Short films are an amazing opportunity to showcase your talent in front of the world. Whether you are an actor, writer, director, or any other kind of professional involved in filmmaking, short films are going to give your career a boost.
Moreover, they are one of the best ways to set foot in the industry, gain practical experience, and if you end up messing it all up, you can always come back without any major injuries.
But you are probably wondering how you can avoid messing it all up…
Having college assignments on top of all the studying that needs to be done for the upcoming exams doesn’t exactly leave a lot of room for “messing it all up.”
You probably don’t need anyone’s help to understand that the most essential part of your short film is the script. Its the blueprint of your film. It is what will help you narrate a good story to your audience.
If you wish to make an amazing short film then you need to learn how to write an amazing script.
You can make a bad film out of a really good script. But you will not be able to make a good film out of a really bad script.
Understanding the difference between the story of a short and feature
The basic difference between both states that a short film is one that is too short to be qualified as a feature film. If a film has a screen time of less than 40 minutes than it is considered to be a short film.
But you might have read an article or seen a YouTube video stating how the story of a short is different from the story of a feature. How you should start your short film with action as it won’t have enough time for setup.
While they aren’t wrong, they aren’t exactly right either. Allow us to explain…
A setup, as you will learn later in the article, is the introduction of the plot element which will later be used to convey the overall outcome of your story.
Do the hero rescued the princess or does he fail?
Without it, your audience will be left confused when your film finally reveals the major plot of the story.
Rogan josh is the perfect example of this. The majority of the film can be considered as the setup to the incredible plot twist of the story.
Do you think you’d be surprised if the film didn’t constantly give you hints about its plot?
The point we are trying to make is that the script of short films has the same amount of complexity as the script of feature-length films.
While writing your script, do not rely on either starting with a bang or catching your audience off-guard with a confusing ending. Your audience might get confused but they will not remember your short film.
If you wish to make a good short film, your script will need a setup, good characters, scenes of conflict, and other elements.
Let’s dive deeper into them…
Understanding the art of writing a good script
There are five major elements that will help you write a good screenplay:
- The idea
- Major conflict
- Story structure
The idea of your script
To tell a good story, you will first need a good idea. An idea can be anything,
- The overall concept of your story
- The plot
- A specific scene
- Characteristics of a character
It is important to have an idea for your story before you sit down and start clicking on your typewriter.
So start brainstorming for ideas and if you aren’t getting any then perhaps watch some short films. Sooner or later, something will click inside your brain and you will feel like you are gonna make a revolution.
Also, remember that you should be able to describe the idea of your short film in one simple sentence.
If we take the example of the short film Stutterer by Benjamin Cleary, the film is about a man who stutterers and seeks to find love.
How can you tell if it’s a good idea?
To know whether or not your idea is good, you must understand the purpose of short films.
Sure, short films are a good way to get started but they have a deeper meaning behind them. They are not made for the sake of entertainment, they are made to convey a message.
In Stutterer, Benjamin Cleary conveyed the message that people must fully accept themselves to be able to live happily.
Short films have a meaning behind them and if you wish to create a good short then you must ask yourself,
- What is the message that my short film will convey?
- What is the meaning behind my story?
Once you’ve answered them and noted them down, you are ready to move to the next step.
Scene of conflicts
Imagine watching a movie and the characters get what they want without having to face any challenges. The theatre will become empty even before intermission comes on the screen.
Conflict is very important to move your story forward as well as to keep your audience interested. A story without conflict in it is simply a real-life story.
The first step in making your idea compelling is to introduce conflict in your script. Since short films aim to establish a meaning behind their story and well, they are short in length, you must introduce the major conflict of the story as soon as possible.
If we take the example of Stutterer again, the character greenwood stutters because of which he doubts his ability to live normally. If you watch the film, you will see that greenwood also constantly faces difficulties due to his disability.
Conflict is what will keep your audience hooked to their chairs. Apart from having a major conflict in your script, include scenes that make it difficult for your characters to get what they want.
However, do not include out of place scenes, make sure that each scene contributes to the overall story and that conflict seem natural instead of forceful.
Simply put, story structure is how you wish to narrate your story in front of your audience. It is how you will introduce your characters, plots, and scenes of conflict.
You might be familiar with the three-act story structure which most feature-length films seem to follow. However, there are writers like the man himself Quentin Tarantino that despise the idea of such story structures.
Additionally, the three-act structure is too vague and too long to be followed by a short film. Instead, we will take a look at the story circle by Dan Harmon, the creator of Rick and Morty.
Before we begin, you must understand that this is not a structure that your script strictly needs to follow. Use the story circle as a guideline to narrate your story as well as each scene.
There are eight points to the story circle:
- A character is in a zone of comfort
- But they want something
- They enter an unfamiliar situation
- Adapt to it
- They get what they want
- But pay a heavy price for it
- Then return to their familiar situation
- Having changed
Your story doesn’t necessarily need to have each and every element of the story circle but a compelling story will have a majority of them.
Characters are the central element of a short film. Without good characters, telling a good story becomes very difficult.
Its a general rule of thumb to not have more than three or four characters in a short film. The story might become too complex to be told in a short period of time if you introduce any more
How do you create good characters?
You’d be surprised to know that more often than not, a character becomes dull or uninteresting because the writer didn’t follow the basic step – defining your character/s.
Answering these questions may help you create more compelling and relatable characters for your short film:
- What does the character want?
- Why do they want it?
- What is the character’s belief?
Remember, you have a short time to make your characters stand out to the audience. So make them interesting. Moreover, give them beliefs that tackle each other to keep your audience interested in them.
Answering the above questions will also help you give your characters natural dialogues and well, we all know how important they are.
An element of short films that makes them so enticing and entertaining is the plot. More often or not, the end of a short film will leave you shocked or mesmerized.
The ending is where the message behind the story comes forth as a whole.
The main reason behind this is that short films usually only have one major plot twist. As a result, it has to have a bang. It must flip the premise of the story completely and give it a new meaning.
The ending must catch your audience off-guard but not so much that they become confused.
Your story must build itself first to be able to have a strong, meaningful, and memorable ending.
In Rogan Josh, the subtle hints, dialogue choices, and direction of the scenes all builds up to the final climax. It catches us off guard with the climax but at the same time gives us hint throughout the film.
In Stutterer, Greenwood keeps doubting himself, self-pitties himself, and constantly faces difficulties due to his disability. We start getting worried about him when he goes to meet Ellie but seeing that she is disabled too, makes us feel happy for Greenwood.
So start by showing the major conflict of the story, one that makes the audience relate to your characters. Then flip the premise.
Your audience will thank you for it!
Write in the proper format
This is something that you can follow loosely if you are going to be directing your own short film. But if your script is going to a producer or a director than you must follow the proper script format.
The format will help with the readability of your script.
You can learn the script format by watching the below video or by examining the script of other films.
Once you have written the first draft of your script, its time to show it to your friends and family. Note the feedback you get and observe their reactions. If you feel like there’s something missing, which usually is the case, then go back and start polishing your script.
Remove unnecessary scenes, out of place dialogues, and make sure your script builds the plot and characters properly.