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Revealing How Long it Really Takes to Write a Screenplay

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Aspiring screenwriters often wonder—how long does it actually take to go from blank page to completed script? Can you crank out a draft in just two weeks, like the experts? Or will your first feature film script be a marathon effort spanning years?

The truth lies somewhere in between. While a major Hollywood production may need a polished screenplay drafted under tight deadlines, most writers spend months or even years perfecting their cinematic stories. The complex process of writing a movie involves many steps, from formulating the initial concept to finally typing FADE OUT on the final draft.

Let’s pull back the curtain and reveal what it really takes to write a screenplay that leaves audiences on the edge of their seats.

Key Points:

  • Screenwriting requires time, patience, and passion to create a unique imprint in filmmaking.
  • Understanding character development and motivations is crucial for creating compelling protagonists and antagonists.
  • Exploring different genres and their storytelling techniques is essential for mastering screenwriting.
  • Immersing oneself in iconic screenplays and analyzing them can help develop storytelling skills.

How long should a screenplay be?

a typewriter surrounded by thousands of pages of paper

Now that we’ve covered an overview of the screenwriting process and typical timelines, the next key question is: what is the standard length for a feature-length script or film screenplay?

While there are no absolute rules, most Hollywood movies have scripts between 90 and 120 pages. This generally translates to:

  • 90-100 pages: A lower-budget indie film or simple comedy/drama
  • 100-120 pages: A standard feature film with moderate complexity
  • 120+ pages: A complex epic or action/sci-fi/fantasy film

According to general industry norms:

  • Each page of a screenplay translates to roughly one minute of screen time.
  • So a 90-page script equates to about a 90-minute (1.5 hour) movie.
  • A 120-page script equates to a 2-hour film.

There are variations based on genre and formatting choices:

  • Comedies often average 98-102 pages.
  • Dramas/thrillers average 95-125 pages.
  • Big action or sci-fi films tend to be on the longer end, around 110-120 pages.

Going significantly shorter or longer than these general ranges is atypical for a standard Hollywood film. Extremely short scripts (under 90 pages) may get dismissed as too simple or underdeveloped. Overly long scripts (130+ pages) can suggest pacing problems or an inability to condense the story effectively.

However, these are just general guidelines. The most important factor is telling your story in the length it naturally requires – whether slightly shorter, longer, or in the standard range. Focus first on developing a well-structured narrative and bringing your vision to the page. The ideal script length will become apparent as you write.

How long does it take to write a script?

an hourglass with sand falling through

Now that we’ve looked at standard screenplay length, the next key question is: how much time does it actually take to write? There are no definitive answers, as writing speed can vary dramatically. However, here are some general time frames:

Industry Standards and Deadlines

For professional screenwriters working on assignment:

  • The typical deadline is 10-12 weeks for the first draft of an original screenplay.
  • 6-8 weeks for adaptations or rewrites.
  • Some writers may take 3-6 months for particularly complex stories.
  • Extreme rush jobs could be as short as 1-2 weeks (but this is rare).

So, the standard industry assumption is that a script takes a minimum of eight weeks or 2-3 months of full-time writing to complete. That is the average screenwriting process.

However, the reality is that most writers don’t work on one project full-time. Factors like:

  • Working a day job in between writing.
  • Switching between multiple scripts.
  • Taking breaks to get distance and refresh.

This means the process often takes 4-6 months for professionals, even when working within typical production deadlines.

Writing Process Time Breakdown

 illustration of a pie chart set against a backdrop of a writer's study. The pie chart is divided into sections representing the time breakdown

As mentioned earlier, the writing process has three main phases:

Pre-Writing Phase

This preparatory phase involves various stages of research, outlining, character sketches, and other brainstorming. Typical time frames:

  • Beginners: Two to three weeks minimum
  • Experienced: 1 week to 1 month

Writing Phase

The first draft is written, taking the story from concept to completed script. Time required:

  • Beginners: 2-4 months
  • Experienced: 1-3 months

Rewriting and Revisions

Refining and polishing drafts into the final shooting script. This vital phase can take:

  • Beginners: 2-3 months minimum
  • Experienced: 1-2 months

So in total, most professional writers spend 4-8 months to write and refine a script. First-timers should expect closer to 6-12 months.

