they've seen work and not work, but everyone's experience is different. And the landscape is constantly shifting. So, while coverage is extremely valuable it's in no way infallible. Especially when we're talking about an individual reader.

Thomas Thorpe

Ha, ha. Well said, Jody.

Steven Michael

lol Jody. But do they wash the script before reading like racoons?

Jody Ellis

Steven it absolutely would not surprise me if they did! :-D

Martina Cook

I hate when I pay for feedback and they comment on things that have nothing to do with the story...instead of saying it's not long enough, the reviewer should have pointed out where exactly he/she thought the story was missing information/turning points/etc...because otherwise, it's an empty comment on averages that has nothing to do with the specifics of your story. And we all need feedback to see what is missing on the specific storyline - what can you understand of my story? Where am I missing vital information to make you believe my characters? If the reader didn't specify where your story is missing information (that could make it longer) then ask them to do it - make your hard earned money count! All the best! :)

Beth Fox Heisinger

So you're not going to share specifics, Thomas? It would be helpful to at least know if this reviewer from CoverageInk.com was indeed nameless?

Beth Fox Heisinger

Martina, coverage is not constructive feedback, per se. It's coverage. Coverage is a superficial, first impression "report card" or "scorecard" of sorts given for and from a producer/exec point of view—usually it's an internal document done by an assistant or reader to determine whether a script is a "pass" or a "consider." It's not usually intended for the writer. That's why I asked Thomas to share his intent. Is he wishing to sell this script? Trying to determine marketability? Is he producing it himself? Is he trying to get his work reviewed by a specific company?—hence my question about this "service," if this reviewer was nameless or specific. Or was he just simply curious to see how his script would fare? ;) If you wish for in-depth review or constructive feedback then seek out notes from a script consultant or a working professional who consults on the side. That would be far more beneficial to a writer than mere coverage. If you are buying coverage, ask yourself: why?

Beth Fox Heisinger

Okay, I just looked over CoverageInk.com and it is anonymous, which for me says a lot. My two cents... depending on your intent or goal... if you are seeking coverage it would be better to at least know who is giving you that coverage. CoverageInk determines that for you and protects the reader's identity. These services tend not to offer in-depth feedback either.

Now... if you are trying to get a script read by a particular company and your material may be a good fit, then it would be more strategic and beneficial to get your script into the right reviewer's hands, someone from that company, not just some anonymous reader. Personally speaking, I just don't see how these generic coverage services are helpful? Unless you are just seeking general coverage, not from anyone or any production company in particular. So, to each their own! ;)

Anyway here is the information from the CoverageInk website should anyone be interested:

"The Coverage Ink team consists of 20-plus screenplay development experts. CI Readers are the best of the best, both infuriatingly accurate and blessedly insightful with their story critiques.

When you send your script to us, we will route it to the reader(s) best suited for that type of material.

Our readers are skilled in different areas. Some are film-specific; others love TV. A few are terrific with editing and mark-up. Some are more indie and alternative structure-tolerant, while others are more by the book. There is a text box on the order form, so when you submit your script, if there is any additional info you’d like to pass along to help us route your screenplay to the right type of reader, please let us know.

On our submission form, you indicate your genre, and then we route it to a reader who likes and has skills within that genre. And if you have any specific questions or concerns, just let us know.

Readers are identified on coverage reports by initials only. This is done to protect their anonymity."

Thomas Thorpe

Martina I agree about having to pay for someone's opinion irrelevant to the story, but that's also what Stage32 is doing with pitches, charging $30 for little more than an "pass" or "fail" and checking a few style boxes.

Thomas Thorpe

Beth the reviewer was indeed anonymous with the initials SD. Many topics were addressed in a general sense (which is why the recommended length stood out). I certainly agree that script notes would be far more helpful by addressing specifics. I simply responded to an ad, without any inferred association with a production company.

Beth Fox Heisinger

Actually, Thomas, what Stage 32 offers is much different than CoverageInk.com. Here you may choose the person who will review your script. You know exactly who is writing coverage or providing feedback or reviewing your pitch. Very different. You can select an executive from a company that you feel may be a good fit for you and your project. No hiding reviewers here. ;)

Thomas Thorpe

Good point, and with imdb one can research their history and company capabilities.

