Advice on script writing layout please

I’m endeavouring to adapt my novel into a film script. I’m a complete novice to script writing, so I’d appreciate some advice on the following points:

  1. To get an idea on how long the script is going to be, I want to write it in the actual format I would send the script. That is, with margins and page numbers. I realize each scene is a file in Scrivener, so is it out of the question/defeating the point of Scrivener to write a continuous document before compiling? If so, I guess it means writing up a number of scenes then compiling and estimating the length from the result? Or am I missing something obvious?

  2. In the example script you supply in the Research folder, the width of the text seems narrower than most other examples I’ve come across. I wonder why this is?

  3. I searched for Scriverner tutorials on script writing but didn’t find much. Just want to make sure I didn’t miss something.

Thanks very much.

Hi Kawasaki

  1. That’s pretty much what you’ll have to do. Basically one scene per document if you want, but there’s nothing to stop you putting a sequence of them together if it makes more sense. You don’t have to compile to get a page count, just select page layout view, and then select all the scene documents. Scriv will show them in continuous pages with a page count in the bottom of the editor.

  2. Layout - I know what you mean… the Scriv margins look wider but they don’t seem to be in when you print. That said, the Scriv layout does come out some pages longer than the same script in Final Draft or Movie Magic, which is down to headers/footers and line height, which are reliant on the OS X text engine.

The bottom line is that Scriv’s for developing a text, not laying it out. You’ll need to put your script through FD, MMS, or at the very least a full on WP to sort out the niceties of formatting.

Away from your Scriv issues tho - I’m sure you’re aware drama’s very different to prose and you’ll find there are things you can’t do easily at all in a script, or can do far more quickly and the whole story will work better with things left out or added. Adaptation goes far deeper than changing the formatting - there’s a really good book by Ronald Harwood about it.

Here are URLs you might find useful. First, guides on screenplay formatting:

Second, general “How To” guides:

And though I have never read it, this book comes recommended for beginners:

As to length, a motion picture is nominally 100 minutes long these days, 120 to 130 minutes is more the exception. Of course, there are examples of longer works. James Cameron’s “Avatar” ran 162 minutes. Peter Jackson’s “King Kong” had a running time of 187 minutes and was also released in a 210 minute extended edition. But I think most audiences would consider those lengths out of the ordinary. A sceenwriter usually estimates that a page of script that contains mostly dialog will take roughly a minute to perform. As a result, the length of a script is approximately 100 to 120 pages.

Adapting a novel into a screenplay is difficult. Novels are about words and movies are about visuals. Both are first about story obviously, but the story must be told differently given the strengths of each medium. It almost always takes longer to tell a story with only dialog and pictures rather than prose. Interior monologues from characters, so effectively used in novels, are considered “low art” in film and are frowned upon. You might want to review some of your favorite movies that are novel adaptations and notice what was omitted. It’s a difficult balancing act. That’s why you often see movies based on short stories.

And then there’s the question of “suitable.” Depending on any number of criteria, producers consider some works easier “sells” than others. One of the issues is story structure. Most movies follow a standard structural pattern. If this screenplay is intended for mainstream audiences, I’m reading a wonderful book right now that deals with the story structure of professional screenplays called “Save the Cat.” It can be found on Blake Snyder’s web site:

Good Luck.

Thanks very much to both respondents. I’m pretty well read-up on screen writing and formatting, it is the mechanics of using Scrivener I now need to grasp. And it’s precisely because I’m battling with what to leave out in order to get the script down to 120 pages/minutes or so that I wanted to get a rough estimate of what the entire length can be–before I write pages and pages that I might have to eliminate. I’m busy with something else right now but will play with the Layout–something I missed–to see if that helps me estimate things before I get too far into the writing.

While I never used the Corkboard in writing the novel, I’m finding it so helpful in switching and eliminating scenes and do recommend it to other fledgling scriptwriters.

One more question (for the time being!). Have either of you or other Scriveners used BOTH Final Draft and Movie Magic? Any comments on which and why you might prefer one over the other? If I recall rightly, MM is written especially for the Mac, which–if all things are more or less equal–would make me favour it.

As I understand it, though I have yet to submit a work myself, FD is a Hollywood-industry standard. If it was me, I would choose FD.

Hi Kawasaki

On MMS vs FD… they’re both good, they both have pros and cons. Try the demo for each and decide. Personally I use MMS, because it has better outlining tools. Not as good as Scriv’s - I tried MMS’s and it didn’t offer me the flexibility of Scriv. So now I do everything in Scriv till the point where I’m on my formatting/proofing pass, which is pretty late on.

The only time it matters if you’re bouncing drafts back and forth with someone; obviously you have to use the same programme as them. For spec submissions, my experience is that pdf is fine (tho often in the UK where I am, Word is still the default…). I don’t like Celtx myself, though I don’t know why. Just doesn’t feel right. That said, it does a perfectly respectable job, lots of people use it, and unless you really want MMS or FD, would be fine for your needs.