Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Screenwriting - Pacing a Movie Script / Judy

scripts -- each page equals one minute

A few weeks ago I went to a writers’ conference and one of the workshops I attended was about screenwriting. Since we are all lovers of movies, I thought you might find this interesting. The presenter, who had sold several screenplays to Hollywood, said that each page equals about one minute of screen time and nowadays the scripts are 105 pages long. They used to be 130 but now that’s considered too long. And he said there is a definite pattern, or skeleton, to them.

catalyst at 10 min  

For example, on page ten (or ten minutes into the movie) there is a catalyst for all that is to come and it often starts with a knock on a door or a phone call. He said you can practically set your watch by this and if it doesn’t happen, you—the audience—will get fidgety and wonder why this is such a long movie with nothing happening.

new twist at 45 min

Then at the 45 page/minute mark, there will be some sort of twist or new information.

reversal at 60 mins

At the 60 page/minute mark there will be a reversal. The example he gave of the reversal was the movie “Thelma and Louse.” Up to the 60 min. place, all the decisions had been made by Susan Surandon (I didn’t see the movie so I don't know about her character). But at that point, Gina Davis had just slept with Brad Pitt and from then till the end of the movie, she called the shots. In the movie “Witness,” the 60 min. mark was when Harrison Ford and the Amish girl danced in the barn, showing their relationship had done a complete change from the beginning.

climax at 90 min

The 90 page/minute point is the climax and the rest, however long it is, is a wind-down.

“miss pettigrew lives for a day”
@ 10, 45, 60 & 90 mins

So the first movie I saw after this class was “Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day.” I’m about to describe it (spoiler alert!) so if you haven’t seen it, you can skip the next part. Here’s how it matches up to what that presenter said.

At exactly 10 minutes, Miss Pettigrew rings the doorbell of Delysia Lafosse (the catalyst). At 45 minutes the two of them come home from the underwear show and find Michael playing the piano in Delysia’s apartment (the twist). At 60 minutes, the planes have just gone overhead and Miss Pettigrew says to the man (I forget his name), “They don’t remember, do they?” (the reversal—up to this point it’s been a light, frothy movie about Delysia’s love life). At 90 minutes, they are in the nightclub, Delysia is about to give up and go with Nick while Michael just stands there. Then Miss Pettigrew shouts, “Punch him in the nose!” (the climax).

next movie - check it out yourself!

It’s really cool to watch a movie and see how this works. Try it and see if it holds true and I think you’ll find that it does in the good ones. Have fun!


  1. Thanks for sharing that, mom. it'll be fun to try it out.

  2. that's so cool. wasn't that a cute movie?


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