Shortening a Script

After my post on ‘Submitting a Script’, I got a slew of emails.  Most of them yelling at me because their scripts were perfect and if they weren’t, why would they be ready to submit?  I won’t even touch that one…

What I wanted to discuss were ways to shorten your script without butchering your baby.  You’ve bled over the draft (even later drafts… especially later drafts) and you hear the dreaded words,

“Hmm… it’s good, but I’d lose ten pages.”

Ten pages!?  My forehead was bleeding just getting it down a few lines!

It’s all fine and well to have someone say – cut it down ten pages – but how do you actually get this done?  So, rather than just be someone who tells people what to do without being there with them in the trenches, I thought I’d jump in the fox hole and return some fire. Please keep in mind, these are my preferences as a writer… Take em’ or leave em’ as such…

  • First off, DO NOT, under any circumstances, touch the margins or font size. Anyone who reads scripts can spot this a mile away.
  • Spacing. Some people prefer two spaces before and after Sluglines. I do not. I actually thinks it makes for slower reading. Set your spacing on Sluglines to 1 before and after. But, if you do this, you should also BOLD your sluglines.
  • Crush all the spiders! My girlfriend hates spiders and as a writer so should you.  A spider is a single word on a single line. Most of the time people will refer to these in a section of dialogue. But I think you can apply it to your whole script. If you have dialogue or prose that leaves one word on a line by itself – get rid of it. You may need to rework the sentence or paragraph a bit, but it is worth it. If you think you just cannot get rid of that line – you’re wrong. You are 100% wrong. Step back and figure it out. You will be surprised how much tighter your script is. Even half a page, removing unnecessary lines, is invaluable.
  • More’s and Continued’s. This is my own personal trick. Although trick is a misnomer, it is heart-wrenching and hard act. It involves killing your babies and your grown children. Sacrificing soldiers for the greater good of the war. The basic conceit is that when you are finished, there should be no (as in zero, not one) page where the dialogue continues onto the next page. To achieve this, you may need to not just revise the dialogue, but the dialogue or prose in the scene to cut lines. You may even have to go back a page or two and cut to get that break onto a single page. The object is to keep cutting until you can rid of those breaks.
  • Don’t leave any cliff hanger scenes. A similar situation is a scene that leaves a line or two on the next page. Get it so that the scene ends at the bottom of the page. I used both of these techniques recently for a script that was 126 pages. My goal was to get it down to 120 pages.  Just by doing this, I was able to get it down to 119 pages. And I didn’t have to cut out any of the heart of my story.  I didn’t have to remove a storyline to cut 5 pages. Or a full scene. At least not yet. And then I went back and did it to my other scripts. It was exhilirating.
      • Although there is no reason for this other than it helps me cut things I wouldn’t necessarily cut, you will find that your script is a smoother/faster read.  And not just because it is shorter.

The bottom line is – do not be satisfied.  Do not get complacent.  If this is something you want, then bust your ass to make it happen. Most people do not have the fortitude to write. And that means rewriting, revising and sharpening your work to make it the best it can be.

You need to challenge yourself in the rewriting process. It is daunting and it sucks sometimes, but it is necessary if you want your script to go from good to great to excellent.

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