When you sit down to write a movie or even cut one together, how do you know how many scenes are in a typical movie?
And beyond this question, how many scenes in a movie are long? How many scenes in a movie are those short little ones that barely last a page?
How many scenes in a feature film appear around the same length as they were written?
You could really lose yourself in these kinds of questions and exit the writing zone. So if you're just getting started forget all these questions, keep writing, and come back to this page when you're rewriting.
Ok, are you back? Now is when these things start to really matter.
Today we'll go over average scene length, the number of scenes, and talk about how this will affect your screenplay.
Get out your stopwatch (just kidding).
How many scenes are in a movie typically speaking?
Look, I get it. You want to be done writing and you're hoping you can skip ahead by writing a certain number of scenes. But that's not really how the story goes. You have as many scenes as you need.
If you want some guideline numbers here you go: The expected average would be a 120-page script with approximately 2 to 3 pages per scene thus resulting in about 40 to 60 scenes. Hold up, though.
I'm here to tell you that's bullshit.
Most scenes are around a page long. Maybe less. I pulled up my movie, Shovel Buddies. The version of the script that was on the Black List is 91 pages long, and it has 74 scenes.
Yes, I'm aware my movie is not Citizen Kane.
But the script got me reps, a sale, and has made me a paid screenwriter for the past five years. So I think the lesson applies here. Which is: write scenes that matter.
Using Shovel Buddies, let's take a look at...
How long should a scene be?
Look, this is screenwriting. So you know there's only one rule., and other than that, it's kind of a crapshoot. Every movie is comprised of a number of scenes that build on top of one another. I won't sit here and pretend there's a magic number of pages for how long a scene should be - but there are lots of suggestions I have about scene writing that can help.
Typically, you don't want your scene to be much longer than four to seven pages in length.
What's the longest scene in Shovel Buddies?
It's closer to eight, but it's seven. It's one of the earliest scenes of the movie and we meet a ton of characters, reveal the plot of the movie, and it's still probably a tad too long. But we couldn't afford a ton of locations so it all worked out in the end.
Check it out:
Where did I come up with those numbers?
Mostly through my own experience.
I think a lot about movies and if you watch enough of them, you'll see that every scene has a dramatic arc. People come in with a goal and either leave with what they want, new information, or both. Sometimes that can take longer than anticipated, and sometimes the scene contains some action or set pieces that can extend the page length.
Another interesting rule of thumb for a scene is that it should be about needs and obstacles. If there isn't a need to start, and an obstacle in the way, then you don't have a scene worth writing.
Generally speaking, you don't want your scenes to belabor the point. If you're writing a screenplay that's about 110-120 pages, you might need around 100 scenes. Some of these will be establishing shots and montages, but they still count.
Write as many scenes as it takes, and rewrite it until it is perfect.
What's next? Learn how to write a scene!
If you want to learn how to write a scene you’ve come to the right place. Sitting down to write a screenplay can be a daunting task. That's part of why we started our free online screenwriting course. But really, at the heart of it, every screenplay is just a series of interlocking scenes that build a narrative. What if you don’t know how to write a scene?
Click the link to learn more!