Monday, February 09, 2009

The Writing Week (Vol. 2) part 58 - Writing An Epic?

Normally, I am a huge supporter of the 100-105 page script. Especially for an action spec, 105 is an ideal length. Anything done in that amount of pages (or fewer) that has a strong plot and characters is nearly untouchable, if you ask me. Nowadays, the industry seems to be looking for shorter and shorter scripts, too. In a time when money is on everyone's mind, productions slates are being cut by close to 20% sometimes, and everyone is looking on how/where to save in a budget, the 105 page trumps the 120 almost any day of the week. (OK, before you run off trying to find Variety articles on this, I'll clarify that it's my own opinion. But at least humor me and think about it.)

The past two things I've done, my comic book spec and the post-Apocalyptic one, rang in at 100 and 105 pages, respectively. Despite the shorter page counts, I still follow the conventional, 120-page, three act structure pretty closely. I don't know why, really, but I'm hard pressed to write a first act that doesn't end right around 30. The midpoint of two is negotiable, coming in somewhere between 55 and 60. Act three is where I tend to shave most of the time off, often bringing it in under 20 pages. I know it might seem a bit rudimentary to talk so much about page numbers and act structure, especially since the sequencing method has recently taken the writing industry by storm (from what I read). Nonetheless, act structure and adherence to page count "guidelines" is a big part of how I write, so it'd be foolish not to include it here. It is a safe way for me to write, a method that I understand and feel I can work pretty comfortably in.

However, something happened this week. My Roman army spec (which I'm more excited to be writing than I have ever been when writing from an outline) is coming out a bit longer than I had anticipated. At first, I was worried that my first act was going to be too short, and that my targeted 105 page count would be a stretch, at best. That's not looking like the case. I'm coming up on that beautiful, yet terrifying midpoint right now - terrifying because I find that pages 60-70 are THE WORST PAGES EVER to have to write - and I'm still not quite ready to deliver that big, midpoint jolt yet. I'm dealing with a lot in this script, so I'm not worried, but it begs the question: am I writing an epic?

Epics are interesting to me. I haven't studied them nearly enough as I should have, perhaps because I never planned on writing one. Even epic action movies (Dark Knight, Batman Begins, and pretty much anything else that came in over 2hours and 15 minutes in my opinion) are a category unto themselves. Movies like Gladiator, Braveheart, and even Last Samurai (that one was for you, Onyx) fly by because they're done so well. And they fit a certain structure. But what exactly is it? Are acts one and three still only half an hour, while act two fills up the bulk of the screen time? Or is everything proportionate to the higher page count? Guess I'll have to do a lot of script-reading and movie-watching to find out. In the meantime, does anyone think they know?


Onyx said...

I couldn't say for the scripts, but from what I remember of the film, Braveheart transitions into act II at about the 30 minute mark. I could be wrong. Hmm, I'll check on that tonight, but I know for a fact that The Last Samurai hits act II almost exactly at the 30 minute mark, but I don't know what the script does. I think regardless of where act II comes on the script page, most good movies should and do hit a major plot point around 30 minutes. With Hollywood movies we're kind of conditioned to expect something around then.

Leetal said...

Yep, epics still keep their first and third acts as short as the rest of 'em. It's the second act that stretches, leaving for a lot of room for character and plot development, I.E. the battles here and there that lead to end of the war.

Cake Man said...

Thanks. That pretty much confirms my suspicions. Act Two seems like the logical place to stretch things, especially since most movie go-ers need something big at the 10 and 30 minute marks to keep their interest hooked.