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Film Length


StephenM
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Hey ho,

Was torn between Ask the Forum and here, evidently decided this was the best place - just interested in what people would say is the shortest a feature film could be? Truth be told I've finished a screenplay and told the story exactly how I see it in my head, but it's only just breaking an hour!

I would say an hour and a half is a minimum length, although these days things seem to be getting longer and longer. By example, the 60's seems to be full of hour and a half titles, whereas these days if something is short (Reservoir Dogs, maybe) it's made an issue of.

So what would you say is the minimum length for a feature? I would definitely say 90 minutes, any less and I'd feel ripped off.

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Hey there.

The recent Walking Tall remake with the Rock was only like an hour and ten minutes long. And that probabaly had like 5 minutes of filler in the movie. The opening Walking into town/title mantage must have been almost 5 minutes on it's own.

Actual script/storywise that movie couldnt have had more than an hours worth of material. And it worked. And made money.

That's probabaly the shortest feature I ever saw in the cinema.

Despin out.

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Interesting about that Walking Tall remake, that is short. I'm thinking I'll probably be able to get another scene or two in and it not feel stretched, though - maybe to give a bit more texture early on.

At the moment I only seem to be cutting parts out to make it snappier, though, it could end up being half an hour :D

I know completely what you mean about extremely long films, but it all depends - even some 120 minute films (which I would say is a sort of standard length) are noticeably spread out with filler; others I could happily go for another half hour or so and not feel like it was time to finish.

the rule of thumb is that 1 page = 1 minute of screen time.

if you have loads of action that measurement doesn't quite work as a simple could describe a visually intense sequence (that the director goes overboard with) in only a few lines.

how many pages is your script?

55 pages, and I've done a reading of it myself to get an idea and it seems to be about right, took me about an hour to imagine the film in real time. Generally I've described any non-dialogue sections (the odd montage under music), my reading obviously isn't 100% accurate but there's not a lot that's going to change the length.

Difficult play off between keeping the original image of the film that I had in my head and making it long enough. Maybe some lengthening will be good in terms of the characters, though, bit more depth never hurt anyone.

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I saw Walking Tall in the cinema and I didn't even realise it was that short until Despin just mentioned it there. I also saw Open Water which is pretty short. I'm not sure if it's shorter or longer than Walking Tall though.

Personally, I'm not particularly bothered what length a film is. I hate it when films padded for the sake of it though.

That's interesting what you said about films being longer these days. I had kind of assumed (without much thought or evidence) that films were generally shorter these days. I thought a lot of films were chopped just so they didn't go over 90 minutes.

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That's interesting what you said about films being longer these days. I had kind of assumed (without much thought or evidence) that films were generally shorter these days. I thought a lot of films were chopped just so they didn't go over 90 minutes.

Well it could well be that I'm plain 'wrong', and I'm sure there's plenty of exceptions, but I was just thinking of my favourite films from the 60s - Easy Rider, Midnight Cowboy, Bonnie and Clyde, none breaking 2 hours, and then the obsession that we seem to be going into today of Directors Extended Extra-Joy-Hours Limited Length Edition releases.

But sure, it was a sweeping generalisation so you should probably forget I said it <_<

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55 pages, and I've done a reading of it myself to get an idea and it seems to be about right, took me about an hour to imagine the film in real time.

out of interest. on what page of your script does act 1 end, and act 2 begin?

and what page does act 2 end on?

that's a pretty good way of gauging the structure of your script.

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out of interest. on what page of your script does act 1 end, and act 2 begin?

and what page does act 2 end on?

that's a pretty good way of gauging the structure of your script.

For the record I frown upon the structuring of a film into acts (because some of the films that I think work best have very loose structures), but in my screenplay you're looking at probably the first 12/13 pages as the first act (characters set up, the ball set in motion as it were), then you've got act two ending on 50, the final section intentionally being very short as to make the ending as blunt as possible.

Should be noted that this is being imposed now, not when I actually wrote the screenplay, so is only a rough idea.