There are always exceptions – some may write faster, some slower. However, these ranges provide a realistic overview of the general time investment required.

The key is not rushing through drafting but giving your story the time and layers of refinement it deserves. Patience and perseverance pay off. The last thing you want is for a studio script reader to read a rushed draft that is not indicative of your best work.

How Long Will My First Movie Script Take to Write?

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For any new screenwriter embarking on their first feature film script, the biggest question is: realistically, how long should it take to write if you’ve never done this very same thing before?

While timeframes vary, here are some guidelines based on different factors:

How Fast Can You Write a Script?

This depends on your own writing speed as a beginner:

  • Slow writers may take 6-12 months for a first draft.
  • Moderate writers may take 3-6 months.
  • Fast writers could produce a draft in 1-3 months.

But speed should not compromise quality – most advise taking it slow to refine the craft. It’s easy to assume that the better a screenwriter is, the faster they will work, but this is rarely the case.

Challenges and Obstacles

The first script often takes longer as you learn by doing:

  • Overcoming initial lack of experience and knowledge.
  • Finding your screenwriting voice and style.
  • Struggling with structure and pacing.
  • Doing more rewrites to refine the story.
  • Balancing writing with a day job or other commitments.

Reality Check

While a very fast first draft may take just 1-2 months, for most beginners, a realistic timeline is:

  • Pre-writing: 2-4 weeks.
  • First draft: 3-6 months.
  • Revisions: 2-3 months.

So in total, an extended period of 6-12+ months for a complete first script is typical.

The key is being patient, not rushing the process, and focusing on developing your skills rather than just finishing quickly. Quality over speed is crucial, especially for your debut feature script.

Remember that even most professional screenwriters and writers took years to hone their craft. Most often, the first and second scripts a writer creates will be a slow process.

Don’t get discouraged if your first screenplay takes longer than expected. The satisfaction of finishing will make the journey worthwhile.

The Beauty of the First Draft

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You’ve outlined your story, developed your characters, and now finally sit down to write that coveted first draft. This is both an exciting and daunting step for any writer. However, there is also beauty in the messy process of getting that initial story outline translated into an actual script.

While first drafts are rarely perfect, they have their own unique magic. This is where your core story and characters truly come to life for the first time. Subsequent rewrites will refine the technical details, but the raw creative energy of the initial drafting is special.

Here are some of the underappreciated joys of writing a first draft:

  • Seeing the story unfold and surprise you as you write. Even if you outlined extensively, the story often takes on a life of its own drafting the actual script.
  • Letting your imagination run wild, not judging every line but simply letting the creative flow happen.
  • Finally giving tangible form to those ideas that have been swimming around your head.
  • Crafting iconic scenes, moments, or lines of dialogue that will make it unchanged into the final draft.
  • You realize story problems or gaps only once you start actually putting things down on paper.
  • Feeling yourself gradually improve as a writer draft-by-draft, scene-by-scene.

So while first drafts require massive editing down the road, relish the experience. Don’t worry about perfection, just focus on getting the raw story translated into script form. It may take refinement, but now it actually exists – which is no small accomplishment.

Savor the rush of the first round from concept to completed draft. The revision process will come soon enough.

The Time Frame Debate: Balancing Quality and Speed

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One of the most debated questions around screenwriting is finding the right balance between writing quickly versus taking the time to refine quality. Should you try to churn out drafts rapidly or is a slow, meticulous process better? Here are some perspectives:

The “Write Fast” Argument

Some argue that finishing scripts quickly, even in just a few weeks, leads to better results by:

  • Maintaining high momentum and creative flow.
  • Not overthinking or getting bogged down in details.
  • Pushing yourself to get the core story down fast.
  • Being able to move quickly to the next draft or project.

