Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Size Matters

First, a success story! Stephen disovered the Independent TV Festival on the blog and he just found out that his online series, "My Life at 26," has been accepted into the festival (which takes place August 1-7 in LA). Congrats! Feel free to share any success stories that begin with my humble blog!

Next, a question from Paul about spec length: It seems like everybody says that my half hour sitcom spec should only be 22 pages. All those same people also advise you find an actual script from the show you're specing so that you can make your spec look like theirs. I did that, but the script I got is a shooting script, 42 pages for a half-hour episode. Should my spec look like that or should I scale it back to the 22 page range? I've tried to do my homework, but I'm really confused by the contradicting info.

Yeesh. First off, is the show single-camera or multi-camera? Multi-camera sitcoms have a different format: the dialogue is double spaced, the action is written in all caps and the scenes are labeled with letters - and these changes will add pages. I don't have a ton of familiarity with this format since I've never written a multi-camera spec...but I just looked at a few How I Met Your Mothers and they're closer to the 42 pages you mentioned. For single-camera shows (which includes all hourloung shows), the format is the same as basic screenplay format, except that you label each act, unlike in a feature. As for length, half hours should be anywhere from 22-35 pages. For a half-hour pilot I think it's more acceptable to be around 30-35...but for a spec I would be wary of doing more than 26 or so. Overall it's probably best to stay shorter - since your script is going to be in a huge pile of other scripts, and people might look for reasons (like: IT'S TOO LONG!) to toss yours aside. Similarly, screenplays should never be more than 120 pages; it's like giving your script a shiny cover that says DON'T READ ME. (John August recently posted about this.) That being said, writing a 17-page spec won't make you look clever, it'll make you look like you don't understand how television works.

Of course, premium cable shows are a bit of an exception (Jane Espenson recently wrote a post about how the lack of act breaks also makes them different). When I wrote my Weeds I got my hands on two of the show's scripts; one was 38 and the other was 43. An Entourage I found came in at 35.


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7 comments:

Harry said...

I've been looking for a few HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER scripts, but I've only found two. Is there any way you could share the ones you have?

Robbin said...

OK, I have a similar question. The scripts I am using for my spec do some things that appear to be unique to this show. My concern is that this spec is for a contest that will be judged by people who might not know this show's script peculiarities. I realize that the writers for the show can get away with that since they already write for the show. If I follow the samples' style I'm afraid I'll look like a amateur. Should I follow the standard script advice by Trottier and others or go by the sample scripts??
(I'm not talking about shooting script language.)

Clyde G. said...

I think you could come up with wittier headlines that make me feel just as insecure. Come on, you're that clever.

Jim Cartwright said...

An issue that seems a little bit commented on is where do we find scripts from the shows we want to spec. I always feel aprehensive about starting some specs cause I'm not quite sure how the show looks like professionally written. So what I am getting at is, I would like to see a post that shows where we can find scripts for television shows (Is there a website? Call in and ask? What's the deal?)

Randall Bobbitt said...

Just got back from the GREAT AMERICAN PITCH FEST. Everyone said your feature should not be longer than 110 pages and no shorter than 95 pages. Also, a great place for TV scripts? The WGA Library. You can't check them out, but you can sit and read them.

odocoileus said...

Scriptcity has ten HIMYM scripts. They sell em for ten bucks a pop.
Planetmegamall has a couple too. Also for a tenspot apiece. If you know some like minded writers, you can share the cost, and make your own copies or pdfs.

Dailyscript and simplyscripts have some TV scripts in their TV sections, and you can find transcripts at twiztv. Sometimes you can find TV scripts on ebay, but they're usually overpriced.

The WGA Library is the best resource if you're in LA, and you have the time to get down there. Their hours are limited, but you can call to see what they've got before you actually visit.

Again, if you're in LA, you'll meet people on the job, in classes, and writers' groups who've got scripts to loan or trade. If I'm working on a show, though, I never hand out current show scripts to random strangers.

If you're out of town, and you want to get a feel for the multi-camera format, try this:

Download the Final Draft demo. Install it, etc. Then get your hands on the Frasier script book and/or the Seinfeld script book. Thse books are available at most big city and uni libraries.

Type one or more of these scripts into FD w/ the multicamera template - I think you load it as a style, but however you do it, type the script in, word for word, and see how the format works.

The BBC has a writers' website with a PDF guide to various formats, including US multicamera. Not just that, but a nifty little MS Word template that does formatting, even multicam, for free.

film nerd said...

Two things I highly recommend: the TV writers workbook by ellen sandler (holy crap it's helpful) and also the WGA library. Before writing a spec you should read not one or two but a minimum of THREE scripts of that show and make notes on all three and see where the patterns are. I spent two full days at the WGA library just reading and making notes...you can't check the scripts out of the library but this place is an invaluable resource. Also, you generally can't find scripts online for free but you can buy them for about 10 bucks a pop. Good luck!