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Old 10-29-2018, 12:42 PM   #1
TravisPickle
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Default Covering many beats

Hey all

I’m outlining a pretty epic true story and from the start I was faced with the age old question of what to cover. I usually am of the opinion that most true stories are better when they zoom in on a specific period or have a specific angle as opposed to the long, multi decade ones. But in this case I simply have to include many elements and I am looking at movies like Goodfellas and Boogie Nights as templates. even down to the Voice Over which hopefully will help to move the story along in a snappier way (ie easier to leap around the chronology with VO)

As I write my outline (which is also a kind of treatment since I describe scenes) I find myself with a LOT of scenes and I’m worried that I will spill over into writing something utterly cumbersome.

How do you guys deal with this problem? Do you guesstimate the page count in the outline and revise the outline accordingly? Do you let the story take shape and if you end up with 150 pages you then go back and edit?

I know that Paul Schrader estimates his page count for each scene during the outlining process and basically knows exactly what he will write before he starts. I guess I am doing something similar now – by writing mini descriptions of each scene I am forcing myself to make connections and envision the general flow of the narrative.

Very curious to hear thoughts
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Old 10-29-2018, 02:51 PM   #2
catcon
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Default Re: Covering many beats

I've never dreamt of calculating final page counts before I reach the script stage, but I do outline the hell out of stuff before I even consider writing the screenplay, so...

I discovered about halfway through my writing journey (2013) that my scripts were coming out to be about 2.5 times the length of my detailed outlines. It's now down to about 2 times. The script page count that I'm referring to is what I have after first reaching "THE END", then about 5 days or 4-5 polishes (which for me consists of simply reading the script from beginning to end) before I even consider pitching it. (NB. I then do similar polishes at one month, and annually after that.)

But surely, the page counts for the specs we write, versus the shooting scripts, are totally unrelated anyway. For example, if you check this out (scripts for Fincher's films):
https://indiefilmhustle.com/david-fi...lms-screenplay
You'll see page counts of 150 to 175 and even more than 200. Surely the specs weren't of this bulk, but once the thing was Green Lit the director and actors and janitor-on-the-set had their way with it to add stuff -- and, no doubt, to share in the screenwriting credit like they all want to do these days.

As to your point, just outline the story and see what comes of it. Maybe you're writing a 3-hour epic, or maybe it's a feature plus a sequel/prequel. Get the story down, before you worry about page counts.

Here's a story: In my most extreme example, I started an outline of a good idea (6 or 7 pages) before I stopped. I had no job so literally gave up writing/pitching/polishing anything, including this latest project, for 7 months while I sought employment somewhere. Finally, after not finding work, and realizing that doing some writing wouldn't hinder my job prospects (and probably kept me in a better and happier frame of mind), I got back into the project.

The outline for that story, which was on its way to being an epic set in Africa anyway, turned out to be 80 pages! And yes, I was worried, since my outlines before and since were usually 50-60 at most, but I felt that the problem for this script was that I'd taken 7 months off and was "out of practice".

Well, the first draft of the script was 165 pages (just over 2x outline length), before brutal editing brought it down to 145, whereupon I began to pitch it a little. Five years later, it's now at 121 pages after further brutal editing, but that's still one heck of a long spec.

PS. I consider this script one of my best, and it is an African epic after all. Bound to generate at least a best cinematography nomination (unless they leave the lens cap on).
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Old 10-29-2018, 10:52 PM   #3
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Default Re: Covering many beats

The problem with most screenplays that I read is that they have too little story (usually a weak second act).


My recommendation would be to follow your outline. You will almost certainly find some things that you can cut as you go along. However, you will probably also think of new things that can improve the story.


Just get it all down. Then reassess in terms of beginning, middle, and end. When you have done that, go back and chop out things that you do not need.


