My Screenplay is Only 65 Pages… What Should I Do?


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by Naomi Write + Co. in rewriting, screenwriting

“I created a 75 scene outline and everything seemed to be in place. When writing my script, it only came out to be 65 pages.”

This question came in from fellow screenwriter Mike, and I know it’s one that is relevant to many other writers so I thought I’d share my thoughts here.

Mike’s email continued:

“I don’t want to add unnecessary scenes to meet the minimum 90 page script. I know during the rewrite, I’ll end up taking it out and I’m back to square one. Do you have suggestions?”

Mike is right — there’s no point in adding scenes just to create a longer script. Anyone reading a script that’s 30% unnecessary scenes is going to feel that, hard. It’s not going to do you any favors.

So if you shouldn’t pad it for length, what should you do about a too-short script?

Is a too-short script a lost cause?

If you find yourself in this position it doesn’t necessarily mean you should scrap the script and move onto the next. But in order to solve the problem, first you’ll need to identify the nature of the specific problem you’re dealing with. What’s truly at the root of it.

There are a couple of possibilities that come to mind. Your script’s particular issue could be one or a combination of the following (and this certainly isn’t meant to be an exhaustive list).

Is the main conflict strong enough?

The first thing I’d look at is the main conflict, to try to gauge whether there’s enough there to support a whole screenplay. Some things to think about:

  • Is the story goal itself too easy to achieve, or is it difficult enough that it must be pursued over time or in phases, or with real struggle?
  • Is the opposition strong enough to prevent the goal from being attained and to draw out the conflict?
  • Is there enough at stake to make the conflict meaningful, and can/do the stakes escalate (which contributes to the conflict being able to sustain the length of the script)?

If you find your story lacking in any of these areas, you can focus in on shoring up that part of the foundation. Then you’ll probably want to outline the script anew and write a fresh draft.

That may sound too much like starting over, but you’ll likely be able to use a lot of the earlier draft. Even if you’re using a lot of the same materials, as you build your new draft you’ll get better results if you build up from that new foundation rather than trying to patch the old draft here and there.

Does the conflict escalate enough in Act 2?

You may already have a strong foundation in place, but maybe you haven’t pushed it far enough in the screenplay. Maybe the conflict resolves too quickly, without evolving or escalating.

Another way to think about this is: are there consequences resulting from the protagonist engaging in the story’s conflict? If not then the protagonist recovers quickly, maybe without even having to course correct at all, and goes on his merry way achieving the goal. And the result is a script that’s too short.

If this seems to be the issue you’re dealing with, think about the consequences of the protagonist’s actions. There should be strong cause-and-effect throughout the script. And – at least in part because of the protagonist’s actions — the main conflict should complicate, compound, evolve, and/or escalate before the protagonist is able to finally resolve it.

Was your outline truly a list of scenes, or something smaller?

Often related to one of the bigger story issues above, sometimes what you have is a problem with the outline form. You might have done a little writer-sleight-of-hand and tricked yourself into thinking you had outlined a whole story when you hadn’t.

How can you tell if this is the problem you’re dealing with? Look at the outline you created, and think about whether each item – whether numbered entry or bullet point or however you formatted it – is truly a scene or story beat. Meaning, is it something that actually requires 1-2 pages to execute? (If you’re working with the 75-item list that Mike referenced, for example.) Or is your outline more like a list of moments that go into a scene, or pieces of information that need to show up in the script?

If it’s the latter then it’s likely that, as you wrote the screenplay, multiple items from the list naturally made their way into each scene. That means a finished draft with fewer than the expected 75 scenes, and a page count that falls short too.

>> And if you want fresh eyes on your outline, you can always book a session with me here.

Are scenes fully fleshed out in the screenplay?

If none of the above possibilities quite ring true, perhaps the problem is that you’ve written skeleton scenes. If your scenes are very short on average, that can be a sign that you haven’t yet fully executed them. Not always, but it’s worth taking a closer look to see if this applies.

And if this is what you’re dealing with, you’re actually on the right track and just need to write the next draft. This time you’ll flesh out the scenes more fully to really land the plot purpose, entertainment value, and emotional impact of each scene.

Does the script need a subplot?

And finally, if you’ve checked and double-checked everything else and the script is simply too short to be a respectable feature length but you’re absolutely sure this story is meant to be a movie… Is it possible that a subplot or additional relationship would flesh out the story and script more fully?

If you go this route, you’ll want to make sure to avoid the pitfall that Mike mentioned in his original question. You don’t want to add unnecessary scenes just to extend the length of the script. So the new subplot or relationship should add something important to the thematic exploration, the plot, and/or the protagonist’s emotional journey.

Like everything else, it must earn its place in the script.


Start with my 3-part email series: "The 3 Essential, Fundamental, Don't-Mess-These-Up Screenwriting Rules." After that, you'll get a weekly dose of pro screenwriting tips and industry insights that'll help you get an edge over the competition.