By film industry standards, a page of a script is supposed to equal a minute of on screen time. Therefore a 90 page script will in theory turn out to be an hour and a half movie. Though this is the Hollywood rule, it’s never one that applied well to my work.
On my most recent movie THE FIVE, I went into production with a 55 page script. Now this was a special case to some degree because some of the horse chase and fight scenes I did not take the time to describe, knowing they’d get fleshed out on set. However, the finished rough cut of the movie clocks in at 82 minutes without credits. That’s 27 minutes longer than the industry estimate of my script’s length. So where did all that time come from?
Well, my movies have always gotten longer during production. Some reasons behind this might be my desire to play scenes with a lot of quiet beats, especially THE FIVE which features a group of outlaws in a claustrophobic cabin where tension keeps building and building. A script doesn’t account for how the director might stage the scene or how the actors might play it. Also, I noticed that some scenes without dialog ended up much longer. In one instance, one of our characters hides in a mine, kills a miner as he comes in for work, walks outside, and then discovers that the miner’s daughter saw her father being killed. On paper, it might be a third of a page. In the film, it lasts at least a minute. While editing, I watched my minute count speed ahead of the screenplay and was delighted about that since I was contracted to deliver a bare minimum of 80 minutes to the distribution company.
That being said, if I sent a 55 page script to most producers, they’d probably turn it down without looking at it. When writing a script for producer Dallas Sonnier, he told me specifically to come in between 90 and 110 pages. I had to adapt my writing style to reach that length. But if I was planning to make that film all on my own, it probably would have clocked in between 60 and 80 pages. So does page count really matter? The answer is yes and no.
Like I’ve said in my filmmaker classes, it all depends on your intentions with the project. If you’re trying to sell a script or attract a producer to make it, I recommend playing by those industry-established rules. But if you’re making your own movies your own way like I have for the last twelve years, I say do whatever the hell you want.
Photograph by Todd South from the set of THE FIVE