How to tighten your script

What’s the first thing any reader does after they pick up a script and read the title page?  They turn to the last page to see the length.  The page count effects their perception of the script before starting to read.  If you are around 100 pages it feels like it will be a nice tight script and a quick read.  If it is 130 pages or more, it will probably be tedious, and contain lot a of redundancy.

Of course there are exceptions.  Epic, historical and biographical scripts tend to be a little longer, but that should be obvious from the title page.

So how do you shorten your script?

FORMAT – Seems like a no brainer, but if your script is not formatted correctly, it will affect your length.  Sometimes it can make it longer.   So be sure it is formatted correctly  so you have an accurate knowledge of how long it really is.  Correct formatting is describe in one of my earlier blogs.  Don’t cheat on the formatting by making the margin smaller.   You’re not fooling anyone.

STORY DRIVEN SCENES – Go through your script.  Does every scene drive your story?  If not, why is it in the script?  Of course, if the scene is to show character development, you might need it; unless you can achieve the same thing in a scene that drives the story. LESS IS MORE

Don’t be afraid to cut.  Be objective.  Re-read your script from an objective point of view.  Be the reader, not the writer.  It’s okay to be brutal.

Assuming your story is tight, you need to go over your script and look for words that are not necessary.   Don’t say something in eight words that can be stated in three.   For example:

Jerry grabs the newspaper and immediately notices the Front Page and it catches his attention.

INSERT NEWSPAPER:  Headline “Dead Body Identified”.

This could be much more concise:

Jerry notices the newspaper headline: “Dead Body Identified”.

Both say the same thing but one takes four lines while the other only takes one.  Does you need to say “Jerry picks up the paper”?  Does it matter?  Giving the direction “Insert Newspaper” is not necessary.  How the headline is shown is the director’s choice.  Specific shots should only be included if they are integral to the story.

REDUNDANCY / TOO MUCH DETAIL – Check your script for redundancies.  Don’t say the same thing twice (or more) in the different ways.  Example:

INT.  ITALIAN RESTAURANT – DAY

This is a typical Italian Restaurant with checkered table clothes.

First, you indicated it is an Italian Restaurant in the Scene Heading.  So repeating it is not necessary.  Does it matter to the story that the tables have checkered clothes?  Don’t waste valuable script real estate describing the obvious.

STAGE DIRECTION – Write, don’t direct.  Even if you plan to direct the project, at this point you are the writer.  You need to make the script enjoyable to the reader.  What’s in your head as a director is not always interesting and is often times boring to the reader.  So don’t load your script with stage and camera directions.

Avoid phrases like CAMERA PANS, CAMERA REVEALS, JON’S POV, and INSERT.  Find a way to describe what you want with the specific shot, as in “newspaper” example above.

ACTING DIRECTION – You are the writer, not the actor.  Actors want to be creative also.  If you have given them a strong character, they will know how to deliver a line.  So keep parentheticals to a minimum. Use only if it necessary for story, character development, continuity or the intention is not clear or obvious.

If possible, place that direction in the action preceding or following the line.  Under no circumstances should a parenthetical be longer than one line.  Try to keep it under five words.  If you need a comma in the line for grammatical correctness, it is probably too long.

DIALOGUE

SALUTATIONS: Try to enter a scene late and leave it early.  Coming into a scene in the middle of a conversation will eliminate salutations and speeches that probably have nothing to do with story.  Just make sure that the shortened conversation makes sense.  Of course, if the opening is used to introduce a character, then you want to keep it.  But try and make it interesting.

“Hi, I’m Jerry”.
“Nice to meet you.  I’m Sheila.”
“Mary told me a lot about you”.

That is a typical boring salutation.  It might be necessary to show they are meeting for the first time, but bend the lines to get more mileage out of then.

“Jerry?  Sorry I’m late”.
“It’s okay.  Mary said you’re always late

Bending the greeting makes it more interesting and also tells you a little bit about both characters.

QUESTIONS:  Don’t continually use questions to drive your conversation.

First ask yourself if the question is necessary.  Can you reveal the answer as a statement without the question?

Don’t ask and answer a question in the same speech

Unless it is a character trait, just state the answer in a conversation manner.

Don’t ask a question that doesn’t need an answer.

If it doesn’t need a response, it may not be necessary for the story or the character

REMEMBER LESS IS MORE.