A screenplay’s page length is important. Get it wrong and the writer risks not being taken seriously in Hollywood. By getting it right, the writer shows an understanding of screenwriting and the market.
The general rule for screenplay length is anything over 120-pages is too long and under 90-pages is too short, regardless of genre.
However, the writer needs to be aware of the acceptable page lengths for different genres. First, as noted above, be aware of the ‘general rule’, but also be aware that the acceptable screenplay length per genre, as noted below, is subject to change based on current trends in the industry. If a writer follows the business closely, the writer will know when the changes take place. In the meantime, let’s take a look at the current ranges for page lengths based on specific genres:
For this genre, the acceptable length is 115-120 pages. This is the only genre where hitting 120-pages isn’t frowned upon. This category also includes Crime Drama and Film Noir.
This genre should come in around 105-115 pages. This page length includes all thrillers; action thriller, supernatural thriller, crime thriller, etc.
Make us laugh up to 105-110 pages, then FADE OUT. The closer to 105 pages the better.
RomComs should come in slightly shorter than a feature-length Comedy. Unlike Comedies, RomComs tend to have a chase scene at the end that moves fast. This accounts for the difference in the page count.
Action should be around 90-105 pages. Why? Action sequences with non-stop blow ’em up stuff might be one-page long in the script, but it’ll hit around 3 minutes of actual screen time. Because of this, it’s best to keep action scripts in the lower page range. Be careful: don’t go below 90 pages or the script will be too short.
Keep the Action Adventure around 100-115 pages. Unlike Action, the Action Adventure relies more heavily on exotic backdrops mixed with dialogue, so the writer can get away with the longer page count.
Animation scripts should read between 110-115 pages. In an Animation, the writer is the director. That means the writer can add camera angles and other directorial references that will lengthen the script. However, it’s advisable to stick with regular screenwriting rules and avoid directorial references, but this genre does have a directorial option.
This should be one of the shortest scripts a screenwriter completes coming in as close to 90 pages as possible, but not under 90 pages. The reason is that 98% of all horrors are made for lower budgets and less pages means lower financial concerns for the production. Psychological Horror can be slightly longer at 110-115 pages, but if the story relies heavily on visual effects, then go with the lower page count.
What if the script is a combination of genres? Determine what genre takes up most of the screen time and go with that page length.
SCRIPTS OVER 120 PAGES
Long scripts from unknown writers are ignored by producers. Keep the length within the confines listed above.
SCRIPTS UNDER 90 PAGES
These scripts don’t qualify for production in any genre. Why? Because film distributors require a minimum of 90-minutes = 90 pages to qualify for theatrical or cable release. The script must be a minimum of 90-pages.
Note: There was a trend in Hollywood where producers wanted ALL scripts to come in at 90-pages. The trend was to reduce production costs, but this trend has died out.
HOW IT LOOKS
When a producer sees a long screenplay over 120-pages, they already know they’re headed for development hell because it’s obvious it requires editing. In addition, this screenplay will cost more and most producers will make significant cuts to keep it at a reasonable cost. The screenwriter’s best option is to do the tough editing before it gets into a producer’s hands – when the writer still has control of what is or isn’t cut.
When a producer sees a short screenplay, it automatically indicates something is wrong with the story structure. Usually it means the hero hasn’t been given enough conflict to overcome or the antagonist has disappeared for a majority of the story when he should have been going head-to-head with the protagonist.
Here’s what shorts Acts mean:
The writer didn’t provide enough setups to validate the overall plot.
The hero wasn’t given enough conflict to overcome.
The hero’s arc is weak. He’s hasn’t changed enough to take on a full resolution.
EXCEPTION TO THE RULE
The only exception is the independent feature-length scripts, which are often reliant on a small budget to get made. These often requires a shorter page length, regardless of genre. However, independent film writers (and filmmakers) should make sure the overall length is at least 90-pages to meet the basic requirements for distribution. Many indie films get stuck ‘in the can’ with a produced film that isn’t long enough. Start with and stick to a script that’s at least 90-pages.
The best way to assure the script is the proper length with Acts that fit the norm is the start with an outline. Outlining helps the screenwriter spot holes in the story’s structure that can be fixed before the writing begins. After 20+ years in the business, I’ve never met a professional screenwriter who doesn’t outline.
Stick with the page lengths listed above and keep your screenplay competitive in the marketplace.