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The funny thing about Walking Tall is that even though it's only 70 minutes long, it has about 10 minutes of credits on the end. I watched it the other night (good fun by the way), and I couldn't believe it when it finished at the timer still had 10 minutes to run through.

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phonebooth is pretty short, although you couldnt do much more when the character is trapped in a phone box! on the other hand, the grand total must be higher, as the screen splits up all the time, so its like watching a longer film compressed, which is nice.

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For the record I frown upon the structuring of a film into acts (because some of the films that I think work best have very loose structures), but in my screenplay you're looking at probably the first 12/13 pages as the first act (characters set up, the ball set in motion as it were), then you've got act two ending on 50, the final section intentionally being very short as to make the ending as blunt as possible.

Should be noted that this is being imposed now, not when I actually wrote the screenplay, so is only a rough idea.

frown on it all you want. many script writers start off with this idea, and soon learn (if they get interest in their film idea), that many of what they consider loose scripts, actually have very clear act structures. you just have to know what you looking for.

script writing is highly complex art that by its very nature has to be very structured, whilst at the same time fresh and original (when at its best).

good luck with it!

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  • 2 weeks later...
Phone Booth was a very short film, I can't remember how long, but it was certainly as long as it needed to be. Any longer and I probably would have changed my opinion of the film, from enjoyed to boring.

Exactly what I was thinking. IIRC it wasn't much more than an hour. At the moment I am pig sick of 3 hour bore-fests. I'd prefer a film to be too short than too long.

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Regarding film running times, the way it generally works currently with mainstream films is that they are cut to fit the 1hour 30/40 minute mark, so that they can fit more showings during the day at the cinema to maximise profits.

Now the latest craze is to shove some generally unneccessary crap back into the film to make it 4-5 minutes longer and sell it as a 'Extended Edition' on DVD a few months after the original release to cash in on the LOTR double-dips. Notable offenders of this 'greedy studio, uneccessary extended edition' syndrome are Gothika and Underworld, two films totally undeserving of a directors cut, and wank either way because all they've added is about 5 minutes of shite.

However sometimes this backlashes, sometimes the cuts made ruin the theatrical film and when the vastly superior unbutchered 'real' edition comes out on DVD, nobody gives a toss because their first impressions from the butchered edition were bad. Notable victims of this are The Chronicles of Riddick and Daredevil.

Obviously there are exceptions, these rules mostly apply to mainstream popcorns films, anything aiming to be 'epic' generally trys to be over 2 1/2 hours whether it needs to be or not.

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Phone Booth was a very short film, I can't remember how long, but it was certainly as long as it needed to be. Any longer and I probably would have changed my opinion of the film, from enjoyed to boring.

This is the one that springs to mind for me. As I recall, Phone Booth is 78 minutes long, but I didn't feel short-changed. The film cracks along at a good pace, and the length suits the concept - a longer running time would've just detracted from what was already there.

If your script is 55 pages long, using all the script layout 'standards', then you might be struggling a little. Not that I'm an expert on it, but I could imagine that some people might reject it as being too short for a film.

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If your script is 55 pages long, using all the script layout 'standards', then you might be struggling a little. Not that I'm an expert on it, but I could imagine that some people might reject it as being too short for a film.

Well my page count today, after two rounds of adding stuff is 70 pages - and that's really it done! There's very little scope to add any more, unless I have some sort of genius brainwave (which is unlikely).

That said, I'm not unhappy anymore, I'm kind of feeling like I have enough with 70 pages. There's one point where there's a montage and I honestly don't feel it's necessary for me to describe every scene in the montage, so in that respect it's a minute long sequence that takes a couple of lines on the page. In ways like that, there's probably a bit more than 70 minutes, plus credits and so on. And when you break it down like that, Sexy Beast was only like 80 minutes (something like that!), so short isn't always the end of the world. And there's not a scene that feels awkward, not a line that's there just for the sake of filling it out, so I guess I'm happy!

Now to show various folk and get some feedback :-\

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Tough call.