Beth Fox Heisinger

Yup! :) And I don't know your experience, Thomas, but the page length thing is pretty common to me. It comes up in amateur circles, teaching circles, coverage notes, reader commentary/tips, etc. Plus as Jody said, there are always short attention span issues too. Lol! But it's been conveyed to me by trustworthy people to keep page count in mind (as a spec writer) but don't be beholden to it. There are no rules. Specific context, approach, and the needs of a specific story and style really determines relevance. And also where or to whom you may be submitting... For example, some screenwriting contests charge more for scripts that are 120 pages and up. So in a very very very broad sense shooting for 90ish to 110ish pages for a feature-length script is typically the sweet spot. Under 90 pages may incite comment (depending on genre) and/or may not. Depends on the reviewer, and their opinion and experience. ;) I say, take what works for you, whatever helps, and discard the rest.

Dan Guardino

Thomas. If this script won all those awards why did you get coverage? It seems like you should be selling it instead of having people you don't even know read it.

Matthew Corry

Pretty much Dan. I know if I'd won that amount of accolades the last thing I'd be looking for is another opinion.

Thomas Thorpe

Dan, I was told to get accolades first, then offers would follow. When they didn't follow, I decided to check with coverage people for reasons.

Martina Cook

Okay so I got it wrong all these years expecting specific feedback when paying for coverage. My bad...you learn something new every day. (By the way, Stage 32 sells “coverage” too so I guess it’s not what I’m looking for either).

Beth Fox Heisinger

Martina, S32 Happy Writers offers consulting and more options, too. Classes, proofreading, webinars, pitch options, pitch fests, Skype sessions, phone sessions, etc. Personally, I've benefitted from webinars and connections made through the site. ;)

Dan MaxXx

just my 2cents on coverage - it is a waste of money. Somehow, coverage reports have become popular on websites aimed at aspiring writers.

In the old days before facebook (2004), coverage was done in-house by companies making movies and TV, they were basically 2-page reports for Bosses to read fast. Everybody did their own coverage, usually written by interns & assistants. Nobody thought coverage would be a booming side business.

Martina Cook

Of course, Beth. This is an amazing platform, especially for novice screenwriters. :)

Chad Stroman

Lots of good info and just want to echo the same. When they say the length sets off red flags I think it needs to be contextualized into the situation. Basically the people who are paid to read screenplays and make decisions on whether to pass the script on to the person who hired them, like anyone else, would rather read "good" screenplays and not waste time reading "crappy" screenplays. It's about time. If I'm looking at a stack of 10 to 15 scripts sitting on my desk that I need to read and decide whether to consider or pass before the end of the day, and as my job I do this everyday, those people start to develop their own criteria to help them make initial evaluations on "waste my time with this or not?" One of those common items is page length.

Is it fair? Not really but it's not realistic to think every script submitted to someone to read is going to be read from page 1 till the end. Unless you are paying them to do so. As aspiring screenwriters we want to give that initial gatekeeper of the "consider/pass" judgement every reason to keep reading so many of the general things people look for like page count, graphics in the title, etc. might be worth keeping in mind not because they are hard and fast "rules" but each item is a gamble of whether that person looking at a stack of 15 scripts that need to be put in the garbage or make it to the one or two handed up the chain, is going to take the chance on yours.

The problem is the list of items that send up "red flags" is endless because every gatekeeper is different however some things like page count have been somewhat looked at as indicators that the author may not have mastery of their craft, regardless of whether it's true or not.

When they pick up your script, they are going to look at the title, your name/representation, your logline if it was from a query, how your script starts out format wise and yes, page length (how long they are going to be sitting there reading your screenplay) plus anything else the person who hired them to read these scripts (assuming it's not some unpaid intern, which many times it is) has asked them to look for.

As an example, I've been handed (no I'm not an industry pro, etc.) a screenplay before that was labelled as a feature that clocked in at around 60 pages. Premise and logline were interesting so I jumped it. After 10 to 15 pages it became evident that the person who wrote it wasn't familiar with the composition of a film or how to build a narrative. There were no transitions of scene and no world building. It was static scene after static scene. It was action/dialogue without any character and without any emotion.

To be friendly and helpful I read until the end but had that been my job, I would have quit reading after page 10 and made a mental note that "less than around 80 to 110 pages probably means It might be bad".

Does that mean all screenplays less than 90 pages or more than 110 are bad?

No but because the vast majority of screenplays that are less than 90 or more than 110 ARE bad screenplays, it sets a kind of standard that soils others that may be excellent, but by association are categorized in that negative light.

So no it's not a hard/fast rule but the blame really lies in all the crappy screenplays less than 90 pages that all suffer from the same issue that has led to that "standard" to use the term loosely, being adopted.

If your name was John Smith and there was a notoriously bad screenwriter who kept pumping out really crappy screenplays that made the rounds in Hollywood and that screenwriter's name was also John Smith, fair or not, when people see your name, they are going to make assumptions that you are one and the same.

