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Number of scenes in a five-act episode?


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#1 SnarkyPants

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Posted 08 March 2008 - 12:44 AM

If you were writing a pilot that was five acts, how many scenes would that be, altogether? And/or, how many scenes per act generally? I keep getting told conflicting information... one person said usually no more than 20-30 scenes for the full episode, another said 50... And another person told me that you could have anywhere from 7-12 scenes per act. All of these people are smart, knowledgeable people, but I feel confused.

IIRC, Heroes is six acts and I think there were only about six scenes per act. I could be totally wrong about that, though.

Edited by SnarkyPants, 08 March 2008 - 12:46 AM.


#2 Christopher

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Posted 08 March 2008 - 07:36 AM

I don't think there is a formal standard; it's whatever the flow of the story demands.  I've seen acts that were only a single scene long (for instance, in TNG's "Half a Life," the extended debate between Lwaxana Troi and Timicin over whether he should accept his culture's custom of ritual suicide at age 60 -- which still sticks with me because it was amazing that they let two guest stars carry an entire act, and because it was just about the finest acting of Majel Barrett's career).

If you're talking about a pilot, though, maybe you need something more standardized, I guess.  Still, it seems to me that it's about whatever works best for the story's pacing, not about following some formula.
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#3 SnarkyPants

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Posted 08 March 2008 - 03:37 PM

View PostChristopher, on Mar 8 2008, 12:36 PM, said:

If you're talking about a pilot, though, maybe you need something more standardized, I guess.  Still, it seems to me that it's about whatever works best for the story's pacing, not about following some formula.

I totally agree; I'm not trying to blindly stick to a formula... it's just that the blank page feels less like an oppressive wasteland when I've got an idea of how many scenes, -ish, I should be coming up with. It's more like a tool to keep from getting overwhelmed, for me.

#4 Lyric of Delphi

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Posted 08 March 2008 - 03:53 PM

I know absolutely nothing about this, but http://www.scriptfrenzy.org/ seems like a good resource for amateur screenwriters. It's the same crowd who started NaNoWriMo, and they managed to throw together many awesome tips and resources for novel writers. Good luck!

Edited to add: This page is the actual resources page, although the event of Script Frenzy may be something you're interested in as well.

Edited by Lyric, 08 March 2008 - 03:55 PM.


#5 SnarkyPants

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Posted 08 March 2008 - 04:02 PM

Thank you!

#6 Robert Hewitt Wolfe

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Posted 08 March 2008 - 05:06 PM

In a hour of TV, you can have a hundred scenes or you can have ten.  It all depends on the pace and the tone.  But figure about 1 page a scene for a normally paced drama.   Though you can certainly have half page scenes or five page scenes if it feels right for your show.  Checking my more recent scripts, THINGS THAT GO BUMP, the bottle show I wrote for the DRESDEN FILES had 31 scenes, including establishing shots and some scenes as short as 1/8th of a page.  TIL WE HAVE BUILT JERUSALEM for THE 4400 has 57 scenes, again, including establishing shots.  Both of these are Teaser and Five Act shows (six acts total).

The last spec pilot I wrote had 87 scenes, including establishers.  But pilots run long.  This monster weighed in at 64 pages and had five acts (full acts, no teaser).

Hope that helps.

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#7 SnarkyPants

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Posted 08 March 2008 - 09:12 PM

View PostRobert Hewitt Wolfe, on Mar 8 2008, 10:06 PM, said:

Hope that helps.

It really, really did. Thank you so much, seriously!


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