Screen vs. Stage:
The One-Minute Page
by Michael Sadler
I know several writers who write
both screenplays and stage plays. I do, too. Historically,
the format for a screenplay and a playscript were
two entirely different beasts. Not so anymore. There
is now a convergence of the two, centered, I believe,
on the newfangled notion of "1-minute per
page" for stage plays to match that for screenplays.
The major difference between a screenplay and
the "Old Style" playscript was and still
is the amount of dialogue on a page versus the
amount of action or, in the case of plays, stage
direction. There are others, too. How
many do you count in this example?
SAM: You said what? (HE crosses to JOE, mouth
agape). You said what?!
JOE: (guilty) Um, I told her you were seeing
someone else. I guess I shoulda kept my big
That takes up four lines (including spaces). But
times have changed for the format elements themselves.
Here's the New Style (Samuel French/Mollie Ann
Meserve), using the same example:
You said what?
(HE crosses to JOE, mouth agape.)
You said what?!
Um, I told her you were seeing someone
else. I guess I shoulda kept my big mouth shut.
In 12-point Times New Roman, that dialogue exchange
takes up four lines.
In 12-point Courier Final Draft (CFD), that dialogue
exchange takes up 10 lines.
For screenwriters not familiar with stage plays,
note the reversal of dialogue and action/stage
direction elements. Not surprisingly, stage
plays using the new formatting run about a minute
Saves on the purchase of stopwatches, I'm guessing.
Test Question: Did you catch the period inside
versus outside the parenthetical?
If you write both screenplays and stage plays,
and say you're writing a 10-minute stage play,
the first rule, as we all know, is it must run
no longer than ten minutes. I really like
the look of TNR on a playscript page, but it's
kind of tough to judge the running time by page
count alone using the Old Style. Interestingly,
for the New Style playscript, you'd think by merely
switching between CFD-12 pt. and TNR-12 pt., the
page count would be pretty much the same.
Three months ago I converted a 10-minute play
(10 pages) using current formatting (from CFD-12
to TNR-12 with one click of the mouse. I was
shocked to discover that it added a page and a
half to the length! That's not good when the
submission guidelines specifically state, "10
pages maximum!" For purposes of this
article, I just converted one of my 15-minute plays
(15 pages) and an 80 page play to TNR. The
former adds 2 full pages, the latter 11 pages!
With more and more submission sites calling for
full-length plays at, say, a maximum of 80 or 90
pages, the difference mounts up. Of course, if
you start in TNR and get to END OF PLAY at page
100, and then convert to CFD, you're probably
okay for a 90-page max. Any longer in TNR,
however, and it's going to take some real effort
to condense it.
Formatting is not something we think about a lot,
but it's the first thing a professional at the
other end sees. I'm still seeing a lot of
plays online written in the Old Style, which I
suppose is fine if someone asks specifically for
it that way (what a friggin' hassle to convert
from FinalDraft!), or you're not submitting to
major competitions or regional theatre companies. My
take on this is that if my playscript differs in
any significant degree from the current standard,
the reader who expects material to be sent in the
latest industry format is immediately distracted
from the essence of my hard work. S/he has
to break out that stopwatch! I'd rather s/he
knows at first glance I'm up to date on format
so s/he can concentrate on my killer play, knowing
it runs for approximately the same time as the
A final word on conversion from FinalDraft to
HTML. Some play submission sites/competitions/festivals ask
that material be submitted in "HTML, Word.doc,
RTF, or PDF," and only very few are allowing
FinalDraft submissions at this time. If you
write in FinalDraft and have to submit in HTML,
you will lose at least underlining function, perhaps
others as well. I didn’t check them
all. Only by going into your HTML editor and
doing the "<u> word</u> " thing
for every word underlined will you get it back! Since
this article is written in FinalDraft, I had to
convert to Word – Rich Text Format, and then
convert to HTML to retain all the formatting functions.
I submitted my 10-minute play, "Don't Ask,
Don't Tell" to this site in HTML as a companion
piece to this article to show the latest format. It’s
the only play I’ve written with multiple
underlines. You will see the problem I had
to convert it for this article!
In the final analysis, I much prefer PDF play
submissions myself, which retains everything, including
Title and Cast pages, with one click of your mouse.
Ah, the details…
But at least you get to read a short, funny play
that is now running down in San Juan Capistrano
as part of ShowOff!, The Camino Real Playhouse's
annual International 10-minute Playwriting Festival. And
I'm sure the word underlining helped, 'cause it's
killing down there!