WHAT IS A FEATURE?
by Michael Chasin
Screenwriting Mentor, IAFT/Miami
A student recently asked, “At what runtime is a movie officially a feature film?”
A great direct question—that prompted this long answer.
Traditionally, 120 minutes (2 hours) was the standard runtime for a feature.
Is that still true today?
The Screen Actors Guild/AFTRA views any work over 80 minutes as being a feature.
The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences (also known as the Oscars) considers any work over 40 minutes to be eligible for feature consideration.
Film festivals, from Sundance to Berlin to Cannes to local festivals, each have their own feature-length runtime standards.
The Writer’s Guild of America, Director’s Guild of America, and Producer’s Guild of America tend to categorize films, for compensation purposes, based on budget.
So clearly, there is no universal standard.
With that, for exhibitors, the shorter the better.
Assuming 20 minutes to recover between showings, if a theater had 12 available screening hours:
- A 120-minute film could be screened five times.
- A 100-minute film could be screened six times.
- An 85-minute film could be screened almost seven times.
And with each added screening—new admissions and refreshment sales.
But for movie-goers…?
For a family of four a trip to the movies can easily add up to $100.
Would many spend $100 to watch a 70-minute movie…? Probably not.
An 80-minute movie… a 90-minute movie…?
So what runtime does determine that a film is a feature and worth traveling to the theatre and paying for…?
The answer is, a runtime that will satisfy—the marketplace.
The marketplace where that magical middle ground is found in a runtime that is profitable for exhibitors—and satisfying for movie-goers.
Consider runtime as you make your next film—and when you go to the movies.