Everyone knows that movie scripts have Acts and Scenes. What most probably don’t know is that it’s not the same picture as Literary Drama (Shakespeare et al). No. This shouldn’t come to your mind when you think of Acts and Scenes in movie scripts.
Spotting the difference between Acts and Scenes
Acts and Scenes in Literary Dramas are major plot point divisions—so are they in movie scripts. A relatable difference is this: in Literary dramas, you actually see the heading (like Act 1, Scene 1), and the scenes, most times, treat a whole lot of issues that must be resolved in the following scenes.
Whereas, for movie scripts, you don’t see nothing but scene headings which resemble a bunch of other scene headings that come before and after! Confusing, isn’t it? The first time I saw this, I was like, “Wait a minute! What is this?!”😳 When I realized the trend, I thought to myself, “this is smart!”😊.
Scenes in movie scripts are marked off by these indications:
- if it’s an interior of exterior location (INT. or EXT.)
- the place of occurrence (TENNIS COURT, LOCKER ROOM, CAR, etc.)
- and time of day (DAY or NIGHT, and if the next scene is the same time of day, you may make use of CONTINUOUS).
And that’s why 10 scenes in a script can have the same heading if they all meet the same criteria.
Scenes in movie scripts, unlike in Shakespeare’s, aren’t numbered, and usually are not as long. Scenes in Shakespeare, for example, could be up to 10 in number (more or less), with one scene eating up as much as 15 pages. On the other hand, scenes in movie scripts could be one-liners—and that’s it. You could have 5 scenes on one page, and you could also have a scene, ideally, as long as four pages at most. It varies, depending on the writer’s imaginative needs. In the end, you could be counting up to 40-60 scenes (or even up to 160 scenes) of a movie script.
And, yes, they do get numbered in the end, by the director/producer of the movie when it’s ready to be shot. At that point, the script would be referred to as a shooting script.
As you probably already understand because you watch movies a lot, a man singing a love song by the window outside the house of a young lady (EXT. HOUSE – DAY), and this young lady blushing to the song inside the same house (INT. HOUSE – DAY) are two different scenes, even if they can be described in one sentence, and as one idea.
More on Acts.
Moving on to Act, the 3 act structure is a good sample to helping make your script acceptable structurally. This can only be identified by a critical eye and mind.
Some say if you have your 120-paged script it should work like this:
- Act 1 being the first 30 pages/minutes (introduction)
- Act 2, the next 60 pages/minutes (body)
- and Act 3, the last 30 pages/minutes (conclusion/resolution)
All forming your three-act structure, but that’s just a standard assumption; I’ve seen produced scripts that didn’t arrive at Act 3 in my calculated ETA!
Now, that’s another pain in the neck for screenwriters; bothering about structural conformity while struggling with the basic story!
But hey, What are rewrites for? Write the story, then make it conform to the numerous rules in subsequent rewrites.
Or better still, plan the acts and scenes in your script first before you start. More on planning in future posts.
Isedehi Aigbogun, also known as ISD, is a staunch academic, holding a B.A., M.A., and PhD (in view) in English Language.
She’s a Screenwriter, Screenplay Analyst, Consultant, and Film Scriptic.