Friday, February 02, 2007

The Politics of Page Numbers


From a recent review of mine on TriggerStreet...

Generally, I agree with what Dave Trottier tells newbies about keeping page numbers down to a minimum (100-110 pages) and I'd tell anyone to follow his advice.

Yet, there are other thoughts to consider.

If you get an agent who knows a studio exec and sends your script to that person, he/she will more than likely give it over to the readers first. Frankly, I don't think there's anything wrong with that because some of them are really intelligent people and they will likely have a better understanding than the executive about how good/bad the script is. Anyway, the readers HAVE to read that script (whether it's 100 or 120 pages) and submit their coverage. If your script were to become a SOM nom (Screenplay of the Month Nomination on
TriggerStreet), Scriptshark will HAVE to read it whether it's 100 or 120 pages. Panels of judges who choose winning scripts for contests HAVE to read those specs whether they're 100 or 120 pages.

The point is that the script doesn't really have to have a certain page number, the script has to be across-the-board outstanding.

If you truly are a master craftsman and the execution of your story is truly superb, they won't hold the page numbers against you. At least, I don't believe so.

However, let's say this gets sold (which in today's world, an expensive period piece like this one isn't going to happen unless it's pre-packaged with an attached director and name actor). In any case, depending upon the studio you're dealing with, there are people whose sole job is to save the studio money. And they are there to try to cut what they can to save a couple extra million dollars. And that is why you hear screenwriters get so bitter when they put all that love and labor into their baby and it gets hacked up to save money.

In fact, under the
We, The Screenwriter post, we see three interviews of screenwriters. In the second trailer, a screenwriter talks about how a producer told him, "You probably won't get as much money with 111 pages. It should be 100 pages." And the writer bitches, "Where is this arbitration coming from? What 11 pages are you going to cut? What limb are you going to chop off my body?" And I just want to tell him, "Dude, he's a producer. What he's talking about has nothing to do with page numbers. Had you only turned in 100 pages, that same prick would've said, 'Well, you only turned in 100 pages, so there's not much of a story here, and you probably won't get as much money.' Dude, he's NEGOTIATING. He's simply jockeying into position to offer you less so he can SAVE MONEY. That's it. Just be strong, man."

We're not blind to the ways of human beings in our stories, how can we be so blind about the people we're dealing with? Because I would've just smiled and told the producer, "I guess we'll see, won't we?"

The point is this. I don't think a script HAS to be absolutely perfect with NO FAT at all going in to a potential sale. I think that having SOME fat actually helps because people will point it out and trim the script down and save money and they will feel like they have DONE THEIR JOBS. Now don't misquote me. There's a difference between being SLOW in the narrative vs. having a few minor expendable parts. I think you should come to the table with a plan, READY TO NEGOTIATE, and already have in mind what the weaknesses are in the script and ideas about where you want to trim the pages (but you never tell them that, you always resist.) And when push comes to shove, you AGREE to trim the script, which makes you look like someone that they can actually work with but isn't a pushover either. The important thing is to have an outstanding foundation to a great movie. However, money will change things and which actors come onboard to play which parts changes things, and you have to have the skills to adapt to that changing environment and still know how to keep the script in great shape.

So, on the one hand, what we do on TriggerStreet means little. On the other hand, what we do here means EVERYTHING because it's about pushing you toward greater heights of skill and craftsmanship, which you absolutely must have to stay afloat.

So what does this mean for you? It means you should be a writer with a plan. Get the script under 120 pages and have ideas about how to get it down to 110 pages. Know what your expendable parts are and when you are pushed to make cuts, you resist like hell and then you finally say, "Let's compromise. What if we did this?"

But as I said, it really depends upon who you're dealing with.

4 comments:

Mim said...

Thanks for sharing this, MM. This valuable knowledge.

GameArs said...

Page count. I hate this argument, even though it's valid.

This is where technical craftsman inside has to take over for your inner artist who wants to run naked through The Valley of 125 Pages.

GimmeABreak said...

My inner artist never wants to run nekked but can I watch yours?

GameArs said...

My inner artist is an exhibitionist, so I guess that'd be okay but he has to run naked in 100 pages or less, so don't blink.