Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Reader question: how to deal with too long a script

Dan writes in with a question:

I've been reading your blog and over the weeks, I've found precious information there. I really hope you can help me with my problem: 

I've written an original horror movie script. The problem is: it's 165 pages long. Of course, I know it's waaaay too long. I should cut out a lot of scenes, bring it to a max of 120 pages. 

So here's what i thought: make 3 different scripts: 
1. a slim, 110-120 page version of the script 
2. a 170 page "Part 1 & 2" script 
3. a 5 episode TV show script 

My questions to you: Would this make sense? Is it a good idea to hint at the end of the script at the other 2 versions? I suppose I'll have to register all 3 scripts separately? 

And there's one more: I live in Europe, so selling a script in the US is probably damn near impossible. Let's say I'm very stubborn and i still want to try it. What advice can you give me?

My advice - the only option that makes sense is #1.  I don't see how you can break a long story conceived as one unit into two pieces and have either one make sense on their own.   That would take some drastic rewrites and then you still have a major problem in that you're now trying to sell two scripts.  Longtime readers may remember how I feel about the words "To Be Continued..."

I don't see any value in writing a 5-episode script.  When you sell a show in the U.S., there needs to be enough narrative engine to allow that series to continue for up to a hundred episodes, should the network see fit.  True, every now and then a show makes it on the air with a premise that makes one skeptical it can last more than one season.  As hard as it may be to believe, usually the network has worked with the writer and gotten at least some assurance that the writer sees several years worth of stories.

Can you get 5 years worth of story out of an idea that started as a slightly over-long horror film?  I tend to doubt it.  I say bite the bullet and start cutting your darlings.

As to the final question, that's a little outside my realm of experience.  Rather than talk out of my ass, I'll invite my readers to comment if they have any insight.


  1. I'm going to be cruelly honest in response to that final question.

    If you're writing 165 page first drafts and considering splitting it in two as a solution, then you're not ready for the US market (or the UK market for that matter). You're just too green.

    Chances are your script won't sell, but if it's halfway decent it could generate some meetings - but only if you've got good quality representation. Given you're asking the question "how can I try to sell it in the US?", a question which would normally be settled with a chat with your agent, I'm guessing the reader doesn't have a top-tier agent.

    Getting THAT in place should be this writer's goal, not taking a blind swing at market choked with newbie's unread efforts.

    I feel Dan's checklist ought to be:

    1. Write amazing script
    2. Secure enthusiastic representation
    3. Together with agent, take the script to market, with America as an option in the mix if appropriate
    4. Ensure that, in the likely event it fails to sell, Dan is at least in a position to show it to his local market and take some meetings and maybe land his first assignment.

    A distant 5. would be write another US-intended spec and take a second shot, or gain US representation through heat generated by success in your local market.

    But by all means disregard the above, pack a haversack and head for LA and shoot for the dream!

    Really though, good luck Dan. I hope your 110 page (not 120) final draft brings you good fortune.

  2. Here's the real advice you should give:

    Table this script and start on your next one.

    You wrote a 165 page horror script? People keep saying it needs to be 110-120 pages, but in reality, a horror script should be 100-110 pages. If you can't figure out what to cut, then you need a few more scripts under your bet to understand the process. Start from scratch and write a 100 page script. Focus on brevity and efficient use of time. Once you're done, you'll be able to go back to your 165 page monster and see all the fat that needs to go.

    PS - To anyone who writes a long feature and things "Hey, I'll just turn this into a series," your deluding yourself. A television series has completely different rhythms than a feature. In order to make it work, you're going to have to do just as much work as writing a new series from scratch.

  3. I agree with Steve -- if you're writing a 165 page horror script, the story almost certainly is not tight enough (or there's something wrong with your formatting, or both), and you need to start from scratch and get a handle on efficient story telling. As for the second question, I unfortunately have no suggestions, but trying to work your way into the local market and gain traction there first seems like a good option.

  4. This is very true. I had a script that was nearly 180 pages long.

    So what did I do? I cut it down to 120. I took out things I LOVED but once I snipped really helped my story in the end. It moved faster and I realized the scenes really didn't do much to enhance the story.

    You have to swallow your pride and just re-evaluate the story. You know the old saying: "if you love it so much, you'll have to let it go." If you love your story that much, you have to cut out/modify scenes that are cool but really hinder the pacing.