Is Your Screenplay Too Long? Learn How To Cut Down Pages

The first thing a Hollywood exec/reader does when they get your screenplay is to look to the last page and see how many pages they have to read.  The problem with making your script too long is that the reader’s first impression is dread.

When the development exec sees a high page count, there’s a subliminal feeling that it’s too long and probably boring.  So do whatever you can to get it down to 120 pages—without cheating the page count.

Mark Twain is quoted as saying:  “If I had had more time, I would have written a shorter letter.”

That lovely little quip has to do with editing.  In Hollywood these days, a long script is just not tolerated, so you need to cut out some of those pages and scenes that you’re so attached to!  If you cut out the stuff that is “the least good” — in case you think it’s all amazing — just imagine how great it will be to read then!

Without getting too deep into how studios want 90-minute/90-page movies to be able to turn audiences over one extra time per day at the theatre, thus selling more tickets and expanding their profits…. let me just say, keep it between 90 and 110 pages now.

The rule has always been 1 page equals 1-minute of screen time, and 120 pages was acceptable before.  But now?  Not so much.  Do yourself a favor and cut down to 90 to 110 pages.

Given how hard I know if can be for so many writers I’ve worked with, I’ve created some hot tips for you to cut it down!  But first, here are a few don’ts:

  • Don’t make the font smaller and think they won’t notice – they will.  It’s very annoying to read smaller than usual type.   Keep the standard 12-point courier font.
  • Don’t make the margins really small, believe me they will notice.  In fact, it makes it even worse when there is less white space.  Try to keep lots of white space on the pages.

How To Cut Down The Page Count

One common reason a script is too long is that the writer goes into too much scene description and describes everything that they see in their mind’s eye.  A screenplay should NOT be like a fully decorated house with all the pictures hung in place; you should give only enough description to create the mood of the scene.   Go back and cut out some of the detail in your script.  Tell only enough to create the vibe, the feeling of the place.

Combine scenes:

Look to see where you can combine scenes to accomplish the critical pieces that need to be accomplished.

Eliminate unnecessary repetition:

Look for scenes that you are trying to accomplish something but you’ve already done it previously – take those out.

Remove or reduce scenes that focus on extraneous characters: 

Look in your script for scenes that are focused on only extraneous characters or supporting characters.  Almost every scene should either have the main character in them or the other characters should be talking about something pertaining to the main character or critical to the plot.  Be careful about leaving in scenes that are only informational or interesting in and of themselves.

Caution:  Leave this in.

Leave in at least one scene with great production value. One that has a grand landscape, great fight scene, just plain cool scene, or one that use Hollywood technology.  Even though these may not be critical to the story, they are often production or spectacle scenes that add value overall to your script.

Begin the scene later:

Within each and every scene, see if you can START it a quarter page later or more.

End the scene earlier:

Within each and every scene, see if you can END it a quarter page or more earlier.

Remove most hellos and characters introducing each other unless critical.  [Reiterates above.]

Remove most goodbyes unless something critical about it. [Reiterates above.]

Tighten dialogue.

Within every side of dialogue (each time a character speaks) and in every scene description, look for where you can tighten it by taking out a line (first) and then get to the level of removing words.  If a character has three or more lines of dialogue in one “side,”  You can probably take out at least one line, but FOR SURE, a few words.

These are some very simple tips that will make your script move unbelievable faster.  They are also ones that change absolutely nothing about your story or plot.

Good luck.