We Think You Can Ignore This Screenwriting Advice

'Stranger Things'
'Stranger Things'Credit: Netflix
If you do not hook them from the start, they're going to leave. 

We know that opening scenes are important to grab your audience from the start, but not every movie can have an explosion or a thrilling chase right at the start. That's why some stories take a bit to get going. But how long is too long for things to happen in a story? 

Recently, filmmaker/author Shane Stanley sat down with Film Courage to talk about a rule he thinks screenwriters should follow. Stanley says writers have just 11 minutes to tell the audience everything they need to know to enjoy the story.

Check out the video from Film Courage and let's talk after the jump. 

What is the 11-Minute Rule of Screenwriting? 

If you want my opinion, there's only one rule in all of the medium of writing, and that's if you plant it, pay it off.

Still, I think Stanley has an interesting point here. The first 11 minutes of your movie say a lot to the audience. Usually, they give us the character, show us who they are in their element, and give us the genre

The basic 11-minute rule is that you need to show all your cards in the first 11 minutes, otherwise people won't care and they'll turn off or stop reading whatever you sent them. 

I think this often gets people to start fast, and not start smart. Instead, I would posit that the only thing you have to worry about in the first 11 pages is to not be boring. 

I like to think about the first pages as an opportunity to show what needs to change in the character's world. Even in a slower movie like There Will Be Blood, those pages are used wisely. We meet Daniel Plainview, we see what he wants, and we know what needs to change. 

He wants oil and money. 

We know he is looking for oil deposits all over, with the desire to own all the oil possible. 

Okay. You might think this just works for prestige films, but what about applying the formula to something a little broader?

In There's Something About Mary, we actually see the 11-minute rule broken. That movie's first 20ish minutes is about showing us how important Mary is to the people of a town, and how badly our protagonist failed at courting her. 

What is so important here is the worldbuilding

We are never bored, it's a comedy, and we also understand one of the deepest issues driving our guy... love!

In the end, the 11-minute rule means well and can probably help you get your ducks in a row, but there are no real rules in screenwriting. Do what you think works, and choose what helps your story the best. 

Let us know what you think in the comments. 

So much of what we're talking about on No Film School when it comes to screenwriting is summarized in our new eBook. It also helps guide you through a 10-week writing plan that will get your script actually finished.     

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1 Comment

Works for me. Close Encounters bored me until the ending. I never worked out that Roy had been selected. All the weird happenings seemed completely random. Much better is Vertigo, with a kickass opening scene, a fade and a complete explanation of Scotty's mission. The very slow scenes of Scotty stalking Madeleine are fascinating because we see San Francisco as it was in 1958. If it were remade today, a sacrilegious thought, the stalking scenes would require a complete rewrite. BTW, remind me not to waste time on a movie where the characters find a case full of cash. This gimmick goes way back, for example, Too Late for Tears (1949).

November 25, 2020 at 7:08PM

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Curtis Polk
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