A dismayed retro director holds up a short 40 page screenplay script, questioning the length

How Short Can a Screenplay Be? The Ultimate Guide to Film Script Page Length

The length of a screenplay is one of the most common questions aspiring screenwriters have. How many pages should your script be? Does it need to be over 100 pages to be considered a feature film? Can a short film be just 10 pages?

There’s a lot of debate and misinformation out there around screenplay length. Some ultra-short scripts have sold for millions in recent years. At the same time, many experts caution against straying too far from industry standards. So what’s the real deal?

This definitive guide will examine the ideal length for different types of screenplays. Whether you’re writing a feature film, short film, or TV pilot, proper formatting and length is key to getting your script read. We’ll cover general guidelines, exceptions, and factors that determine how short your script can actually be.

Standard Feature Film Screenplay Length

For a feature film, the standard accepted length is 90-120 pages. This equates to about 90-120 minutes of screen time. The general rule of thumb is that one page equals one minute of film.

Most major studios and producers expect at least 90 pages for a feature-length script. Some even insist on a minimum of 110 pages to be considered. Shorter than 90 pages, and you start running into issues:

  • The story may feel rushed or thin. There’s less time for character development and plot detail.
  • The script may be seen as not commercially viable. Feature films of less than 90 minutes can be harder to market and monetize.
  • The script may come across as an unfinished draft rather than a shooting-ready screenplay.

However, there are always exceptions. Some genres like horror can run shorter. Small indies and micro-budget films sometimes clock in under 90 pages. Shorter runtimes can also decrease production costs.

For first-time screenwriters though, it’s best to stick to the standard 90-120 minute length while starting out. Unless the story truly demands it, shorter scripts are riskier for unknown writers.

Once you have an established reputation, you’ll have more leeway to stray from conventions. Quentin Tarantino’s 127-page Pulp Fiction script would likely have been tossed aside if he was an unknown at the time!

Successful Short Films and Features Under 90 Pages

While rare, there are some successful produced feature films that run shorter than 90 minutes:

  • Get Out (2017) – 103 minutes, 98 pages
  • Saw (2004) – 103 minutes, 82 pages
  • Brick (2005) – 110 minutes, 97 pages
  • Locke (2013) – 85 minutes, 79 pages

Many screenwriters got their start with acclaimed short films running just 1-40 pages, including those who went on to create hit features:

  • Damien Chazelle – Whiplash (short) became La La Land
  • Neill Blomkamp – Alive in Joburg (short) became District 9
  • Jason Reitman – In God We Trust (short) became Juno

So there are clearly exceptions to the standard feature length rule. But for new writers, it’s advisable to stick to conventions until you are established.

Factors That Determine Screenplay Length

So when considering how short or long your script should be, here are some key factors to weigh:

Genre Conventions

  • Some genres like horror or thrillers can run slightly shorter (80+ pages).
  • Comedies tend to be longer (100-120 pages) with more gags and jokes padded in.
  • Dramas and biopics require more time for character development and nuance.

Story Complexity

  • Stories with fewer main characters and limited locations can be shorter.
  • Complex interweaving plots with many arcs require more time.
  • Is your story high concept? Those are hard to contain to 90 pages.

Character Number

  • Scripts with just 1-3 main characters will run shorter.
  • Large ensemble casts eat up more page space.

Commercial Viability

  • Can your story be marketed and monetized as a sub-90 minute film?
  • For unknown writers, it’s riskier to stray from commercial standards.


  • Big budget films of 100+ minutes maximize profit potential.
  • Low budget indies can sometimes get away with shorter runtimes.

Ideal Length for Short Films

Short films are generally defined as any film under 40 minutes in length. The Academy Award shorts category is for films under 40 minutes.

Short films can vary wildly in length though. Some student films and first-time shorts may run just 1-5 pages. More developed short film scripts intended for festival circuit distribution tend to run 10-40 pages.

Here are common short film length categories:

  • Micro-short: 1-5 pages (1-5 minutes)
  • Ultra-short: 5-10 pages (3-10 minutes)
  • Short short: 10-15 pages (10-15 minutes)
  • Traditional short: 15-40 pages (15-40 minutes)

Of course shorts outside those ranges can work too. But those are good general length guidelines when starting out.

