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Thread: spec script for sitcom -how long should it be?

  1. #1
    I do believe in Faries! Kitara's Avatar
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    Question spec script for sitcom -how long should it be?

    Hi, not sure if this has been discussed but trying to figure out when I read my script for a pilot, does the amount of time it takes me to read equal the amout of time it will last on screen? I have zero experience in screenwriting, but I have this great idea for a sitcom, one that is original and funny. I am using Page 2 for software. I just don't know how many words it will take to fill a standard hour on television, minus the commercials & credits. I am picturing a 1 hr pilot with half hour episodes to follow. Can anyone give me some guidelines?

    Of course I have no idea on how to get it to an agent yet, but that's a question for another time, once I've polished it off.


    thanks!

  2. #2
    The moving hand, having writ... AW Moderator Maryn's Avatar
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    The standard is the same as for screenplays, an average of one minute per properly-formatted page.

    Note that I'm merely parroting what I've read elsewhere: In the US, TV shows are created in-house. Specs are not welcomed or considered by the networks. The way new shows are created tends to be from the writers of existing shows pitching their idea (and spec script) to network executives. I don't know if this remains true with the many cable networks, but it's certainly something to check out before you do a lot of work which can't lead to anything.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Maryn View Post
    The standard is the same as for screenplays, an average of one minute per properly-formatted page.
    Some shows use the same formatting as movie formatting, but many do not. Shows that are shot in front of a live audience usually double space the dialogue, and in those cases the page count is longer than a page a minute. There are also other differences - Those show scripts usually start each act on a new page with act information at the top. Some shows include the act and page numbers at the top of the page along with the page number. Many shows include a line that lists the characters in a scene under the scene heading for that scene. Action is often in ALL CAPS. There are variations depending on the show.

    If you are writing a spec for a show that's on air, I suggest you try to find the format for that show. If you have Final Draft, it has templates for a number of shows. Here's a good site to find tv scripts http://leethomson.blogspot.com/

    If you are writing an original pilot that you see being shot in front of a live audience - then format it with double spaced dialogue with pages at the act breaks. If you see it as being shot more like a movie, without an audience (like Entourage) then format it like a feature.

    Remember that a half hour sitcom is actually only about 22 minutes long. If you are double spacing the dialogue, your script will be considerably longer though - 40 or more pages.

    Ellen Sandler's The TV Writer's Workbook is a great resource for learning about writing sitcoms.

    Good luck,
    Dev

  4. #4
    I do believe in Faries! Kitara's Avatar
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    Thanks for the info Maryn - Good to know, but somehow I will at least have to try, or maybe I can look in the UK - it is a good original idea and I have a lot of experience with the setting from work, it wrote itself so easy... gotta find a way - but at the same time, what you said keeps me real and I won't drive myself crazy trying - I have lots of story ideas I can be working on!

  5. #5
    I do believe in Faries! Kitara's Avatar
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    Thanks Dev - good info and I've jotted down the name of the book you recommended "TV Writer's Workbook" by Ellen Sandlers!

  6. #6
    Makes useful distinctions Lady Ice's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Kitara View Post
    Thanks for the info Maryn - Good to know, but somehow I will at least have to try, or maybe I can look in the UK - it is a good original idea and I have a lot of experience with the setting from work, it wrote itself so easy... gotta find a way - but at the same time, what you said keeps me real and I won't drive myself crazy trying - I have lots of story ideas I can be working on!
    A half-hour long programme would be more marketable- if the pilot was an hour but the rest were half-hour episodes, they'd have to change the TV schedule around. It's easier to slot in a half-hour episode.

    A few years ago, Channel 4 (UK) did a showcase of about 5 comedy pilots. 2 of those were made into series.

    BBC might take it.

  7. #7
    I do believe in Faries! Kitara's Avatar
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    Thank you so much Lady Ice! I guess it would make more sense to do a half hour pilot if the vision is a half hour show. And just letting me know that about the BBC has renewed some energy for getting it polished and presentable!

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  9. #9
    Makes useful distinctions Lady Ice's Avatar
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    They may ask for the outline of episode 2 and maybe 3 as well, to show that you know the direction the sitcom would be going in and how much scope there is.

  10. #10
    Mostly lurking stuckupmyownera's Avatar
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    Hey Kitara,

    Visit the BBC Writersroom - probably the best place to learn about what British TV wants and a good place to send you finished script. You can also download their free screenwriting templates (even if you don't use them, you can see how they suggest you format) and read existing sitcom screenplays.

    Hope it helps. Good luck!

  11. #11
    I do believe in Faries! Kitara's Avatar
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    you have all been so helpful! Thank you very much

    I do have the outlines for the following episodes... guess I need to get busy now!

  12. #12
    Geekzilla BigWords's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by stuckupmyownera View Post
    Visit the BBC Writersroom - probably the best place to learn about what British TV wants and a good place to send you finished script.
    The BBC actively seek out new scripts every so often. I remember them looking for hour-long drama, and at the start of this year they were advertising for all kinds of scripts. Also check out Channel 4, as they sometimes have new shows advertised with talent searches.
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  13. #13
    Sirius scriptwriter74's Avatar
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    Minimum of 90 pages

    Comedy is usually in the 90-100 range
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  14. #14
    practical experience, FTW curious1980's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by scriptwriter74 View Post
    Comedy is usually in the 90-100 range
    Not for a sit com that airs on cable television. I think you're referring to a feature. A sitcom usually runs 30 mins. (30 pages). Correct?

  15. #15
    practical experience, FTW odocoileus's Avatar
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    The minute per page rule doesn't work in TV. It's only for feature film scripts, and even there it's a rough approximation.

    TV is generally much talkier than film, so scripts always run longer. 55 pages is typical for a network drama, that is 55 pages for 45 minutes of screen time. Fast paced, talkier shows like ER can have scripts over 70 pages.

    Single camera sitcoms, like Scrubs, 30 Rock, My Name is Earl, are approx 30 - 35 pages:


    http://www.dailyscript.com/scripts/a...nt__pilot_.pdf

    http://www.dailyscript.com/scripts/m...oy_wedding.pdf

    multi camera sitcoms, like Two and a Half Men, Big Bang Theory, How I Met Your Mother, are approx 40 - 50 pages.

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    If you're writing a sitcom pilot, you seriously need to read as many sitcom scripts as you can. Otherwise, your effort's likely to be wasted.
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  16. #16
    practical experience, FTW odocoileus's Avatar
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    I second the Sandler recommendation. Here's one of her Everybody Loves Raymond scripts:

    http://www.sandlerink.com/script.htm
    It's the dirty story of a dirty man
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