I think it's the same with the page count advice you were given. It's not a "standard" but it is an item that will be looked at by those evaluating whether to read or not your script who value their time more than they value the potential gamble in reading your screenplay.

Frankie Gaddo

Good info, Chad. And on the discussion, I say paid coverage is useful for getting feedback on your script. Whether someone wants to use that, or a different service, or nothing, is up to them.

Dan Guardino

Thomas. Most producers don’t care about accolades they care about a good story. Because you have some first hand knowledge of the kind of stories you like to write about that should help you more than some accolades.

Thomas Thorpe

Easier said than done. Most production companies don't accept unsolicited queries. Most agents/managers won't take newbies without credited expeience. So accolades are about all that's left to promote potential sales.

Dan Guardino

Thomas. I assume your scripts aren't for the lower budget market which makes it even more difficult unless you know someone. You might try attaching a Director that has some solid credits in the genre you are writing in and use their credits and connections to help market your screenplays.

Thomas Thorpe

Thanks Dan, I'll give it a shot.

Justin Kwon

If the script works, page count isn't a big deal. I know of two (recent) scripts that landed their writers representation/sale -- and those scripts were in the 70 - 80 page count. And one writer was a complete newbie far from LA with no prior sales or experience (if I recall correctly).

P.S. I'm a coverage writer for a film production company, and having to constantly read 110+ page scripts, ones in the 80 - 90 page count are a breath of fresh air, honestly. Don't let it get to you too much.

Dan Guardino

Your are welcome. You can get a book from the DGA that has contact information. Make sure they have some credits though or it won't help. I attached three directors to three of my screenplays and optioned two of them. Did you adapt any of your books?

Thomas Thorpe

Per your suggestion, I've been working my way through imdb pro for directors filtered by genre, title release and budget. I've adapted four of my novels of historical thrillers, besides two Sci-fi's, thanks for the interest.

Dan Guardino

Thomas that sounds good. Adaptations are typically easier to sell especially if they were well received because they are less risk. Having a worked in the space program and writing in the the genre you write in gives you special knowledge and that is a big advantage so play that up. Anyway I wish you luck.

Thomas Thorpe

Thanks, Dan. What are you up to these days?

Dan Guardino

I optioned a screenplay to a producer a couple of weeks ago and I am working on the rewrite. I wrote two screenplays with Judy Norton that we are producing. She will star and direct both of them. I have two other ones I wrote on assignment that are in development but that could go on for a while.

Thomas Thorpe

If you don't mind my asking, how do you pay for all that?

Dan Guardino

When I sell an option or write on assignment I get paid not the other way around. The ones I am producing cost money but we come up with development money and find investors for the production money.

Thomas Thorpe

Thanks Francisco. As Beth points out, script notes are far more helpful. Dan also reminded us that what was once a practice for screeners to give their bosses a quick summary, has become a cottage industry which makes money, but seldom meets a writer's expectations. These readers are either overwhelmed with scripts or have gotten lazy in their treatments, either way, a market requiring $100's for this service will eventually adjust with the added competition of free-loaders looking to make easy money or the disillusionment among their customers.

Dan Guardino

Thomas. You are right and most the people that do this sort of thing are unsuccessful screenwriter. If you are interested in co-adapting one of your novels let me know because I have a WGA Agent and would be able to get just about any producer we want to read our script.

Dan MaxXx

that is coverage - a glossy 1 or 2 page summary. I did coverage. it ain't the job to fix scripts. I just had to explain a script in 2-pages or less to Higher-Ups. Dunno why aspiring writers want to pay someone $$ and get back a synopsis and Pros/Cons opinion.

Thomas Thorpe

Thank you, Dan Guardino. I've adapted four, each one in the series takes place in a different part of the world between 1820-1850 with the same protagonists, a husband and wife, aristocrats with crime solving ability. Since producers haven't beaten a path to my door, I would be interested in having a more experienced co-adaptor and since the scripts are already in Final Draft format, it shouldn't take too much work. Here are two loglines for Quebec and Egypt, take your pick (I also have Brazil and Tanganyika).

Patriote Peril: After her sister's lodge is consumed by fire, a woman finds a bloody carriage that held her husband, sister and brother-in-law.

(Patriote Peril is based on true events of the infamous Partriote rebellion by French Canadien reformers).

The Forth Conspiracy: A man faces financial ruin when a well-meaning friend introduces a writ at Parliament which could confiscate his manor. As the rival Forth family moves to take over his estate, he races to Egypt to find the original property title.

Dan Guardino

Thomas. I sent you a private message.

Margie Walker

I totally missed it -- coverage from Stage 32 - if it was sent on a screenplay I submitted August 16, 2017. I'm starting to wonder if I made a mistake submitting.

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