Some of the most successful modern short films that launched careers include:

  • Whiplash (2013) – 18 pages, 15 minutes
  • Victoria (2015) – 45 pages, 14 minutes
  • The Strange Thing About the Johnsons (2011) – 29 pages, 29 minutes

If you’re hoping your short will be a calling card to the industry, aim for the 10-40 page sweet spot. That leaves enough time to show off your writing and filmmaking skills.

What’s the Ideal Length For a TV Pilot Script?

For a television pilot, the standard length is 27-45 pages for the very first episode script.

There are some variations though depending on whether it’s a:

  • Half-hour pilot – 27-35 pages
  • Hour-long pilot – 37-45 pages

Half-hour programs are situational comedies or dramedies, like The Office or Atlanta. Hour-long shows are dramas and thrillers like Game of Thrones or Stranger Things.

Those page counts translate to runtimes of:

  • Half-hour pilot: 27-35 minutes
  • Hour-long pilot: 42-55 minutes

The pilot has to establish the characters, world and central conflict of your series. But it also needs to leave room for more story.

Shooting an actual pilot episode takes more screen time than just the script length. The finished pilot that airs on TV will generally run:

  • Half-hour show: 21-22 minutes
  • Hour-long show: 42-55 minutes

So your pilot script needs to be short and snappy enough to get on air. But compelling enough to hook viewers on your show concept.

Some of the most successful TV pilots that launched hit shows include:

  • Game of Thrones (2011) – 42 minutes, 60 pages
  • Homeland (2011) – 51 minutes, 63 pages
  • Breaking Bad (2008) – 57 minutes, 49 pages

Whether your goal is getting a pilot produced, or just using it as a writing sample, the 27-45 page range is ideal.

Conclusion: Focus on Story First, Length Second

At the end of the day, the perfect screenplay length depends on your specific goals and situation.feature film, aim for 90-120 pages as a general rule. But if the story truly works better shorter, find ways to trim and tighten.

For new writers trying to break in, it’s smart to stick close to industry standards at first. But as you gain reputation, exceptions can be made.

The most important thing is nailing the story itself above all. Write the most compelling first draft you can. Pour all your best ideas in. Then edit down and cut filler to hone pacing and length later.

Rookie mistake is starting off trying to confine your story to a certain page count from the beginning. Take the time to develop memorable characters and an air-tight plot. Let it breathe in early drafts. Trim later once the framework is built.

While how short your screenplay can be ultimately depends…the right length is the one that does your story justice. Everything else should flow from there.

So take the guidelines in this post as just that – general advice. Then go write that masterpiece draft, page count be damned! That’s the only way to create your breakthrough project.

Frequently Asked Questions

How short is too short for a script?

For a feature film, anything under 80 pages is generally seen as too short by industry standards. Studios and producers prefer scripts to be at least 90 pages. For shorts, under 5 pages is very difficult to execute well.

What is the minimum length of a screenplay?

The general minimum length is 80 pages for a feature and 5 pages for a short film. However, some successful scripts have fallen below those thresholds. Ultimately the length should suit the story.

Is 70 pages too short for a screenplay?

Yes, 70 pages is likely too short for a feature film script. Exceptions could be a low-budget indie film or a horror/thriller where shorter runtimes are more accepted. But anything under 80 pages raises concerns for most producers.

Is 90 pages too short for a screenplay?

No, 90 pages is right in the acceptable range for a feature film screenplay. While some expect scripts to be over 100 pages, 90 is seen as the lower end of standard length. Many great films have been made from 90-page scripts.

Is 80 pages too short for a screenplay?

It can be, for a feature film. Some leeway is given for horror and other genres. But anything below 90 pages risks being seen as too thin on story and character development. It’s not impossible, but shorter scripts face more skepticism.

How many pages should a 20 minute script be?

A script for a 20-minute short film should be in the range of 20-40 pages. A good rule of thumb is 1 script page per minute of screen time as a minimum. But dialogue and action lines take up more screen time than script pages.

What is the difference between a screenplay and a script?

A screenplay refers specifically to the written work for films and TV. It has a specific format like scene headings and action lines. A script more broadly refers to dialogue and stage directions for any production.

How many pages is a 5 minute screenplay?

A 5-minute short film screenplay would likely be 5-10 pages long. Very short films under 5 minutes may run just 1-3 pages. But 5 pages is a good minimum length for a 5-minute narrative short script.

How long is a 5 minute screenplay?

A screenplay that will yield a 5-minute short film when produced should be around 5-10 script pages long. This accounts for the common ratio that 1 script page equates to roughly 1 minute of screen time.

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