Monday, October 10, 2011

Mailbag: Don't send me this email! also Length and locations

I've really been lax in dipping into the mailbag, so I'm going to try to clear out a few questions that have been sitting around for months.  Sorry guys!

First, I'm going to withold the writer's name so as to not embarrass them.  This landed in my Inbox with the Subject line "Ill give you 50% rights if u like my script."

If u read n like my slap stick comedy script n gets sold give u 50% of what iget 4 it trust its nt a bad script 

Look, you can't even compose a one (well, technically two, but you forgot a period) sentence email without demonstrating you have no capacity for writing a coherent phrase.  Why would I subject myself to 120 pages of that?

Also, never promise a reader half of your take.  It's just tacky.

From Clint:

You read a lot about screenplays being too long, but when is a screenplay too short?

If you flip to the last page and see "131" you have one impression. What do you think when you flip to the last page and see "91"?

Um, "Yippie?"

At one of my old gigs, the readers would come into the office and take the scripts off of a stack that had be left out for us.  The first thing I'd do before even considering signing a script out would be to look at the page length.  Anything near 90 pages got grabbed first... unless it flunked my second test - opening the cover page and seeing a period date at the start.

I didn't always leave the longer scripts.  A clever title always got me to pick up something closer to 120.  The only time I'd take anything over 120 was when I recognized the writers name, or it had been passed over so many times by others that I was the unlucky fool who had to get it done before the deadline.

Having a 91 page script MIGHT indicate that you're a little light on content, but that's an issue unique to the script.  As far as it repelling a reader - it's not likely to happen.  If you're at 85 pages, that's probably when I start to think the script is likely to be light on story and/or plot twists.

Chris asks:

I had a question that I had not really found touched upon in your blog. It has to do with the naming conventions of slug lines. I have noticed that some screenplays use the same name throughout, while others use a generic term (i.e. SUBURBAN HOME), then once they introduce whose house it is, from that point forward it is referenced as that character's house. 

If you look at the February 19th version of "Crazy, Stupid, Love" by Dan Fogelman, he starts off the house as being "SUBURBAN HOUSE", then once it is stated whose house it is, the house is referenced as "TRACY AND CAL'S HOUSE", then finally, "THE WEAVER HOUSE". While I understand that there really are not any hard and fast rules governing the formatting and other naming conventions, I just wanted to see what someone, in your position, considered the norm. 

Lastly, I understand that an error as minor as this might not play any part into the rejection of a screenplay, I'm trying my best to remove any sort of amateur mistakes as possible. 

I think for clarity, it's usually best to keep the same name throughout.  Sometimes that might not be possible, as when you need to identify a location, but stating it as "Steve's House" might give something away for some reason.  Also, this is one of those things that might affect a script report.  If you're trying to figure out how many scenes take place in a particular location, having inconsistent names for the locations can throw off that count.

So it's probably a good habit to get into, but as you note, it's not something that's likely to affect the Consider/Pass rating on your script.


  1. If you're inconsistent in a slug line then at some point in production it will have to be fixed. It may not disturb the reader but it won't win you any love from the line producer.

  2. For what it's worth, I work in TV and the shifting slugline is something that happens. Mildly irritating but you learn to deal with it. If people are doing their homework it will only happen because of a plot twist. Worse is when a location falls through so you have to shift from INT. BROWNSTONE to INT. LOFT in the middle of prep.

    Let's not even get into the current season of Damages, where we had at least five different sluglines that were all slight variations on INT. AFGHANISTAN SHACK (HUT, HOUSE, LEAN-TO, BUNKER, you get the idea), but they were all unique locations.

    The bottom line from the production standpoint is that you should be as clear and consistent as possible, but shit happens. I think when writing a spec, the best approach is to consider the reader rather than worrying about some hypothetical incompetent AD who might become involved years down the line.

  3. I'm lucky in that my natural rhythm is always nearer to 90 pages.

    I think it comes from the fact that, despite my obvious passion for film, I think they're too long! Who wants to sit in a dark room for two hours? TOO LONG!