The “Take Your Time” View

Others contend that slower, more methodical drafting improves scripts by:

  • Allowing adequate time to refine story structure and character arcs.
  • Letting ideas marinate so you can capture more nuance.
  • Not rushing the delicate creative process.
  • Producing richer material by really taking time to layer in depth.

Finding the Right Pace

Most agree that:

  • Rushing can result in sloppy, underdeveloped scripts.
  • However excessive slowness can also paralyze the writing process.

The ideal pace depends on the writer and the story. But in general, strive for:

  • Patience in drafting key scenes, characters, and moments – don’t force creative output.
  • Momentum to make regular progress translating ideas to page.
  • Balancing depth with forward movement to avoid getting overly bogged down.

Take time for quality, but don’t overthink. Let the story unfold organically, but keep momentum. Finding your own optimal pace takes practice.

Zero Draft: The Fastest Way to Write a Screenplay

While most screenplays take months to write, some writers have found that doing a “zero draft” can dramatically speed up the initial drafting process.

This streamlined approach focuses on getting the raw story, structure, and characters down fast without worrying about perfection.

What is a Zero Draft?

A zero draft is the most basic conceptual outline of your screenplay, written very rapidly with the goal of capturing key ideas before crafting polished prose.

  • The focus is on just telling the core story events, not spending time on nuanced description or dialogue.
  • It’s about laying the narrative foundation to refine, not trying to write an immaculate first draft.

How to Write a Zero Draft

To write a zero draft efficiently:

  • Don’t aim for eloquent description or snappy dialogue, just summarize the essential story beats.
  • Write very simple, straightforward sentences to convey what happens in each scene.
  • Don’t slow down for subtle characterization, just establish the core archetypes.
  • Use lots of numbered or bulleted lists for sequences of events.
  • Maintain forward momentum without pausing to perfect each passage.
  • Write spontaneously without excessive planning or editing as you go.

The goal is to race through telling the full narrative arc from start to finish as briskly as possible.

Benefits of the Zero Draft

This stripped-down approach allows you to:

  • Bypass writer’s block and initial overthinking by just getting ideas down quickly.
  • Clarify story structure, pacing, and character arcs before polishing prose.
  • Maintain momentum instead of trying to perfect each line, which can bog writers down.
  • Have a completed draft ready in just weeks or even days instead of months.

While still requiring extensive rewriting, a zero draft establishes the core framework to then refine into a polished screenplay much faster.

Conclusion

Writing a feature film screenplay is a major undertaking requiring immense time, dedication, and patience. While individual experiences vary, most scripts take several months to complete for both professionals and beginners.

The standard length for a script is 90-120 pages, which provides a baseline page count to estimate required writing time. Experienced screenwriters working on assignment can produce a draft in 1-3 months but often spend longer perfecting the story.

For first-timers, a realistic timeline is 6-12+ months to account for the learning curve, extra rewriting, and balancing with other commitments. Resist the temptation to rush – take time to refine your skills and layer depth into the story.

While the first draft brings the exhilarating thrill of getting your ideas onto the page, expect to spend as much time rewriting and revising to polish the material. Writing “fade out” on that first draft is a major milestone to celebrate, but it’s still just the beginning of the screenwriting journey.

Remember that even seasoned professionals took years to develop their craft. Have patience, maintain realistic expectations, and don’t get discouraged by an extended timeline. The fulfillment of completing your first script will make the long writing road worthwhile.

So, while the complex process means scripts rarely get written overnight, don’t let that deter you. With dedication and persistence, you too can join the ranks of screenwriters who have successfully translated their compelling cinematic story visions from blank page to final draft. It just takes time and commitment to the craft. That incredible feeling when the credits finally roll makes it all worth it.

FAQs

How many scenes are in a movie?

Most movies have between 40-60 scenes. Very simple indie films may have 30 scenes, while complex epics can have over 80 scenes. The typical range is 45-55 scenes for a standard 2 hour movie.

