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"Feature Length"

When last we met, gentle reader, I was regaling you with the tale of completing my first screenplay, in the hopes of having a film to submit to the “Big Break” film contest.  As I mentioned last time, I had given myself two weeks to complete the screenplay (which I had already started months earlier), in order to stay on target and complete the film.   Now having completed a first draft a few days ahead of schedule, I was faced with one of those, all too familiar, good news, bad news situations.

The good news: I had actually sat down and completed something that a few months earlier seemed a near impossibility, shrouded in mystery.  The bad news: I wasn’t sure that the screenplay I had finished was going to count.

As I have stated before, (but I will restate it again to refresh your memory, gentle reader), every screenwriting book that I have read talks about screenplay length as being one hundred and twenty pages.  The reason for this being, most movies are two hours long and one page of screenplay is considered to be about one minute of screen time.  One hundred and twenty pages of screenplay should yield a film of one hundred and twenty minutes, or about two hours.  Now to be honest, I was never really worried about having a screenplay of one hundred and twenty pages, as there are many, many studio produced feature films that are way below the two hour mark.  In recent years, ninety minutes has, in many genres, become more common than the more traditional two hour film. Of late there seem to be a growing number of  films that have a running time closer to eighty minutes.  One of the shortest movies I had seen boasting the “feature length” title was only seventy-four minutes.  

With this in mind I had set a target goal of eighty pages.  If I hit that goal, great, if I was under, I was hoping that I would at least have seventy-one pages.  Why seventy-one you ask?  I’ll admit it seems like a fairly arbitrary number.  In my mind it was only three pages shy of the shortest “feature” I had ever seen, and it was at least eleven pages over sixty.  Sixty minutes felt more like the length of a TV show.  It must seem that way to others as well, being that there is a popular news program by that name.  Seventy minutes, still seemed a little too close to sixty minutes.  Seventy-one minutes, on the other hand, seems like it could be just long enough to move a piece of video content away from being a television program and start calling itself a “feature film”.

Of course, it is worth noting that the "one page equals one minute" formula is merely a rule of thumb.  It is not a hard and fast scientific law.  There are many things that can be written very briefly on the page, that have quite a bit more screen time.  For example, “Dave chases Marie”.  Three simple words that on screen could involve motorcycles burning down city streets, followed by helicopters tearing through the sky, topped off by a donkey ride down the Grand Canyon.   My hope in all this was, that my project would be long enough to qualify as “feature length”, both for the purposes of entering the contest and in being able to market the film to other venues.

So, being, not only a gentle, but an intelligent reader, there is probably one question on your mind.  How long was my finished screenplay?  (Even if that question wasn’t on your mind before, I’m willing to bet that it is now).  Well, my finished screenplay was over three times longer than anything I had written before.  It stood tall, when printed out, being exactly sixty-five sheets of paper high, not counting the title page.

In other words, it was six pages shy of where I had set my minimum goal.

So, gentle reader, do we cut to a scene of me standing in the rain, lightning flashing around me as I raise my fist skyward shouting “Whyyyyyyyyy!!!”?  Not at all.   Because I’m such a well rounded person and have learned to look at every obstacle as a challenge to overcome and a chance to grow?  Definitely not.  I wasn’t freaked out for two reasons.  First of all, there are the reasons listed above.  Just because my screenplay was only six-five pages long, did not necessarily mean that the finished film couldn’t be over seventy minutes.  Secondly, I had done a little research.  The Academy of Film Arts, and Sciences has defined "feature length" as any film with a running time of FORTY minutes or more.  So, according to the Academy, (from whom I hope to be accepting an award), my screenplay was feature length.  I suppose it is worth mentioning that not all organizations follow the Academy’s example.  There are contests and sites that have different minimum running times ranging from sixty to eighty minutes in order to consider a work to be "feature length".  I haven’t found any that require more than eighty.  However, when looking at my screenplay I realized I could add more pages to it, but I knew that would just be for the sake of adding pages.  Those pages would not necessarily make a better film.  Plus I had exceeded the Academy’s minimum requirement, and if it was good enough for the Academy, it was good enough for me.  

I could by Academy standards say, in all truth, that I had, in fact, written a Feature Length (no need for quotation marks, because it is official), Screenplay.  Now it was time to find some actors.


  1. It might be time to have your script looked at by a professional, one who might be able to pass it along to those who can actually get it produced.

  2. Hey Michael, thanks for stopping by and taking the time to comment! To be honest, a large part of my reasoning for writing a screenplay was to have some original material to produce myself. Having gone through the process, I now realize how rough my script was, and there are a lot of things I will do differently next time. When I step back and look at things realistically, I'm sure most professionals would pass on it. However, I do appreciate the link and your thoughts!


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