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Community Spec Script Toolkit: Part 4 – The Numbers

October 11, 2010

After a few months of procrastinating, I’ve finally been able to finish my “Community Spec Script Toolkit” with this last part…the boring numbers.  I say “boring” because I’m writing this part more for those who are curious than for those who might actually find this information useful.  By “numbers” I’m referring to the stats of an episode:  the number of jokes per page, number of scenes, etc.  For this post, I’ll use Episode 9 – “Debate 109” as my source of information.  Why this episode?  I used it as the primary example in “Community Spec Script Toolkit:  Part 2 – Structure & Story,” so I figure I’ll be consistent…oh and it’s a great episode.

Jokes (or Laughs)

It was actually somewhat difficult to try and count the jokes per page, given the style of the show.  For some of the old school multi-cam sitcoms, it’s fairly obvious where the jokes are since there is the “setup / punchline” rhythm.  Community follows less of a rhythm and there tends to be a lot of sarcastic side comments made by the characters.  I tried to only count the hard jokes that would get an actual laugh if the show were live.  Also, since comedy is highly subjective, I’ll be the first to admit that I may find things funny that others wouldn’t and vice versa.  So, I tried to count jokes that were intended to be funny and to serve as punchlines.  Here’s what I came up with:

  • Total Jokes: 76
  • Jokes Per Page: 3 (rounded up from 2.5)
  • Most Number of Jokes Per Page: 5
  • Least Number of Jokes Per Page: 1

I think three jokes per page is a good baseline for measuring your own spec scripts.  By allowing for story beats, exposition, and setups, there’s not much more room for more than three jokes.  If you find that you’re averaging one or two jokes per page, you should definitely go back and punch up your script, adding more laughs.  I wouldn’t worry if you’re exceeding that number, but if you’re hitting a five-joke per page average, you might want to take a look at your script to make sure that there is an actual story developing and not a series of funny jokes.  I did notice that on the pages where there was only one joke, that the pages were in the middle of or leading to major story turns and in the absence of jokes, you could find exposition, tension, or resolution.  Thus, even when there’s no jokes, the story still shouldn’t be boring.  The page that was filled with five jokes was in the Cold Open and almost all of the characters were present; I’m pretty sure I’ve mentioned at one point that the cold open better be damn funny.  If you have a study room scene with all of the characters, it can’t help but be funny (these characters basically write themselves…thank you, Dan Harmon and the rest of the writing staff!).

Scenes

When I counted the scenes in the script, I didn’t solely count location changes, as sometimes two separate scenes (story lines) ended up taking place at the same location after one another. However, when two or more story lines converge and are connected at a single location (as is often the case with Community episodes) I treated that as one single scene.  It’s not quite as subjective as the number of jokes in a script, but there’s probably some errors in my calculations somewhere, so allow for a bit of deviation.

  • Total Number of Scenes: 12 (30 Pages)
    • Cold Open: 1 (5 Pages)
    • Act I: 5 (12 Pages)
    • Act II: 5 (8 Pages)
    • Act III: 1 (5 Pages)
  • Average Number of Pages Per Scene: 2.5
  • Longest Scene: 5 pages
  • Shortest Scene: 1 page

Scene length can vary depending on the types and number of story lines in an episode.  Part of the reason I initially chose this episode, was because it had a fairly standard A-B-C story structure, which is used by many other shows as well.  So, the numbers shown above are not rules that need to be followed, but more guidelines to be aware of.  At some point (I can’t remember where) I heard that a good rule of thumb is to make sure that you have very few scenes longer than three pages in length–This was referring to feature length screenplays, but it probably works for single-cam sitcoms as well; it probably won’t work for multi-cam sitcoms, since the format is different.  The average scene length for this episode falls right in line with that philosophy.  Granted, there are three scenes that break that “rule,” but with good reason.  The longer scenes tend to either deal with more than one storyline, or serving as vital beats for the main A story.  For example, Act III is one five-page scene, but it includes the A story climax, as well as wrapping up the B and C story lines.  If you look at your script and your scenes are consistently exceeding three pages, look carefully at the dialogue and see if there are lines that can be cut (there always are).  If a line contributes to the story, then keep it.  If it’s funny, but doesn’t really help the story, consider cutting it.  If it doesn’t contribute to the story and isn’t funny, then get rid of it.  I think it’s probably rarer to have scenes that are too short; from my limited experience, first time writers generally over-write rather than under-write (myself included).

