Scene length



No announcement yet.
  • Filter
  • Time
  • Show
Clear All
new posts

  • Scene length

    Hi everyone. I discovered this board about two years later than I should have, lots of great info and suggestions here. On to my problem...
    The script I'm writing is of the action/fantasy genre. I have a scene which introduces a secondary character and has the first real dialogue with the main character. The dialogue in the scene sets up everything that leads into act two and seems like a natural enough conversation that a couple people would have. My problem is that the scene covers four pages which just seems huge for one scene. I could take some of what's said in this scene and try to integrate it later into the story, but I don't want it to seem like I'm filling in holes that should have been covered earlier in the script, or worse yet take away any of the motivation for the character. Is it possible that since it's just dialogue that four pages is do-able, or should I try and cut it?

  • #2

    depends on the 4 pages... generally, if each line advances the story and holds our interest, you should be fine.

    y don't you post your pages on script pages and see what the people on the board say - they have been helpful to me in the past. good luck.


    • #3
      Re: depends

      My advice is to read the scene aloud, or better yet find a friend to read it with you. You'll find out pretty quick if it's long or not, certainly discover what's awkward and what can be trimmed. Four pages is definitely not over-the-top, especially if you have a lot of short line interactions between two characters coupled with some action. The key is economy. If you're being economical and keeping it interesting - you're fine.


      • #4
        Re: depends

        I'm a major proponent of the school of though that views rewrites as an effort to clarify and condense in addition to other objectives!

        I try to keep scene length no longer than three pages, there have been exceptions. If I locate a portion of a first draft that appears to be a "talking heads" sequence that is too long I will immediately attempt to cut dialogue as a first measure... without sacrificing clarity.

        Remove any parentheticals that are not "absolute" in necessity!

        What is the main thought being conveyed(if one) during this sequence? Can I get the message, or thought, delineated well enough, for the purpose of clarity, while removing tid-bits of dialogue that aren't needed?

        Chuck out anything that's extra weight and doesn't move the story forward!

        Another technique to break the "run" up(I can hear some here already starting to breath heavier in anticipation, adrenalin rushing:lol ) would be to explore methods in which you can employ a(God-I hate to even mention the name "formatting transition"), say one of the speakers is describing something that occurred, perhaps an opportunity for a FLASHBACK, get the picture?

        Show rather than tell whenever possible!

        Best of luck in any event!:smokin


        • #5
          I'm currently angsting over a 10-page mostly dialogue scene. 4 pages sounds like heaven to me.

          My Web Page - naked women, bestial sex, and whopping big lies.


          • #6
            Proportion to purpose. Most long dialogue scenes do not have enough purpose and conflict to justify and sustain their length.

            The Daughter/Sister scene in Chinatown is long but it is also full of conflict and reversals as well as being one of the most important scenes in the entire film, if not the most important. The conflict and purpose justify the length of that scene.

            Identify your scene's relative purpose and the conflict it contains and objectively gage if the purpose and conflict is enough to justify and sustain the length.

            If it isn't --

            Try removing the entire thing and see how it effects your story. If the story doesn't work find an image/action to fix it. If the image/action still isn't enough, put back just enough dialogue to make it work, chances are you won't need very much dialogue, if any at all.


            • #7
              well said day-us... the chinatown ref is an excellent example of something we seldom discuss on the boards - reversals.

              reversals are probably the most entertaining aspect of a script - they are what stories are all about.

              glad you brought them up and hopefully you can start a thread about them.


              • #8
                Personally, I'd be more worried about using a dialogue heavy scene as a major plot point. While it can and has been done, it's not very easy to do without slipping into heavy on-the-nose exposition.

                That said, if you're going to brave those waters, you can pick up some tricks from movie's like "When Harry Met Sally". It is almost all dialogue and several scenes are lengthy (just one of the many screenwriting principles broken in that film). One of the ways they pulled it off was by having the characters doing various activities while they talked. The movie is chock full of scenes where the characters discuss romance etc etc while doing the wave at a Giant's game, hitting baseballs in a batting cage, playing board games, or just walking down a crowded sidewalk.

                The whole point is to offer a visual to the scene. It's sort of a sleight of hand trick that breaks up the reader or audience's attention enough to keep the scene from getting monotonous.


                • #9
                  scryptreader, we've done threads on the three building blocks of drama (new info, deeper understand and reversals) and even analyzed that scene in Chinatown. I think a few threads may still be alive in the limited archives here, if not there is one on the Chinatown scene at 2adverbs.


                  • #10
                    In my opinion, the Screenplay Law that prohibits long talking scenes is one of many "Laws" that attack the symptom, not the disease.

                    There's nothing inherently wrong with a long talking scene. You can find plenty of them in great movies. Some of the most famous, powerful scenes in film history are pure dialogue, or at best, dialogue with some business.

                    It's helped me to stop thinking in terms of dialogue-to-action ratio. That'll be different for every story. If you adopt some crazy formula, you'll end up with clipped dialogue scenes and superfluous action. Remember, that's how porn writers work.

                    Instead, I think of something you might call story value. If you're going to have four pages of talking heads, the scene had better have four pages worth of story in it. Take the final Jessup-Kaffee confrontation in "A Few Good Men" for example. It's long and basically all dialogue, but it's crammed full of story. It's the scene everybody remembers.

                    It doesn't matter if the scene is dialogue or action; it's just got to be worth the screen time. Action can be boring, too. Four pages of two guys punching each other in the face would be powerfully bad - unless it had four pages of story in the way they punched each other in the face.

                    Try outlining your scene by dramatic beats. You should be able to tell from that how long it should be. If it's one revelation and a reaction, it should be a page or less. If it's full of verbal feints, dodges, attacks, and reversals, it's worth the time.

                    Don't forget that dialogue can be an action.

                    Also, not to stomp on someone else's advice, but I recommend you avoid trying to fix this through "business." "Business" are those superfluous actions that give a character something to do in a dialogue scene.

                    Every film has "business," but no script should rely on it, or even elaborate on it too much. At best, throw one little line in: "Becky washes the dinner dishes." Don't use it to break up the dialogue without reason.

                    While business can be used to make a dialogue-heavy scene more visually interesting, that's a job for the director. The main purpose of "business" is to help the actor emote. It's hard to stand there and just look angry; it's much easier to wash the dishes angrily.

                    If you're going to elaborate on any action, there should be a strong, story-based reason to do so.

                    Good luck!


                    • #11
                      Thanks for all the great replies.
                      I've re-read the scene a few times since my post and discovered one small section which I could cut. I'm going to go over it a few more times, then post it on the script page if I'm still unsure about the length.