pacing of a comedy?

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  • pacing of a comedy?

    I know that dramas/action end around 100-110 now. I understand to reach the plot point at around 25-30 pages for the first act.

    What is the pacing of a comedy? I am thinking comedies end around 90 minutes or so? Then that would make the plot point somewhere around 15-20 minutes into the story?

    Charli

  • #2
    StRogue,

    I'm glad you asked this. I hope somebody will clear this up.

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    • #3
      I personally have no clue. Don't write comedy.

      However ...

      Woody Allen says the perfect length for a comedy is 87 pages.

      Lew Hunter suggests 100, with (if memory serves) the first act ending at page 17 (or so).

      That's all I have for you. Hope it helps some.

      ---RDJ

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      • #4
        What I have read, time and again, is that comedies are a little shorter in length, usually around (roughly) ninety minutes. Usually someone then adds the statement, "Or even shorter." It seems reasonable to shoot for around ninety pages; it can then be trimmed if necessary.

        As for plot points, I can only say that every work, if it really comes together and does what you want it to, will have its own dynamics and pacing. The end of the first act would be somewhere in the first thirty pages. More important is the very early establishment of what the plot is about and where it might be heading.

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        • #5
          I think this depends on the comedy, but I don't know for sure.

          I wrote one comedy that was "smaller" in scale. It was character driven and more along the lines of an "American Pie" project. It was localized (no real travel) and about kids and the problems kids have when trying to find themselves. It didn't really have an "inciting incident" that shocks the audience, but I did have a clear beginning/middle/end. The whole script is about 95 pages. My first act ends around page 25 or 26, the second act ends on about page 75 and the third act starts right there and carries to the end.

          The comedy I'm working on (and procrastinating about at this VERY MOMENT!) right now is a "bigger" film. It has a huge high concept at the center of it and involves big characters being yanked out of their normal existences and into a world they've only dreamed about. It moves all over the place (geographically) and tells a fairly large story in as close to 90 minutes as I can get it.

          There is a clear "inciting incident" on page 10. This is separate from the first plot point, which comes in at around page 28 or 29. The inciting incident sets the "stakes" -- what is at risk, and the first plot point establishes the reversal in direction the film takes now that the main character has answered the "hero's call" and embarked on his journey.

          I haven't finished the second act yet (I'm in Act II, part II), but it is on pace to end on about page 80. Act III will run to page 100.

          Ideally, in the editing process, I'd like this as close to 90 pages as possible with a 27 page first act, a 45-48 page second act, and the other 18 or so pages comprising Act III.

          This is the script that signals my "high concept awakening" -- ie, I've finally gotten over myself and realized that I need to root my desire to be an individual as a writer in the strong, central concept that Hollywood desires. I'm playing this one by the rules of structure and only breaking the rules that fall inside that large, outer box that separates what sells from what does not.

          Thus, this is my first attempt at something that may truly be marketable, but I do have almost two years and 4 scripts prior to this one that have served as the learning process that brought me to where I am.

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          • #6
            Charli,
            I don't know if there's a set rule but I'll tell you what I did. I wrote two dramas and a romcom before I tried pacing a comedy. It starts amusing, my first big laugh is on page 4, a little late but had 4 main characters to introduce, inciting event happens on page 6, the set up is done, end of Act 1 on page 10, the story begins. I deliberately set a challenge for myself on this one. I'd just read Traffic, and I admit found it way too confusing to follow 4 stories on paper without the color shades and visuals. So I decided to try it for a comedy and this one was fun, and the action just keeps going. I had to keep each story on the same pace, and each act had to end at the same time, and each crisis happen together at end of Act 2. Whew, talk about sticking to an outline, but it worked. Came in a little too long at 104, but since I'm usually a rambler then cut massive amounts, this came together and I was done. Wonderful feeling. Hey, Stephen Gaghan's first attempt was over 300 pages. The fun part was if one character got a little behind on an arc, I had to speed him up, so it never got boring. My act 3 was longer than usual because I had 4 story lines to resolve.

