The Helpful Reviewer

Trimming Down Your Script

Sunday, August 2, 2020

Nowadays, the target length of a feature film script should be between 90-110 pages. For TV, it’s even more specific, as there are half-hour shows and hour-long shows, so making sure you hit the right amount of pages is a hard task.

Trimming down your script is never easy. As writers, we’re “married” to some of our scenes, characters, and storylines, and “killing your darlings” is not something easy to do. But there are certainly areas that can be trimmed down, and will in fact make your script better, tighter, and easier to read.

Some good tips for trimming down your script are:

  • Cut anything you’ve previously shown or told the audience. Remember that your audience is smart—they don’t need to be told things over and over again. Give them more credit.
  • Cut expository dialogue that has been shown through action—sometimes we think we’re not showing enough, and because of that we come up with forced and obvious dialogue to explain things. Again, give your audience more credit.
  • Show, don’t’ tell (dialogue adds pages)—Try to show things about your characters instead of having to tell us about them through forced expository dialogue.
  • Get rid of scenes that don’t move the story forward—this is key. If a scene doesn’t advance the plot, then it’s not needed, no matter how much you love it. This is where the phrase “ kill your darlings” comes into play—even if you love a scene, if it’s not benefitting your story, you need to get rid of it.
  • Description paragraphs should never be longer than 5 lines—Try to trim them down to hopefully 3 lines or less.
  • Trim as much dialogue as possible—people don’t say as much as we think they do. They don’t over-explain obvious things they already know about. So make them sound more natural, and cut out what doesn’t sound right.
  • Start scenes late, and end them early—we don’t need to see people walking in and saying hello unless it’s key for the scene. You can just start a scene straight into what’s important. And the same goes for the end—we don’t need to hear everyone saying goodbye and walking away. Just end the scene when the conflict is over.
  • Get rid of anything that doesn’t pertain to the story—camera directions, production design, etc. Your script is meant to be read by readers, producers, managers, agents, festival judges, etc. Give them a pleasant reading experience. Later on, when it’s in production, the shooting draft will add all of those more technical terms and specifications.


Cody Smart

Cody Smart

Reviewer

Cody is an independent writer and script doctor from Santiago, Chile. She attended the prestigious Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile, where she double majored in English Literature and Linguistics, with a minor in Dramatic Literature. She moved to L.A. and got her MFA in Screenwriting at the New York Film Academy, Universal Studios location, while at the same time working at Sony Pictures as a reader and story analyst. She also received two Certificates from UCLA, in Development and Producing for Film and TV.

Aside from her years of experience as a studio reader, she’s a judge for multiple script and film competitions, has written some award-winning short films and feature film scripts, she’s been working as a script analyst and doctor for years helping writers take their scripts to the next level, and is currently the head of the coverage department at Story Data.