Although boring, the “numbers” of a script can often be helpful in identifying script problems.  There are still other aspects to writing a good Community spec script, and most of them are intangible and are developed out of creativity; however, it’s nice to know that all those math courses in high school and college can be put to good use when writing sitcoms.  Okay, I guess I’m really only using basic math that’s probably taught in elementary school…maybe next time I’ll use standard deviations!  (Nerd.)

Lesson learned while writing this blog post: After watching a lot of Community episodes and studying the scripts I’m really confused as to why it wasn’t nominated for any Emmys.  Maybe next year.

Don’t forget to check out…

Community Spec Script Toolkit:  Part 1 – Homework

Community Spec Script Toolkit:  Part 2 – Story & Structure

Community Spec Script Toolkit:  Part 3 – Characters

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10 Comments leave one →
  1. Andrew A. Lee permalink
    October 19, 2010 4:51 pm

    I don’t mean to note you to death, But you have to do this for at least 3 scripts(3 because of the comedy rule of 3). because if you only do it for 1 script only, although being correct, it just feels like an imitation of the script.

    Then again, I dont really know what I’m talking about so oh well.

    • October 19, 2010 5:12 pm

      @Andrew – Ha, no you’re right; I’m sure any legit researcher would also cringe at the fact that I only used one script as a sample. I was originally going to do it with three, but I felt good about the conclusions of just one and….well, I got lazy! If I have time in the future, I’ll go back and add two more scripts to the post. I still think that the numbers from just this one are pretty close to what the average of the three would be anyway. Thanks for calling me out – Now, I know I can’t be lazy with any future posts…

  2. December 13, 2010 2:52 pm

    I’m currently working on a Community spec and this blog is real time saver. Thank you for those links to the Scripts, I couldn’t find them anywhere! I appreciate all your work.
    -Q

    • December 13, 2010 3:03 pm

      @Q – Glad to help; thanks for checking out the blog and good luck on your script

  3. January 18, 2011 5:08 pm

    This series of posts is exactly what i’ve been looking for. Kudos man. 🙂

  4. June 7, 2011 11:53 pm

    A friend and I have been trying to pump one of these suckers out. I wish we would have found this before we tried crunching the numbers ourselves. It would have at least given us a reference to work from. Really appreciate the time you put in. How has your spec worked out?

    Thanks

    • June 8, 2011 4:27 pm

      @Josh – thanks! My Community spec was kind of on hold during the last few months, as the actual story lines were screwing me over. (I had Shirley and Chang almost sleep together in one of my earlier drafts, but now that they have in the actual show, it doesn’t have quite the impact!). So, I have a new script idea that combines some parts of my earlier drafts….long process, but always fun with those characters.

      Good luck with your script!

  5. eavoss permalink
    June 22, 2011 1:29 am

    I just enrolled in a spec class and started on my Community spec. These posts have been a great resource, especially the links to the scripts. Know where I can find any scripts from season 2? Thanks man!

    • June 24, 2011 11:40 am

      Thanks, eavoss – Unfortunately, the only scripts I know of are the ones linked on the blog already. If I come across any, I’ll definitely add them. Good luck on your script and in your class!

  6. Imogen Jones permalink
    April 24, 2013 1:42 am

    Hey, I know you posted this along time ago, but I’ve only had the pleasure of reading it now and wanted to say thanks. In Australia Community isn’t a very well known show so I unfortunately only came across it a few months ago but I’m so glad I did. I have become obsessed, and have fallen in love with the characters and show. Recently Ive started writing spec scripts and your info has been helpful. I know Community might not get a fifth season but do you know if there’s a way to get ideas to writers or someone in a -I know nothing will come of this, but just in case- way without having a manager? Thanks

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