Screenwriting : Script Length - Is 83 pages too short? by Wendy Okoi-Obuli

Wendy Okoi-Obuli

Script Length - Is 83 pages too short?

So I recently finished an adaptation of a short drama script I wrote years ago to a feature length and I'm happy with the story's development. However, I'm kind of disappointed that it has come in at a mere 83 pages long... o_O I've used Final Draft Courier and, although I know that I can change the font to Courier New and get my page count up to 100 pages, I find this to be a rather stupid cheat as it also means that everything seems to kick off later than it actually does (apparently FD Courier is set to be as close to the 1 page per minute industry standard as possible - and yes, I know this is just an estimation), so I don't really see the point of that cheat, other than to make myself feel happy without actually doing anything significant. So my question is, while I pride myself in having learned to be more concise - and, boy, verbosity could be my middle name! - I'm wondering if I haven't gone a little to "cut" crazy. The initial first draft was just 78 pages! I nearly fainted. But I went back and looked at certain scenes, looked at opportunities to develop character interactions/relationships that might enhance the story, and have ended up with my current 83 pages. Will such a short script be dismissed out of hand by industry (and, at this juncture, mainly competition) readers?

Wanda Weaver

I've heard that if a script is too short or too long readers won't take it seriously. Average script should be 100-120 pgs. Maybe you can flesh out more of your characters - the background story or something?

Wendy Okoi-Obuli

Thanks Wanda. 100 pages sounds a little high though. Nicholl Competition guidelines say 90-120 (though they won't not read your script if it's 85 pages). I was hoping my script would be about 95 pages. I've heard that 120 pages for spec scripts can actually be considered too long. Once you're an established name it's a different matter, but 120 pages can, I've heard, just elicit groans from most readers of spec scripts from unknown writers. So the question is, what is too short? 100 pages isn't, from what I gather. 90 is acceptable, but it's the absolute lower end I'm concerned about. Wondering if there are any readers out there who could shed some light...

Christopher Piccione

Writing is writing Wendy. Write, re-think, re-write until your heart , soul and mind explode on the page. Scripts go by the general rule of thumb of a page is a minute on screen. So, does 83 pages feel sufficient enough to tell your story? Remember, Sometimes it winds up being longer, other times shorter. Write the story the way you want it to be and editing can always be done from there. DON'T limit yourself!

K. Williams

Do you have time to let it rest and 'meditate' on it? I usually let myself calm down from the euphoria of writing and finishing, then things bubble up that I suddenly didn't think to include...

Wendy Okoi-Obuli

Cheers, guys. Rose, I'd like to think that my short script is incidental to good writing... but wouldn't we all? lol. I have a few friends that would give me honest feedback, one of whom is a production manager/line producer, so I might be emailing her shortly to see if I can get her to give it a read. Christopher, the story does actually feel sufficiently told in 83 pages but I fully intend on doing what Kelly suggest and giving it a rest for a couple of weeks (not as long as I'd usually leave it - a month - but it'll have to do this time), and then do as Wanda suggests, i.e. see if I can flesh out characters a little more if needed... I already had one go at this and added 5 more pages to the script, so... Incidentally, the story was originally written as a short script, which then went on the be shortlisted in a somewhat prestigious competition a decade ago. So I know the premise is solid, the story captivating, and feel that I've told the story in feature length as I've always envisaged it. So hey, maybe I'll revisit in early-mid April and see how it reads then. Thanks again guys! Thanks again guys.

Nikki Syreeta

Count yourself lucky...One of my adaptations came out to 250 pgs on the first draft. 250!! and the second draft was whittled down to a mere 241. Agh....I couldn't find anything to cut...I KNEW I needed everything in there to convey the emotion of the story. So I put it away....for a few months. I just now picked it up again and now I see what I need and don't need. All that being said....give yourself a little time, then read the story again. See if you find something you didn't notice before. Take some notes, then go back to your script with new eyes.

Tay Ouk

First of all, where can you find a font called Final Draft Courier? I really need that cuz all my screenplays are over 120 pgs long and i can't seem to trim it down without diluting the story. I've seen films that are 80 mins long which is equivalent to 80 pgs and they turn out good. As long as the story covers what it needs to covered then its fine.

Wendy Okoi-Obuli

Wow! Nikki... 250 pages??!! Yep, time does put a new perspective on things. Keep whittling. Hopefully, after a rest I'll be able to add some justified enhancements to mine. Wonder what we'll both end up with. lol. Khantey, you'll find the Final Draft Courier font already installed with the Final Draft software. Not sure if/where you can find it outside of that. Also, I know what you mean about 80 minute long films, I've seen a few good one myself, but there's this paranoia that's spread about what novice screenwriters should/shouldn't or can/can't do. At this stage, it seems to be all about pleasing gate-keeping readers - readers who, it seems, will dismiss your script just by picking it up and checking the page count. o_O

Wendy Okoi-Obuli

OK, so the last word on acceptable script length from the Nicholl Fellowships in Screenwriting's Facebook page in response to my query there: "Just wanted to remind everyone that the rules state "approximately 90 to 120" so it is acceptable for scripts to be longer or shorter as long as they are feature film screenplays. Readers love shorter scripts, but they also have been known to mention occasionally that "there just wasn't enough story." If your story is complete as written and works as a feature film, I would not pad to add pages. A 71-page script reached the finals and an 85-page script earned its writer a fellowship."

Tay Ouk

Thanks! I need to get that software.

Brian Berneker

if the story is 83 pages, then let it be 83 pages. I've juried some festivals and if there's one common thought, it's that I'd rather watch a film that was too short and wish there was more than one that was too long and be waiting for it to end! Don't extend your film out of convention, do it because it needs it!

Sam Vanivray

It doesn't necessarily mean the movie will be short. It could be 83 minutes or it could be 90 minutes if there's 7 minutes of slow motion bullet dodging :)

Dawn Chapman

I think there is a lot of leeway with page counts, but don't cheat by altering the font, your readers will know and it will look wrong on the page. Every reader loves a quick read. More white space, fast paced action, and dialogue which oozes subtext. But it isn't so easy to do sometimes. 83 pages is on the short side, and I would bet that any reader will pull you on it, but also they would do the same if it were 120 pages. At this stage if you've exhausted all your 'circle' of writer friends, with reads and opinions, would be to go to a pro. Get a real readers report. You would hate to send it out into the world with things missing, and if it isn't ready. You only get one chance sometimes, and you can be de-listed.... sometimes you just can't see the woods for the trees. A good competition like Nicholls costs money. Money that can be just as easily spent on a good script consult. That way you can decide for real if it is ready or not. Opinions on page length vary all over the place. The only way of knowing for sure would be for me to read it. Do I feel satisfied, or do I feel stiffed? Of course, just my personal opinion :)

Anna Maria Elisa Manalo

FYI - there's a great but cheap script coverage service with a stellar crew that will put it out there if it's great. They can be found at: www.HappyWriters.com Yo - this is not a commercial. :))

Dawn Chapman

Or if you haven't had anyone look at it at all, writer friend wise, you might try making connections here to find some who will. There are some good sites around where you can get peer reviews. www.talentville.com is one. Or check out Lucy V Hay and bang2writers :) Full of tips if you ask people the right questions. (sometimes cheap coverage might not be great) been there myself, research everyone...

Wendy Okoi-Obuli

Thanks Dawn and Anna, although I'm not actually looking for coverage, just opinions on the minimum length of a feature screenplay. This isn't my first feature length script, just the first one that came out so much shorter than I'd anticipated. I've also been shortlisted for screenwriting competitions in the UK and US (and won one), so it's not so much my ability to write a story that works that I'm worried about - just the length. However, I do have a few people on the case to read it - and this was on the cards regardless of script length. So, for now, I'm going with the advice direct from The Nicholl Fellowship itself, which I posted above from their Facebook page.

Wendy Okoi-Obuli

Brian, I tend to agree with you. I didn't want to pad out a script just for the sake making it longer. However, when I revisit again in a few weeks time and find that I can actually enhance story and character development, thereby also adding to the page count, then that's fine. Sam, there is actually a shooting scene, but it takes place in a British home in the 1950s. Trying to envision a Matrix style bullet dodge scene.... Hey, who knows! lol

Dawn Chapman

Nicholl's is one of the top contests, good luck with the script :)

Wendy Okoi-Obuli

I am well aware of that, Dawn. Many thanks! :)

Cedar Woods

When I'm working on a project, I like to write two versions of it. The first, is what I visualize as the extended version (which will be released on DVD and contain at least 20 minutes of extra footage), the other is the theatrical cut. That's how I like to approach it (BTW: I think DVDs that call themselves extended, but only have 2 minutes of added footage are lame attempts to make cash).

Wendy Okoi-Obuli

With a bit of figurative spit and polish, we're now looking at 86 pages. Not altogether different, but somewhat superior to the original 83... IMHO.

Mark Ratering

Wendy I wrote a screenplay that was 43, I was try to do a film that wouldplay in Asis. If the action makes up the words 90 is the goal.

Other topics in Screenwriting:

register for stage 32 Register / Log In