I’m about 50 pages into my first screenplay, a family film. For research, I decided to watch at least a dozen children’s movies, and I started with the current blockbuster HARRY POTTER. I was fascinated by the pacing. Virtually every scene (there are one or three exceptions) is only 1 – 3 minutes long, with most coming in just under two minutes. That seems very short. Comparatively, my writing is averaging 2 – 5 minutes per scene. Should I be concerned? Is it possible anymore for a children’s movie to be marketable if it doesn’t run at a breakneck pace?
First, kudos on doing the experiment. You taught yourself something that no instructor could ever beat into you: movie scenes are short. Much shorter than you would think.
If you were to expand your research to include other genres, you’d find that most scenes in most movies are no more than three minutes long, which means no more than three pages of script.
It’s not an iron-clad rule; scenes can be twenty minutes long. But it’s a very useful rule of thumb. If I get to the third page of a scene I’m writing, I automatically stop and re-examine it to figure out why it’s so long, and whether it really needs to be.
Since this is your first screenplay, I’m hesitant to tell you to cut your scenes down now, for fear that you’ll never actually finish your script. But always look for economy: what is the latest moment you could come into a scene, and the earliest moment you could leave? You’ll probably find that your character waste a lot of time before getting to the meat of a scene, then chew on the bones longer than needed.