And its rider’s name was Death

Years back I read a book about writing screenplays.  It claimed that screenplays are usually 80-120 pages.  Google agrees that around 100 pages is standard for a screenplay.  When I had the idea to do the Grace in-universe wildly out of character screenplay that a fan wrote about her I figured 80 pages would be no problem. 

The end product was only 60 pages.  Obviously doesn’t matter since it’s just for fun, but it got me wondering about the actual process of writing a screenplay, specifically one with a lot of action.  What I read is that a screenplay with a lot of action can be shorter, but I think that’s where the 80 pages comes in. 

If we go by the loose rule that everyone agrees is not right, each page is about a minute.  So I got a sixty minute movie?  Even the Walking Tall remake was longer than that. 

Side story – I was at a movie theater to see something else when people were getting out of Walking Tall and they were PISSED.  Several people thought that there had to be a reel missing (movies used to be on reels you see).  And here’s the thing, I’ve seen Walking Tall, and for what’s there it’s TOO long.  It’s a 79 minute movie that somehow drags in the middle.  It’s uncanny. 

I think what happened there is that the Rock was sort of becoming a thing so they wanted to make this movie and then they were like “oh this dude can’t carry a movie yet” so they kept things short.  REAL short. 

Anyway, it got me to wondering how a real screenwriter figures out how much action there’s going to be.  How long is the screenplay for Die Hard?  How much time in an action movie is spent on action?  I’ve seen tons of action movies and I have no idea.  In a two hour movie is there an hour of punching and shooting and car chasing?  Half an hour?  Fifteen minutes?  In Mad Max Fury road I feel like the action in most of it, and there’s like 15 pages of dialog. 

And how do you know how much time action is going to take as you’re writing it? 

I glossed over all the action stuff because I don’t like writing action stuff and I don’t think people like reading it either, and also because I’m lazy, but what I’ve read is that in a real screenplay you would do the same thing. 

A REAL screenwriter told me that a big mistake people make with action screenplays is trying to detail out all the action.  His example was to think about Saving Private Ryan, if you tried to write out everything that was going on in just the first scene you’d have hundreds of pages just on that.  And it would be insane and unfilmable.  The actual script is very much just some bullet points about what the scene should be, leave the rest to the stunt coordinators and the director and whatnot. 

What I wonder is how does that look on the page?  Do you put in some details about action scene 1 and then put how long it’s supposed to be?  There has to be some guideline right?  I don’t think you just start filming and see what happens. 

The other thing I wonder is when you’re a real writer and your screenplay is too short what do you do?  Because if there’s one thing I think I know about writing is that when you’re adding stuff just to have more stuff it’s always bad.  I believe that whatever story you envision when you’re done that’s how long it is.  Trying to make it longer is never going to work well. 

Not exactly the same, but that’s a lesson I had to learn as a GM/DM/whatever with roleplaying games.  Sometimes when a campaign was going really great and everyone was having fun I didn’t want it to end so I’d add more stuff before the end.  And that’s always when the campaign started to suck.  Because the story got derailed by other crap and things got muddied. 

I listen to a Star Trek podcast hosted by two TV writers and I have learned (according to them) that 95% of the time when you see an episode where there’s a weird scene that makes no sense it’s because the episode was short X minutes so they had to write more stuff. 

I’m really curious what a real screenwriter would do if they were 30 pages short.  How can you approach that in a way that gives you a chance not to just bolt on something stupid? 

Joke or not, I think the structure of A Pale Horse is what it’s supposed to be.  Opening scene establishes who she is, magic lady who wails on people and saves the world.  Then we have the problem, her friend is dead, a woman is missing, someone is up to no good.  Then we have the end, where she finds out what’s up and wails on some chumps to save the world. 

If we pretend this is a serious thing what should be added?  I love interest?  That’s not always part of an action movie, and if it is she usually dies without having done much so the hero can freak out.  I will admit in the original draft, since the idea was that this was a screenplay written in-universe by one of Grace’s fans there was a sex scene.  I took that out for you fine people that might actually read it.  I suppose in a real movie you’d put that in.

The ending does seem a little abrupt maybe?  Maybe what you would do is put in some scenes of the bad guys to show what evil stuff they’re up to.  I wanted to keep it all focused on Grace, but maybe that’s what you’d do. 

I did try writing a “real” screenplay years ago and I had the same issue, ended up too short.  That’s why I never finished it, I thought the story was good and any time I tried to add anything I thought it made things worse. 

I suppose in the world of movies and TV you just add more stuff anyway because you have time to fill even if it’s not going to be good. 

Anyway, I enjoyed writing it.

3 thoughts on “And its rider’s name was Death

  1. I enjoyed reading it.

    I’m not a scriptwriter. As a suggestion for something that might help pad it out, I think I only really remember one major setback that AG runs into, being captured before the end. Before that, it felt like she kind of plows through all the obstacles and mysteries. Maybe she could suffer a setback at the hands of a lieutenant and then have to fight them a second time to eke out a victory? Something like that…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s a good call-out, the part where the hero is supposed to seem like they might lose isn’t really there, good thing this isn’t a real movie the internet would by crying MARY SUE, MARY SUE they would, the worst crime a writer can make

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I heard some good advice recently (secondhand, so I don’t know the original source). They said that there are maybe 100 different things that a book or movie or show can do to make people happy. Character arcs, pacing, deep themes, wild sex scenes, etc. And really good work does 10 or 20 of them really well. People will always come by and pick at the other things. But I liked the idea of really polishing the 10 or 20 things better than chasing a nebulous and impossible idea of perfection.

        I will say that my favorite aspect of the AG script was the 90s-action-movie level of quips and one-liners. That’s what originally drew me into the Ela stories, and it was fun to see in AG.

        Like

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