September 11, 2012

'3:10 to Yuma' Screenwriter Derek Haas on the Importance of the Big Idea and Pacing in Screenplays

Two areas where beginning and aspiring screenwriters tend to stumble when putting together a screenplay are "the big idea" and pacing. For "the big idea," this means, "Does this story need to be told as a movie and will it keep audiences engaged for 90-120 minutes?" Engaging the audience, however, starts on the page. Screenwriter Derek Haas (Wanted, 3:10 to Yuma, The Double) goes into more detail about the importance of the big idea and pacing in screenplays in the short video below.

Jump to the 1:53 mark to watch Haas talk about the big idea and pacing:

While the action genre -- where Haas and his writing partner Michael Brandt tend to write -- obviously lends itself to big ideas and requires swift pacing, all screenplays require big ideas and solid pacing. Haas quickly points out that big ideas don't necessarily mean big budgets, either. Instead, big ideas launch good movies, regardless of budget. Also, as a screenwriter, you want need a reader to keep turning pages of your screenplay in rapid succession because the story propels them forward with energy and purpose. Readers need to see the movie as they turn pages, and if the script drags, the movie certainly will.

How do you determine if your idea is "big" enough to carry a movie? And how do you make sure your script has strong pacing? Share your techniques with us in the Comments.

Link: Derek Haas - The Secret to Smart Screenwriting, Big Think

Your Comment


Robert McKee's book is one of the best. It breaks pacing down by genre. It's only in hardcover but it's worth the dough.

September 11, 2012 at 6:07PM, Edited September 4, 7:54AM

Travis Jones

i agree; i've read many screenwriting books and if i was to choose 2 that would be Story and Syd's Screenplay.

September 12, 2012 at 12:09AM, Edited September 4, 7:54AM


If you're starting out with your first screenplay(s), make sure your scenes are generally 2-3 minutes each, although some scenes can go as long as five minutes.

September 11, 2012 at 6:30PM, Edited September 4, 7:54AM


Well... it all depends on what kind of films we are talking about doesn't it? If you are talking about american action films, then yeah, a "big" or high concept idea goes without saying.

The 1975 "Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles" directed by Chantal Akerman is a film that slowly and repetitiously displays the mind numbing isolation of a house wife's empty existence. Is that a "big" idea as you put it? No, but its still a fantastic and absorbing film.

What is considered engaging and what isn't, is highly subjective and depends on the audience and type of film.

September 12, 2012 at 12:36AM, Edited September 4, 7:54AM


One exception: A scene can be extended a tad is if you can get a laugh out of the audience.

September 12, 2012 at 9:21PM, Edited September 4, 7:54AM


Sorry bad comment. Barry Sonnenfeld disagrees:
"If it’s not making the movie work, get rid of it. In fact, the single, funniest, best scene for pure comedy in Get Shorty is not in the movie and it’s a scene with Gene Hackman, John Travolta, and Ben Stiller. Ben Stiller plays a recent NYU graduate who’s directing a 10-Day-Wonder for Gene Hackman. It’s a really funny scene, but it didn’t work within the context of the pace of the movie in that section, and I had to get rid of it."

September 17, 2012 at 12:11AM, Edited September 4, 7:54AM


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May 22, 2013 at 10:27AM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


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November 20, 2013 at 9:58AM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM