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7 Tips For Writing A Short Film

Writing a short film can be as difficult as writing a full feature. Developing your characters while also getting your story in a short timeframe told can be tricky, but not impossible. Here are some tips to help you create an amazing short film script while keeping your budget tight. Remember, if you’re a fan of writing, be sure to sign up for a free account and join our Crew List! Now, let’s start with tip #1.

1. Keep it Short

Short films can range from seconds to forty five minutes in length. Make your short film script as short as possible because the shorter the short, the less costly it will be to produce. It has to be cheap but you should be the only one who knows that, not your audience. If you want to get your short into a festival, then keep it to no more than ten minutes, which is usually 7-8 pages maximum. 1 page = 1 minute of screen time. Keep in mind that you have to have credits!

2. Keep it Tame

Don’t discard the practicalities of writing your script, you’re not going to have the budget for everything. I have read scripts with pages of chase-action scenes and car crashes, and many writers seem not to realize how time consuming and expensive it would be to actually shoot it. In fact, see the writing of a short as an opportunity to become more aware of what each line you put down on paper implies and costs. If you only have access to modest resources, think small. Write for locations that are interesting yet practical, think of access and control, and avoid remote locations requiring driving for miles.

3. Make it Visual

Film is about telling stories in pictures, which is the most economical way of telling a story – and when you make a short film, economy is everything. Create visual backstories for your characters. Externalize through visual images their temperament, their profession, their status, etc.

4. Find Single Moments

The best short films are often a single moment that is played out, but one that has a story at its heart. What do I mean by story? I mean a conflict that has to be resolved, where there’s a dilemma at stake and a choice that the protagonist has to make. Add some tension to your short film. Give your audience something to talk about once your film is over.  Leave an impact.

5. Get Your Story Told

You should always try to tell a compelling story. Short films are a great opportunity to push the boundaries of what cinematic storytelling can do, yet they must still engage your audience emotionally. A short film should have a hero with a goal and an obstacle/antagonist in the way. It’s the most basic but a very essential part of storytelling. 

6. Engage Your Audience

Since you have so little time to make an impression the impact of page one is crucial, just as it is crucial to hook the reader in the first 10 pages of a feature length script. What is the world of the film? Do we root for the main character? Does the world and story of the film feel authentic? The ending is also essential as it’s rare to truly feel moved at the end of a short, so work towards a meaningful, satisfying ending. Remember, make your viewers want to discuss the film after they watch it. That way you’ll sell more seats/get more views when they inevitably tell their friends.

7. Avoid Cliches

There are many clichés in films. We’ve all seen them thousands of times. Write what you’re familiar with and what resonates with you rather than writing something you borrowed from other films. Don’t shy away from small stories. Short formats are the perfect vehicle for them and you won’t often get the opportunity to tell small stories as a professional writer.

What Shorts Have You Made?

Share your shorts in the comments below! Even better, head over to our Local Films Submission page and get your film promoted on our site for free!

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