Ever wonder what filmmakers like Christopher Nolan, James Wan, and Ava DuVernay have in common?
They all started their careers by making short films.
Short films can be vital in allowing one to show their true potential and get more opportunities in Hollywood.
Damien Chazelle is probably the most famous example of what short films can do for an aspiring filmmaker. His Academy Award-winning movie Whiplash was actually a short film before it got the funding to be made into the feature.
This is just one of many anecdotes that justify the importance of short films in one’s career. After one is convinced to make a short film, the next challenge becomes writing a good short film script.
How Long Is a Screenplay for a Short Film?
Writing a short film script can have its own process that varies from the methods used in writing a movie or TV episode.
The primary reason for this is that short films will obviously have a smaller runtime than features. Writers must account for this while figuring out how to write a short film script.
As per the standards set by most film festivals, a short film must run for forty minutes or less (including credits).
Since one page of a screenplay is equivalent to one minute of run time, a script for a short film should consist of a maximum of forty pages (even lesser if taking credits into consideration).
What is the Difference Between Short Films and Feature Length Films?
1. Simple Stories
With time being a limited resource, writers are constricted in the kind of stories they can tell via short film scripts. Feature films or even TV episodes can allow for a complex story with bigger scope.
Writers who work on short scripts are advised to think of simpler story ideas as they do not have the luxury of time to execute a complex or convoluted plot. Many successful short films are simply centered around daily actions or try to depict a certain ordinary process in an extraordinary manner.
Also, it is important to remember the simple formula that makes any story.
Story Drama= Character + Goal + Conflict
The template of many short films can be boiled down to a character who has a goal but has to overcome a certain challenge in order to achieve that goal.
Instead of making a shorter version of a murder mystery, it would prove helpful to concentrate on the basics of what makes a good simple story. Simpler stories also mean fewer characters. Remember that while a movie or show might have the time to give multiple characters their own story arcs, a short film does not need this.
There is very little time to establish multiple characters in a proper way so that they can go on to have meaningful character development. Focusing on the story and goals of one single protagonist will best serve the writer of a short film script.
Short films are most often made by filmmakers who are just starting out in the industry. This means that these films have to be shot on a shoestring budget, due to a lack of large-scale funding.
Keeping this in mind, a writer should write the short film script in a way that is practical to produce.
Excessive CGI and special effects, scenes involving car/ other automobile chases, or action sequences featuring complicated stunts are not the kinds of things that a writer should include in a short film script if said film needs to be produced. The exception being that the writer is working with a large budget.
Some Short Film Script Examples
All aspiring Hollywood writers are frequently advised to read pre-existing scripts of popular movies. This suggestion applies to short film writers as well.
Reading sample scripts for a short film can not only educate a writer on the form and paradigm that most short films follow, but also spark new ideas.
Websites like showmeshorts or SimplyScripts are great places to start reading.
There is also a community of screenwriters on Reddit where one can request a particular script and the members of the subreddit will help procure it.
How Do You Get Ideas for Short Films?
Finding the right idea is the first step in making a good short film script. Many screenwriters say that the first step of creating a good script is to find a subject that you are deeply passionate about.
Author John Truby recommends all writers should aim to write something that could change their lives.
If the chosen idea is something that is based on another property or a generic story idea that is trendy at the moment but does not incite any passionate reaction from the writer, then the script will come off as mechanical or trite.
On the other hand, writing something with a theme or idea that matters to you, or one that you can put a unique spin on due to your perspective will result in a much better script.
There are a few different ways to come up with ideas like this:
1. Creating Lists
Start by writing a list of everything that inspires you as a writer.
These list items can be plot elements or twists that you found interesting, the kind of characters you want to write, certain scenes that have inspired you, or anything that you’ve come across over different media that you yourself would have wanted to create.
Now, create a list of ideas. All these ideas must be limited to one sentence, they must be clear and precise. These ideas don’t have to be perfect, it can simply be anything you’ve thought of or an existing idea that you can spin creatively.
Once both these lists are made, you will find similarities between the both of them. These common entries that appear on both lists will then offer a jumping-off point to establish the idea you are passionate to write about.
2. Taking Inspiration From Real Life
As stated before, many short film scripts are about simple real-life events or tasks. Creating a short film script based on something interesting that has happened to you(or someone you know) is a perfectly valid method of coming up with a good idea.
This even applies to “uninteresting” tasks. Any process that is a part of everyday life that you want to offer your insight into can lead to a short film idea.
It also helps to free your mind and not always think of generating ideas. Sitting at the desk and staring at an empty page to come up with good ideas can be quite difficult.
Going for walks, runs, etc. Or spending some time outside the house working on hobbies you like, can give the mind a break from having to continuously think of new and great ideas.
This break will also allow a shift of focus while the subconscious mind is still working on finding a premise. A connection between the current activity to a certain half-baked idea might occur at any time, originating in a very interesting short film idea.
3. Working Off Other Ideas
A very popular method of coming up with ideas is to flip an existing premise to create a new one. The most common example of this is: What if Joker was the hero and Batman was the villain in The Dark Knight?
This would obviously lead to a writer using a lot of creativity in order to come up with a story that fits properly with the new “flipped” idea.
Another way of working with existing ideas and genres is by applying limitations to them. Think about creating a horror story but only using one room. The props you can use will only be things that are already in the room.
Working within the boundaries of such limitations can lead to very good short scripts.
4. Watching Other Short Films
Watching other well-made short films can spark inspiration for a new idea. Just like with movies and TV shows, oftentimes watching a scene or hearing a line of dialogue can instantly bring forth a new short film script idea in a writer’s mind.
Best Short Films to Watch
There are many critically acclaimed short films that writers can watch in order to gain inspiration for their own.
A good place to start would be to watch award-winning short films that are easily available on YouTube.
Writers should also watch short films that are in the same genre that interests them. Websites like ShortoftheWeek and FILMSshort allow users to browse through specific genres of award-winning short films.
Those interested in horror/sci-fi can also watch the Netflix show Love, Death, and Robots. This show has ten to fifteen-minute animated shorts that are made by Hollywood professionals like Tim Miller and David Fincher.
Writing a short film can offer some very unique challenges. However, they have proved to be very helpful in launching careers while also making for good, on-the-go entertainment.
It might be difficult to come up with ideas or work with limited resources, but getting through those challenges and delivering a good script is a reward in itself.
The key is to keep at it and not give up when feeling unmotivated. The strongest form of inspiration can arrive when least expected, and it is a good writer’s job to keep those creative juices flowing even when the going gets tough.