Short films are unique beasts and it would be foolish to simply consign them to mini-movie status. They can be precursors to their feature length counterparts either as teasers or contracted stories, but need to stand alone dramatically.
Shorts are generally exhibited in film festivals, online, mobile media and less frequently, television. The time frame of shorts ranges from one to thirty minutes. The upper end of the scale is a mini-feature of around 30 minutes. Aim for under ten minutes and under five for online films. Programmers and audience will thank you for it.
Be cognizant of the significantly reduced cinematic real estate in short films. Keep your character list short and your theme singular and clear.
Short films need to get to the point, quickly and urgently.
Do away with subplots and too many plot twists. However, you can add subtext to communicate vast emotional terrain in minimal screen time.
Don’t rely on dialogue too much. Visual queues are much faster for audiences to grasp.
Genre-wise, comedy shorts tend to be the most popular. Action shorts, a close second and drama shorts third. Grandiose epics and sagas are rarely done justice in short film formats.
Dramatically, short films contain the same three act structure of features. There is a setup, conflict/main action and conclusion. However, the number of story beats in short films are severely compressed.
Keep time frame shorter. Keep exposition to a minimum. Establish the world quickly and move on without having to explain everything in explicit detail.
You don’t have to explain entire backstory. Audiences are dropped in the world and learn to swim immediately.
Voiceovers/ Billboards can either speed up narrative or slow it down.
Most short film writers plan to produce their own films. They are therefore good precursors to emerging film makers.