Lawrence Kasdan on Screenwriting in AFF’s On Story Podcast: 'To This Day, It’s a Battle'

Lawrence Kasdan Austin Film Festival On Story PodcastWhether staring at the blank page or struggling to cut 30 pages from a bloated first draft, every screenwriter has likely had the same thought: "This is so much easier for other screenwriters." Guess what? It's not easier for other screenwriters. Writing screenplays is hard. Sure, some screenwriters are very successful at writing great screenplays, but that doesn't mean it was easy to write them. Don't take it from me, though. Listen to Lawrence Kasdan tell you about the challenges he still faces today when he writes a screenplay, thanks to Austin Film Festival's On Story podcast.

Here at NFS, we're big fans of Austin Film Festival's On Story PBS television series, capturing great candid moments with screenwriters discussing craft from AFF's panels. Sometimes, though, we just like to listen to the stories these screenwriters tell when we're walking the dog or driving around town. Thankfully, Austin Film Festival has created the On Story Podcast, condensing screenwriter conversations into streamlined audio files for our listening pleasure.

After listening to many On Story podcast episodes recently, several moments from "A Conversation with Lawrence Kasdan" kept popping back into my mind. Kasdan, whose works include The Empire Strikes BackRaiders of the Lost ArkThe Big ChillReturn of the Jedi, and The Accidental Tourist, had a frank discussion of the challenges that all screenwriters face, including successful screenwriters like himself, which really resonated with me.

Check out the podcast in full below, after which I've included some highlights if you're pressed for time.

One of the most important points Kasdan makes during his talk is that screenplays need to be lean:

People used to say scripts should be 120 pages. That’s bullshit. They should be 100 pages long. There’s no one who has ever given the note: “This script is too short.” Never happened. I hate reading screenplays, despise it, and I’m not alone. These agents -- and these producers -- they hate reading scripts, too, and they have piles of them. If the first thing they do when they get the script is look at the last page and see what the number is, that’s the most important thing -- So you’ve got to be rigorous with yourself. And if you think it’s looking really good at 140, you’re kidding yourself.

In my experience, first drafts tend to run long. Like Kasdan says, no one likes to read screenplays, not even screenwriters. If we do the hard work of cutting down the script to its essentials, we have a better chance of someone actually reading our script. Cutting pages is difficult for everyone, even the best of screenwriters, as Kasdan notes:

To this day, it’s a battle. Every time I do it, it’s a battle to take out, take out, take out. That should be another one of the many things you should have on the wall in front of you: “Take out. Take out.”

Cutting pages out of the script to find the essence of the story isn't just important to get people to read the script. Finding the best, most economical way to tell the story on the page matters tremendously when the film goes into production. Kasdan explains why:

When you actually make a movie, you go in the editing room and you constantly say to yourself, “Why’d I do that? I didn’t need that. This actor looked at this actor and I knew everything I needed to know what this whole scene is about.” At that point you kick yourself, because you wasted a day or half a day, which you did not have and which you could not afford doing something that was just as quickly conveyed by one look.

The podcast also includes fantastic anecdotes about George Lucas asking Kasdan to write The Empire Strikes Back and the moment Lucas shared with Kasdan one of cinema's greatest reveals. Kasdan also illustrates the importance of cutting pages when describing the story of the multiple drafts of Raiders of the Lost Ark.

So, take 20 minutes and listen to the complete On Story podcast with Lawrence Kasdan. Once you do, be sure to go to On Story's iTunes page to subscribe, rate the podcast and offer a review. This will help Austin Film Festival keep producing more On Story podcasts -- something that helps us all.

Do Kasdan's words of advice encourage you to do the hard but necessary work of cutting pages out of your screenplay? What strategies do you use to figure out which pages or scenes need to be cut to get your screenplay down to 100 pages or less? Share your thoughts with us in the Comments.

Link: Austin Film Festival's On Story Podcast, "A Conversation with Lawrence Kasdan"

Your Comment


After some experiments, I try to leave the first draft within 80-85 pages or so because, after reading it, I usually realize that there are major gaps in the plot line and the character development that need to be filled/fleshed out. Of course, this presumes that the script isn't abandoned half-way through to begin with. Walking away from the project is always the easiest undertaking. And it will surely keep your script from being bloated!

August 9, 2013 at 7:25AM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


I'd definitely agree that the 100pg count is the sweet spot.typically I aim to hit all my beats on cue (ie. Inciting around pg 12, 2nd act start pg25, midpoint 55, 3rd act 85, close on 110/115. Then chip away until I get to 100 pgs. I find my pages end up skimming down the further I get towards the end. In essence, my 1st act loses 2 pages, first half of the 2nd loses 3pgs, 2nd half of 2nd act loses 4 and the final act loses anywhere from 1-4 pages.

Lean n mean, as they say.

August 9, 2013 at 9:23AM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


This was great. His attitude is perfect.

August 9, 2013 at 2:35PM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM

Micah Van Hove

The last first draft first draft I wrote clocked in at 140 pages. My final draft (the 7th) clocked in at 90. It was a lot of re writing. It's still not that good.

August 13, 2013 at 1:28PM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


It is never easy to get to work with screenplays, it is a really tough thing to do.

February 12, 2016 at 5:53PM, Edited February 12, 5:53PM


Je lis un livre intitulé Left "Scénariste: à chaque étape," ce livre très pratique, et chaque chapitre a une petite pratique, de vraies mains pour écrire leur propre script!
Discussion des aspects de l'écrivain est aussi facile à comprendre, si nous insistons sur la lecture des mots sera une grande moisson.

March 19, 2016 at 1:01AM


Create insights! His attitude was definitely what made it for me.

Don't forget to buy upc codes!

February 17, 2018 at 2:07PM


George Lucas came up with that glad-you're-alive-but-I-won't-save-you-yet "Raiders of the Lost Ark" bit.
In the George Lucas / Steven Spielberg / Lawrence Kasdan "Raiders" story conference transcript, that moment's brainstorming development goes like this:

GL — I'm worried that if he finds the girl...

SS — She's right back in the action again.

LK — That's good, because he has nothing else to do with her but take her with.

GL — I thought he would leave her all tied up. "Look. I can't take you with me, it would arouse suspicion. So I have to leave you here for a little while. I'll get you out later." If they find out the girl is missing, they're going to start searching everywhere.

SS — She says, "Let me out of here. Let me out of here." He tells her to keep her voice down. She won't, so he has to gag her again. "Look, I'm glad you're okay. It's a big relief to me. I've got a lot of things to tell you. But you're going to ruin this whole thing unless you just sit here and be quiet. You've been here for forty-eight hours, another three or four hours won't make any difference at all." He leaves her tied and gagged. That would be heroic. I like that.

GL — My only concern was that if he takes her, the Germans would be combing the countryside.

January 9, 2020 at 5:00AM, Edited January 9, 5:05AM