Does one page really = one minute?

I just got an e-mail from a writer who asked: “I want to write a comedy movie that’s two hours long. How many pages should my script be?” First of all, I let this writer know that very few comedies warrant a two-hour running time; 85 to 115 minutes would be typical. So I suggested that he re-think his chosen running time. That said...

Let’s say you want a 90-minute movie. Based on the so-called minute per page rule of thumb, how many pages would that be? About 90 pages, right? Well, actually, probably not. So much depends on the content of your script. Is there an abundance of dialogue? Is there lots of action? Also, much depends on your particular writing style. Do you use an economy of words—or do you overwrite? I find that most novice screenwriters tend to overwrite. They’ll use 80 words to describe a scene when 40 will suffice; and/or they’ll also overwrite their dialogue, providing superfluous exposition. So what they’re actually doing is pouring a 75-minute story into a 115-page script. (I have the opposite “problem.” My scripts tend to be fairly tight, so I oftentimes find it difficult going any higher than the 100-page mark. This can be a dilemma if your writing contract stipulates that the finished script must be a minimum of 110 pages!)

But the fact remains, a finished movie doesn’t necessarily have to correlate to the screenplay’s page count.

A major factor in determining the run time of a movie is how a director shoots/edits his scenes. Let’s say, for instance, you’re working on a scene for a thriller and write, “Jack and Jill walk down the long, dark corridor.” Seems simple enough, doesn’t it? But the director milks the scene for purposes of suspense (can you say Kubrick?). Now that simple line of action – all nine words of it – takes up 45 seconds of screen time.

Speaking of suspense…my original draft of House at the End of the Drive was right around 103 pages. Due to budgetary constraints, we eventually cut the shooting draft down to somewhere in the vicinity of 88 pages. The first director’s cut of the movie came in at 110 minutes. The present “producer’s cut” is 92 minutes.

Just to further prove some sort of a point here (um, I think), I looked through a random sampling from my rather extensive collection of big-time movie scripts. Here’s what I found:

What’s Up, Doc? was a 94-minute movie with a 154-page script.

The Long Kiss Goodnight was a 120-minute movie with a 139-page script.

Crimson Tide was a 123-minute movie (extended version) with a 111-page script.

Young Frankenstein was a 106-minute movie with a 116-page script.

Jaws was a 124-minute movie with a 113-page script.

Secret Window was a 96-minute movie with a 118-page script.

Paper Moon was a 102-minute movie with a 126-page script.

The Poseidon Adventure (1972) was a 117-minute movie with a 134-page script.

The Mechanic (1972) was a 100-minute movie with a 113-page script.

Pacific Heights was a 102-minute movie with a 118-page script.

Three Days of the Condor was a 117-minute movie with a 130-page script.

And finally…

Rosemary’s Baby was a 136-minute movie with a 167-page script!

What’s the upshot here? Beats me, pal, but it sure doesn’t mean if you write a 100-page script you’re automatically gonna get a 100-minute movie.

So, you see, the idea of “one page equals one minute of screen time” isn’t really something you should overly concern yourself with as you write your screenplay. There are simply too many variables involved. (Let’s not forget the biggest variable of them all: If you’re lucky enough to sell a script, the production company is more than likely gonna have most of it rewritten anyway. Your 112-page/87 scene script will become a 91-page/75 scene script!) So...

Just write a properly formatted script with a story that’s interesting and entertaining, make it a brisk read, keep the page count within an acceptable range...and don’t worry about it. ("Gee, Jim, you're making this all seem sooooo easy.")

Here’s my suggested page range for scripts:

Action/Action-Adventure: 95-115
Comedy/Romantic Comedy: 90-110
Horror/Thriller: 90-110
Drama: 110-120

Happy writing!

* * *
My book, Q & A: The Working Screenwriter, now in a lower-priced paperback edition! Also available in Kindle format!



The Moviequill said...

Great stuff... if you are in the generous mood I'd love a read of Rosemary's Baby PDF

Anonymous said...

hey man,

i enjoyed reading that and learned a lot. a technical question for you: does run time include the closing credits?


Jim said...

If the back of a DVD case reads, "Running time: 95 minutes," then it's a safe bet that includes end credits. And if you were wondering, you should NOT include opening titles and/or end credit sequences in your script.

Doc KC said...

Hey there!

Yes, I know... what is a doctor of psychotherapy doing commenting on a screenwriting blog? Well, I also happen to have acting, writing, directing, and producing in my blood. It is more of a passion for me than I could ever describe.

I am in the process of writing the full 90 minute script of the baby I began to create in July 2006! We already shot the trailer/short film for the demo and it's in post now.

So, I was looking for great screenwriting tips. I love your blog.

Just a suggestion and recommended amazing read is Save the Cat...I have to get back to you with the author, as it's not in front of me right now. GREAT screenwriting book that I'm sure you've heard of.

Taught me how to write my logline which took about 2 weeks to perfect!! It's all worth it. I keep reading and writing and soon I'll have everything I've ever wanted in my hands to start the next step. But for now, it's write write write...

See you on the big screen and feel free to write to me at anytime.

Take care fellow screenwriter,
Doc KC

Allan J Sweeney said...

Just found this blog - excellent work for beginners like me. Seems I could become hooked...