            I love comedy, I'm hooked. The key for me was keeping dialogue to one-liners, which I think is almost essential. Zing, counter, zing, counter, zing action, new scene. It's a great read, and I'm having a big agent as my first reader so we'll see. I noticed my scenes were much shorter than in the dramas, everyone kept moving constantly, and I didn't do any obvious gags for laughter. Like most good comedies the humor was in the serious moments. And the serious characters were the most humorous. A look is worth a thousand words. I'll let you know what this guy says, but for a first draft, this was my best. So see, it does pay to outline and stick to it. Each story had equal time, each character had an obvious character arc, each character achieved their goal at the end. What fun, try that.

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            • #7
              I think you might be confusing the issue a little here.

              Most comedies are usually around 90 to 100 pages as most dramas are usually around 110 to 120 pages.

              The setup for a comedy and when information is given out shouldn't be proportionally too different. By 20 minutes or so into any movie, really, you should know who the characters are and what they need and what you are worried about as an audience member.

              What's different about comedies is this... Who loves unbelievably long and tiresome jokes? How long can you listen to even the funniest of friends talk? After a while you tire. The best jokes are usually the short funny ones. Same with comedy script so to speak.

              A three hour comedy? Please. Sure there have been a few longer comedies like "It's Mad, Mad World" or "The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming" but like a great joke keep it tight and to the punchline. There are only so many funny moments and lines you can come up with in most cases. So you pick the best and get it to be a lean and mean script.

              Thus to more or less answer the question. I don't think Act I has to really be that much tighter than a drama's Act I. Maybe a tiny bit at most. Mainly the middle of the Act II will come sooner and the beginning and end of Act III also. And hopefully that should come pretty naturally with the story.

              To paraphrase an old saying... "cut to the laughs." If scenes aren't funny and are slowing the movie down, make them great or get them out of there. You don't want to be bored in a comedy. You want laughs through out. It's hard if not impossible to do that over a 2 or 2 1/2 hour time period. People have wisely realized this over the years. Keeping things shorter make it easier for the writer really and more entertaining for the audience.

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              • #8
                Thanks to Ric, Ar, Comic, Risk, Funny, Will for responding. I realize that each story has its own pace, but there is a standard format to follow.

                Thanks for the help.

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                • #9
                  Hmmm... Not sure about your response. A standard format? I've taken plenty of classes in screenwriting and there wasn't some grand standard format for comedies. I think USC would know particularly considering how format & formula crazy we were at times.

                  If it helps and so we're all clear, is this more what you are looking for?:

                  Act I - 1-20
                  By page 10 - point of attack
                  By page 20 - main tension established

                  Act II - 21-76
                  Pages 45 to 50 -mid point climax

                  Act III - 77-90
                  Page 80 - twist to begin the "ending."

                  If this still isn't helping let me know (and we can see what happens via other posts), but your subject line was pacing and the questions about length and plot point seemed to be answered by all so not sure exactly what you still might need.

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                  • #10
                    I used to regularly sit through 2 hour Mystery Science Theater 3000 episodes. Was addicted to them, in fact. =)

                    For my comedy short stories, I've watched countless reruns of Whose Line is it Anyway to see how the comedians played jokes off of each other. I liked it because we were seeing them as they were being created, not after a few rewrites and polishings. While I don't write comedy scripts, I found that an invaluable resource.

                    Just two cents, give or take Wall Street's whims.

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                    • #11
                      Tootsie was two-hours, and two funny ones.

                      However, most comedies, at least good ones, are about 90 minutes. Examples: Annie Hall, Airplane!, Naked Gun, Dr. Strangelove, Take the Money and Run, etc...

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                      • #12
                        Will - I just needed to get a general idea of where act I ends, act II I can feel my way through, but with all the posts, I figured about 15-20 minutes I need to establish a solid first act.

                        What I meant by standard format (probably poor choice of words) is that comedies plot points generally come quick. The story itself develops quicker than a drama (and some dramas move along at a snail's pace).

                        I just needed to understand how soon as to get a feel for it. You gave me exactly what I needed by the way - Charli

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                        • #13
                          All right. As long as it helps, that's all that matters. 8)

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