How many hours does it take to write a screenplay?

It typically takes 250-500 hours for a professional screenwriter to write and rewrite a first feature script or film script. For beginners, it often takes 500-1000+ hours on their first screenplay.

How long does it take to write a first draft of a screenplay?

A first draft typically takes 1-3 months for experienced screenwriters and 3-6 months for beginners writing their first script.

Can you write a screenplay in a week?

It’s extremely difficult for most writers to draft a full feature screenplay in just one week. Only experienced professionals working intensively on simple concepts could potentially write a draft in less than a week. Most scripts take between ten to twelve weeks at a minimum to write.

How long do screenwriters write a day?

It varies, but 3-5 pages per day is considered a normal pace. 6-10 pages per day is fast. Less than 3 means progress is slow. Professional screenwriters may write for 4-6 hours in a writing session.

Can you write a screenplay in 10 days?

It would be an intense challenge to write a complete feature screenplay in 10 days or less. Some experienced writers may try to do a very rough “zero draft” in this time frame to get the basic story down before doing extensive rewriting.

How long is a script for a 90 minute movie?

The standard page count for a 90 minute movie is 90-100 pages.

  • This assumes each script page translates to roughly 1 minute of screen time.
  • So a 90 page script will produce a movie close to 90 minutes long.
  • 100 pages gives some extra room for a slightly longer runtime if needed.

For most standard 90 minute films across genres, a script length of 90-100 pages is typical. Sticking close to this range is advisable for new screenwriters.

Significantly shorter scripts may lack story and scene development. Overly long scripts likely need editing for conciseness and pacing.

How long is a script for a 3 hour movie?

For a 3-hour runtime, scripts are typically 150-180 pages. Here are some guidelines:

  • Some very long epics may even exceed 180 pages, going up to 190 or more.
  • The general rule of 1 script page = 1 minute of screen time still applies.
  • So a 180-page script will produce a 3-hour (180-minute) movie.

Factors impacting exact length:

  • Complex plots with multiple storylines require more pages.
  • Big visual spectacle scenes take up less space than dialogue.
  • Character-driven dramas need more pages for development.
  • Formatting choices like spacing and description density affect page count.

Going beyond 200 pages is not advised unless absolutely necessary to avoid an overlong runtime.

How long should it take to write a TV script?

Unlike feature films, TV shows have much tighter writing timelines to meet hectic production schedules. Here are some general guidelines:

  • For an experienced TV writer, a 1-hour drama or comedy script typically takes 2-4 weeks to write.
  • This assumes working full-time to meet network deadlines.
  • Some very rushed jobs may take as little as 1 week.
  • Complex assignments could go up to 5-6 weeks if extra time is available.

For beginner writers:

  • The first 1-hour spec script will likely take 1-2 months to complete.
  • Less experience means more drafting and revision time is needed.
  • Writing has to be balanced with a day job or other commitments.
  • Future scripts will speed up as you gain practice.

In TV, the development and writing process done quickly is essential to keep up with the hectic schedule:

  • Shows can have over 20 scripts per season written by a team.
  • Tight deadlines require turning out scripts very rapidly.
  • Writing too slowly can put productions behind schedule.

The key is working efficiently to produce quality scripts consistently in a limited time frame. This ability to write fast yet sharp is vital for a successful TV scribe.

How long does it take to write a 2 hour movie script?

For a feature film with a standard 2 hour (120 minute) runtime, the script writing timeline is:

  • Experienced writers: It typically takes 1-2 months to write and refine a 2 hour movie script.
  • This assumes working on the project full-time.
  • Some may finish faster in 3-4 weeks if under a tight deadline.
  • Complex stories may take closer to 3 months.
  • Beginners: A first-timer should expect 3-6 months to complete a 2 hour script.
  • Less experience means more drafting, revision, and polishing time needed.
  • Balancing writing with a day job also extends the timeline.
  • Future scripts will take less time as skills improve.

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