Just my opinion, and what do I know?
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Old 10-30-2018, 09:01 AM   #4
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Default Re: Covering many beats

Hi, I'm new on the forum. I agree with ComicBent, act I, act II and act III. I'm finishing my first script (yes I'm a beginner), and the best thing I could do was knowing exactly what I wanted to say in each act. I've followed the classic structure: act I, 30 pages, act II 60 pages and act III, 20 pages, and I've managed to do it with satisfaction. I had a lot of scenes too, I've put it into each act, I've cut some of it while I wrote, it's like that. I've had new ideas too until the end of the writing, during the rewriting, but when the story is clear and coherent, these new scenes are more obvious than the old cut scenes.
For me, it's really important to know what you want to write in each act, the crucial moments, the evolution of the characters. For me it was important to follow the classic structure, because I'm a beginner, and I didn't want to find myself with a too long act I for exemple. I was particular about that.
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Old 10-30-2018, 10:00 AM   #5
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Default Re: Covering many beats

Quote:
Originally Posted by ComicBent View Post
The problem with most screenplays that I read is that they have too little story (usually a weak second act).

My recommendation would be to follow your outline. You will almost certainly find some things that you can cut as you go along. However, you will probably also think of new things that can improve the story.

Just get it all down. Then reassess in terms of beginning, middle, and end. When you have done that, go back and chop out things that you do not need.

Just my opinion, and what do I know?
Whoa! You know quite a lot more than most of us know. Ooo-wee! But I'm thinkin' some folks up in here don't write from an outline. Whoa. Good advice, though, as always.

Last edited by TigerFang : 10-31-2018 at 09:58 AM.
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Old 10-30-2018, 11:20 AM   #6
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Default Re: Covering many beats

Quote:
Originally Posted by TravisPickle View Post
Im outlining a pretty epic true story and from the start I was faced with the age old question of what to cover. I usually am of the opinion that most true stories are better when they zoom in on a specific period or have a specific angle as opposed to the long, multi decade ones. But in this case I simply have to include many elements
I can imagine it's tough when there's a surfeit of source material, but remember that you're not writing a history essay or documentary. The only elements that you HAVE TO include are those that tell the protagonist's internal journey - and that can probably be told within, say, 80 pages? Then, for the other 40 or so pages, write your pick of the other most affecting (or well known) events, and omit the rest. You can't show everything - pity your audience, for chrissake!
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Old 10-30-2018, 12:39 PM   #7
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Default Re: Covering many beats

I think you have to keep powerful moments of the story/history in which the protagonist acts strongly, and that have a big impact on him/her. When I think about my work again, I knew the number of pages for scenes too before writing. To not exceed my quota of pages for each act. Giving yourself constraints makes you get to the point.
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Old 10-30-2018, 05:32 PM   #8
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Default Re: Covering many beats

The worst situation in writing is to have the blank page staring at you. If you are lucky enough to be able to knock out 180 pages of material, you are in a good position. It may take some rethinking of your material, but having all of that to work with will be easier than trying to stretch a weak story out to 90 pages.
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Old 10-30-2018, 11:27 PM   #9
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Default Re: Covering many beats

Quote:
Originally Posted by ComicBent View Post
The worst situation in writing is to have the blank page staring at you. If you are lucky enough to be able to knock out 180 pages of material, you are in a good position. It may take some rethinking of your material, but having all of that to work with will be easier than trying to stretch a weak story out to 90 pages.

I'm not anything close to a pro and probably don't know what I'm talking about, but I always write long and then edit it down. I usually find a lot of scenes that don't move the story forward enough, or figure out how to make one scene carry more wait, instead of using two or three light weight scenes.

Normally I get rid of a lot of "clever" dialogue. Sometimes I can get rid of it completely in a scene, and that usually works better. I don't mind that because even though a lot of the dialogue isn't necessary, it helps me nail down the character better.

In fact before I start to write any script, I do pages of dialogue for this reason.

It works for me -- but like I said I'm nowhere near being a pro.
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