HOW TO WRITE A SHORT FILM

By Scott Thompson

Table of Contents

Movies are awesome. 

If you’re a creator, making a movie or feature film may be one of your greatest aspirations.

It’s a big dream…. I say go for it!

As we all know a feature film takes a lot of time and resources. Most Hollywood blockbusters today cost on average 100 million dollars.

If you’re looking to scratch a creative itch without taking on a huge project, a short film may be a better alternative.

Short films are fun to make. 

They are easier to produce and require less resources. Plus if your idea is really good, you can always turn it into a full feature if you wish in the future.

In this article we willgo over all you need to know to write a short film.Weg o er some general guidelines to follow when writing a short film. Well answer common questions asked about short films, and explore a step by step method to writing your first script.

In this article we will go over all you need to know to write a short film. We will touch on general guidelines to follow when writing a short film,

To write a short film you should

  • Find your inspiration : Decide on type of movie
  • Write the Treatment : Come up with basic storyline
  • Build the Main character : Creating conflict 
  • Create Supporting Characters : 
  • Create the Narrative Structure : Beginning Middle End
  • Write the script

SO WHAT IS A “SHORT FILM”?

Technically

There is no real definition of exactly what is considered a short film. 

However they can range from :45 seconds to 45 minutes. Most agree that this type of film should not drag on and should be as “short” as needed to tell the story.

WHY CREATE A SHORT FILM?

One benefit to making a short is they are cheaper to make than feature films. They also are easier to make because they are shorter in duration by nature. Great for those trying to grow their skills. 

Common reasons to create a short film:

  • Showcase your skills
  • Grow your experience
  • Tell a story
  • Seed idea for a feature film ( to pitch idea)
  • Make your first movie ( great place to start for indie filmmakers)

Benefit to creating a short vs feature film

  • Cheaper to make
  • Shorter (take less editing)

List of short film ideas

  • Short comedy
  • Short Action – Adventure
  • Short Western
  • Short Science Fiction
  • Short drama
  • Short documentary
  • Short Horror 
  • Short thriller
  • Short film / music video
  • Short movie for brand – tell a story about a company
  • Short movie artistic / experimental

PREWRITING PHASE : DO THIS FIRST

STEP 1 : Watch short films  

Before you dive into the rabbit hole of your own short film, I recommend watching at least 10 short movies . 

As you watch each one, analyze how each part of the movie is being crafted to create the story. 

After all, the story line is the most important part of your short. Take notes on what you like and don’t like. 

Check here to read our full storytelling article

STEP 2 : Decide Genre of film

Come up with the main direction.

Is it a love story? Thriller? Sci fi future movie? Documentary?

STEP 3 : Reverse engineering

Analyze and break down a similar short film that you like. 

Notate how the film was put together beginning to end. See the structure that was used. 

Were there any interesting twists that happened in the movie to surprise you? 

What did you like and dislike about the film?

WRITE A TREATMENT

 A treatment is a short version of the storyline. It consists of the logline , characters and synopsis.

For example : show treatment

Type of Movie : THRILLER

Logline: Man is lost in the desert. Not knowing how he got there, he searches for answers and clues to lead him back to reality. As he wanders threw a empty ghost town, things trigger flashbacks to his memories of last night .

To effectively write a treatment follow these film writing principles. 

  • Build a main character
  • supporting characters
  • strong narrative.

BUILD MAIN CHARACTER : CREATE A PERSONA WITH A CONFLICT 

When writing a short film it’s important to develop a strong idea of the main character. The more detailed you envision the character the more realistic and believable your story will be. The below questions are good to ask yourself when developing your main character.

Who is the main character?

This is the persona that your story will be based around.

What problem does he/she have? 

This is the conflict that will drive the story.

Write out the details about the main character . Is the problem that they have one that the audience can somehow relate to? 

This is the basis of your story’s main conflict. Answer the above question.

Deeper thinking:

What does the main character believe about their problem? What deeper ideas come up about the main character facing this problem. This information may help you build up the problem the main character has.

When creating a short film it is important to deeply create your Main Character , what problem they believe they have , and what is the solution the main character wants to be the outcome.

CREATE SUPPORTING CHARACTERS

Stories are about transformation. And that magic occurs in the presence of conflict. When writing a short film try to use your supporting characters to increase the conflict some way.

We want the main characters to transform .

Supporting characters need to help rub that friction of conflict. If you look at your favorite movies you’ll notice that many times the supporting characters challenge something within the main characters beliefs.

A supporting actor/actress should have opposing beliefs to the main character.  In some shape or form.

When crafting your storyline try to use supporting characters to amplify the conflict of the main character.

A good conflict will peak your audience’s curiosity and have their eyes glued to the screen to see what happens.

CREATE NARRATIVE STRUCTURE:

Writing a short story can be easier if you follow a structure. This consists of breaking your ideas down into manageable chunks.

 Remember that the Story is everything ….CORE ELEMENT. Amazing cinematography, cool concepts and visuals wont make up for lack of story.

Begin with the end in mind.

Use fundamental story elements

SET – UP THE STORY:

  • Whats going on 
  • Who people are
  • Why action is happening

Many ways to structure a storyline with different climaxes and twists and turns. What structure is best for a Sort film. With a lack of time that a feature may have we need to make some changes.

DEVELOP THE STORY : Follow a checklist that leads to characters thru conflict . Eventually ending with a transformation of some type.

The below 8 steps of any story was developed by Dan Harmon called “the hero’s journey”

  1. A character is in a zone of comfort
  2. But they want something
  3. They enter an unfamiliar situation
  4. They adapt to it
  5. They get what they wanted
  6. Pay a heavy price for it
  7. Then return to their familiar situation
  8. Having changed

Now that we have a structure its time to put pen to paper and write your short film.

WRITING THE SCRIPT

If you have followed the steps above, by now you should have a great treatment written.Your on your way to making a great short film.  Your next step is to write the script. 

This is a play by play writing out the dialogue of the characters.

Now get writing and good luck!

I have linked some great resources below to watch more shorts and download the scripts.

www.showmeshort.co

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