How To Shorten Your Film Script

You’ve finished your screenplay and it comes in at 128 pages. Uh, oh. How do you trim your movie script to a more palatable page count?

Screenwriting Amateur Alert

What is your screenplay page cutting strategy?

Plan a page cutting strategy. Are you trimming words, removing  action sequences, a character or story strand?

Think about what else you need to trim. Are they shooting pages or pages explaining the story world? Setups, exotic locations and complex sequences all cost money. Producers prefer you cut back on these pages, rather than dialogue in an existing scene. The latter doesn’t significantly add to production costs, unless they add production days to the schedule.

Consider which scenes aren’t essential to your script. Excise large action sequences that look cool but don’t progress your story. It’s fine if you’ve written them to develop your screenwriting muscles. However, they may not always serve the story or the audience experience. Consider the components of an action scene. Can certain elements be removed maintain the integrity of the story?

Do you really need secondary and tertiary storyliness? Do they enhance story theme or are they simply padding to prop up a weak main plot? Do they need to be there? If so, do those story strands need to be fully tied up?

Think about how long your story setups are. They may need to be longer in high concept, sci-fi, fantasy action movies where the worlds and the parameters of their inhabitants must be established.

Comedy set ups tend to focus on the interaction between characters. The situation is generally simpler, so setups can be shorter.

Remove scenes with characters only providing comic relief. Do they provide an effective interaction with the main character and the plot, or are they included just for laughs?

In terms of reducing the length of individual scenes, remove orphans; single words occupying a whole line.

Remove interstitial/ linking scenes. If a character leaves their apartment, you don’t need to include scenes of them walking down the stairs to the car, start the car and drive off. The middle scenes are redundant. All you need is a scene of the character leaving their apartment and driving off.

Remove dialogue with excessive repetition and affirmation, unless it’s included for added emphasis. Dialogue such as “I understand”, “I know how you feel” are unnecessary.

In your scene description, replace gerund forms of verbs with simple forms; e.g looking becomes looks. This tightens your script and adds immediacy to the read.

See if you can group action into two or three lines. Each action block should relate to a single sequence. You can keep single line action for added emphasis.

Remove transitions. In today’s leaner script format, “CUT TO”, “MORE” and “CONTINUED” are excluded. Even the ubiquitous “FADE IN” and “FADE OUT” are becoming rarer.

Remove character entrances and exists, unless they way they do it is integral to the story.

Are all characters necessary in a scene? Generally, the main character must be in the majority of the scenes, but do all the supporting characters need to be there?

Think about over writing the turning points. Write minimally and efficiently.

Be wary of biographical stories. Just because something happened to you, it doesn’t seal its fate in your story. It can be removed.

Live script reads can flag scenes which are boring and superfluous parts of your script.

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2 Comments Add yours

  1. Robert says:

    I combined some scenes based on location. It was easy to do in a couple of circumstances where anecdotes where foreshadowing and in one where the seemingly innocuous comedic character actually represents an important archetype.

  2. Diane says:

    It’s amazing how many pages the simplest tweaks can cut. I go back and try to streamline narrative and dialogue at every opportunity before I’m even done writing the first draft… Like with that last line that could be shortened to, “I streamline narrative and dialogue at every opportunity.”

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