It’s been a while since I’ve done a 1st 10 pages breakdown, a lot of that has to do with posting screenplay files, but this time of year studios have been throwing screenplay junkies a bone.

Since the big crackdown began on hosting downloadable scripts, each year more studios have been making their scripts available during awards season so if there is one out there you’re looking for it should be pretty easy to get.

I re-read ARGO again yesterday, after all of the great attention it has been getting. The script supervisor in me was immediately struck by how many scenes were in the opening pages.  First a side note:

This is a shooting script – NOT A SELLING SCRIPT.  There is a big difference if you are an aspiring screenwriter.  You’ll see things like scene numbers, omissions, revisions, and a title card with the treatment of the Warner Bros. Logo.  (Don’t do these things in your specs).

Now onto part of the reason the film turned out so engaging:

41 scenes in 10 pages!  The first 10 pages of ARGO comes out to 41 scenes.  Actually 40 in the first 10 the 41st starts on the 10th and goes into the top of page 11 and is the longest at 7/8ths of a page. For those that may not know here’s some behind the scenes production information.

Every script of every feature is measure in 1/8 page increments.  Way back when before Final Draft and Dave Trottier, some script supervisor discovered that the minimum amount of space a scene can take up on a page with slugline and action is 1/8 of an 8.5 x 11 sheet.  So when a script is broken down for production, they want to know how many pages can be shot or were shot on any given day.

So that’s how ARGO got so many scenes in so little space.  Most of them are 1/8 page, which also means that each of those 1/8th page scenes have no dialogue.

This is how it breaks down:

  • PG 1: The tone is set immediately, as is the premise and genre.  It accomplishes what every story demands – that we get straight into it.  Also on page 1, the first character (Anders) is named – this indicates he’s someone we’re going to know, not any of the others in the chaos.  The student filming is an interesting aside, that is called back again on PG 7 – (the later payoff was one that was omitted later on.)
  • PG 2: The next two characters are within a ¼ page!  Man, if aspiring screenwriters can learn anything from this I hope it is that they don’t have to take 2 paragraphs to introduce a character.
  • PG 4: is 8, 1/8 page scenes – that is pacing you cannot deny.
  • PG 6: has the most densely written block of action so far at 4.5 lines and even it moves along at a quick clip.
  • PG 9: The group of 6 comes together.  There’s no Ben (TONY) in the first 10 pages – there doesn’t need to be, this is a story of rescue for the group of 6, Ben does come in quickly on their heels by page 14.
  • Before the top of page 11, it’s announced that the group of 6 got out, the 41st scene.  If the omitted scenes had not been a part of the shooting script, then this would have fallen at the bottom of page 10.

Now that we are fully engrossed, the scenes get longer (starting with the 41st), in fact in the next 7 pages there are only about 10 scenes, the 11th starts on page 18 and runs 4 ½ pages up to the 1st act turning point, with the act break on page 29.

The pacing is truly remarkable and made to read and feel effortless, so while the edit of the shooting script falls neatly into structure conventions – the reader doesn’t care because they are engrossed in a fast read.  This is what makes an award winner.  I love Lincoln, but it’s an easy bet on ARGO to continue its well-deserved streak.

Here’s the link to download the shooting script:

Enjoy and stay tooned.