As a writer, I’d say its too short (by twenty pages) but I don't know the basis of your story AND you're story might be fine. It’s more likely that you haven’t fully exploited you characters, subplots, setups, payoffs, ect… Factors like no act 2 (that is, no struggle/conflict -- just the set up and the resolution), conflict is too simple, or maybe you've made it *too* lean (though that's rare).

Secondly, I have no idea if you plan to sell your screenplay or make it independently, but European industry standard is 90-100 pages (save comedy screenplays that usually read around 75-90). A script significantly shorter/thinner than that may be viewed as potentially weak in story, which is not a very positive impression to make on a studio reader.

But then saying that, if your're selling and your query letter bites, no studio reader is going to say, "this looks too thin, I'm not going to read it." Because it's the reader's job is to read everything and write coverage. Readers don't get to decide what they're going to read.

If it's a good script at 60 pages, the reader is going to give it good coverage. If it's a bad script at 60 pages, adding 30 to 40 pages isn't going to improve the reader's opinion of it.

If you're worried that some reader is going to dump the script or look at it edge-on and decide it can't be any good because it's too thin, then adjust the margins in your screenwriting software by an 1/8th of an inch inward in all four directions, and -- Voila! 90 pages!

I'm thinking I'll probably be able to get another scene or two in and it not feel stretched, though - maybe to give a bit more texture early on.

Don't think of it as adding for the sake of reaching some arbitrary page number. Don't think of it as padding. Think of it as digging deeper and expanding the drama you have to improve your characters and story. Look for places where you can expand and add to pump up the drama and develop characters. Every script can always use more of that.

And remember story is conflict -- make sure you have a good one, that isn't easily solved, and requires the protagonist to make difficult (and emotional) personal choices in order to resolve it.

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Cheers, nice to have someone say something about writing ever that isn't pessimistic, no? All I find myself seeing around the place is 'If your screenplay has a capital letter in the wrong place, forget it.' Another read through in a bit, so if there's weak spots they'll get highlighted then.

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Well it could well be that I'm plain 'wrong', and I'm sure there's plenty of exceptions, but I was just thinking of my favourite films from the 60s - Easy Rider, Midnight Cowboy, Bonnie and Clyde, none breaking 2 hours, and then the obsession that we seem to be going into today of Directors Extended Extra-Joy-Hours Limited Length Edition releases.

But sure, it was a sweeping generalisation so you should probably forget I said it :D

Forget their name but a while back someone with a column in the Culture section in the Sunday Times mentioned it for a couple of weeks. (Average length of films getting longer that is).

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i think you will find that readers are looking for any reason necessary to move onto the next script (due to the sheer volume they recieve). they do not have the time to read every unsolicisted script they are sent. and they certainly don't owe you a reading.

they give you ten pages. if you haven't hooked them by then - they move on. i know readers and they will all tell you the same thing.

a feature film has a structure that can only be broken by the best minds in the business. and even then they still stick to the rules of where a turning points etc should happen. an audience are programed to expect certain things in a film. if they don't get them, they get bored or think the film is shite.

the upside to all this is you are proberly full of ideas, and you only learn by doing. nobody ever wrote a great first draft. not even orson wells. in hollywood everyone says you must write 2 feature scripts (which will be bad) in order to begin to fully understand the medium. only after you have gotten those two bad scripts out of you will you be able write something great.

i apologise if you are only writing for yourself, then hey its all good.

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Don't apologise, comments from people who know what they're talking about are a great, great thing.

As for 'writing for myself', not really, only in as much as I'm writing what I would want to see and if it doesn't fit in some respects (ie. the length!), then I'm not worrying too much. I have no bloated ideas of this first screenplay being a masterpiece, I'm just trying to write it as best I can. And as you mentioned, I've learnt more from writing this than I have from reading books or whatever, which really had very little useful effect on me.

But yeah, just letting you know I appreciate your thoughts a lot, and with my comments on structure and shite I wasn't trying to be all high and mighty about it.

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