The One Page Equals One Minute Rule of Script Writing

by Jimmy on August 31, 2010

When I first started to get interested in making movies, I often heard from “people in the know” that usually when writing a script, one page equals one minute of movie time.  It didn’t take me long to realize that this was a false dictum, at least in my case.  Personally, when I write a script, I try to leave room for improvisation and I like to include montages, long establishing shots, serene moments, tense moments, and contemplative moments that may take minutes on screen even though they appear as only one descriptive sentence on a page.

I recently watched Down by Law, a wonderful movie directed by legendary independent filmmaker Jim Jarmusch, and had a chance to browse the director’s commentary.  One of the commentary segments touched upon the movie’s short script.  Jarmusch said he had a hard time procuring funding for the movie because many producers felt that the script was too short and would not be able to produce a feature length movie and therefore, would not be as profitable.  However, the movie actually turned out to be 107 minutes long with a script of under 50 pages.  Jarmusch concluded his story with an example that went something like this:

You could have a line in a script that says, “Then the American Revolution starts and the killings begin.”  However, that line might take up 10 minutes of your movie.

For my movie, Log Warriors, I wrote a script that was 6 pages long.  I was hoping to produce a movie that was under 20 minutes in order to enter it into the BET Lens on Talent movie contest.  However, to my genuine horror and delight, the movie turned out to be 42 minutes long.

Here is the script for Log Warriors, which was originally going to be called Best Friends Reunited.  Take a look at the script and you can see how a 6 page script can produce a feature length movie.  The lesson to take away is that you have to come up with your own “written page to movie minutes” conversion system to fit your writing and directing style.  For me, it’s probably  1 script page = 4 minutes of movie time.

Also, if you want to make independent movies, you should watch Down by Law and listen to Jim Jarmusch’s commentary.  However, I wouldn’t recommend watching Jarmusch’s other highly acclaimed movie, Ghost Dog – The Way of the Samurai.

Log Warriors Script

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