Useful Tips To Writing Short Films

Why write short films?

Short films are unique cinematic beasts and it would be foolish to simply consign them to mini-movie or starter movie status. They are more than stories that weren’t big enough to achieve feature status. They’re also a great way for aspiring screenwriters to become produced screenwriters.

Short films and web series are still a great way for emerging filmmakers to hone their craft before graduating to making a feature film or TV show. They are a great way to establish your cinematic style and voice.

Short films can be precursors to feature length movies either as teasers or contracted stories, but they ultimately need to stand alone.

Dramatically, short films contain the same three act structure of feature films. There is a setup, conflict/main action and conclusion. However, the number of story beats in short films are severely compressed. Get straight to the point.

If you’re making a short, aim for a length of under 10 minutes (sometimes as long as 20 minutes) and under 5 for online films. Programmers will thank you for it. Audiences may also keep watching until the end.

Genre-wise, comedy shorts tend to be the most popular. Action shorts, come a close second and drama shorts third. Animations also do well now that the cost of producing them has dramatically fallen.

Grandiose epics, scifi sagas and period pieces are rarely done justice in short film formats.

Keep the story time frame short. Establish the story world quickly (on the first page) and move on without having to explain the entire backstory or every story beat in explicit detail. Trust your audience to fill in the gaps. Keep exposition to a minimum.

Voiceovers/ Billboards can either speed up narrative or slow down your short film. Use them wisely.

Be cognizant of the significantly reduced cinematic real estate in short films. Short films need to get to their thematic core, quickly and clearly. Make sure there is only one theme.

Keep your character list short (no more than 3-4) and your theme singular and bold. Get to the point. Remove all unnecessary characters.

Avoid too many plot points, subplots, twists and reversals. These can be omitted altogether. Short films generally can only sustain a main plot.

Avoid large chunks of dialogue in your short film scripts. This rule is even more important than in feature films. Use more visual queues such as a look, a gesture or physical object. Audiences process this information much faster than verbal queues.

Short films are generally exhibited in film festivals, online, mobile media and less frequently, television. The time frame of shorts ranges from one to 30 minutes. The upper end of the scale is a mini-feature of around 30 minutes.

End on a major story beat such as a twist, pun, surprise or major climax.

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3 Comments Add yours

  1. Here in Brazil I know a lot of film makers!
    I’ll spread these tips to them!
    I recently posted about short films in my blog –
    Feel free to leave a comment, our even a tip! I’ll really appreciate it!

  2. Saif Azmi says:

    Gideon this is great, i’m going through hell trying to write my short which is based on a true event, and is somewhat political in nature.

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