Gerald Hanks Filmography

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Selling Short: 5 Screenwriting Tips for Writing a Short Film

So you've spent months, or even years, working on your first feature-length screenplay. You've created outlines, developed character profiles, and broken down each scene. You've written and rewritten and polished and tweaked until your script has the shine of a new car and the sizzle of bacon on the stove.

The problem that you may have encountered in getting these scripts made into films often arises from forgetting the primary purpose of a screenplay. The script must serve as the blueprint for a film that an audience will go out and watch, not as a work of literature they will sit down and read. Even the lowest-budget feature screenplays require thousands of dollars, hundreds of hours and dozens of workers to assemble into a film.

However, you can hone your craft and build an audience by writing scripts for short films. Numerous short films use aspiring directors, up-and-coming actors and hard-working crew members to tell well-crafted stories in a wide range of genres. Here are some tips on how to approach writing your short film script.

Screenwriting Tip #1: Start With a Bang

Just like with a feature film, you want to start with a memorable opening image. The opening image serves to pull the audience into the world of the film while also establishing how that world works. In a feature film, you have more time to build the world and ease the audience into it. In a short film, the opening image has to pull the audience by the hand and establish time, location, character and situation all at once.

Screenwriting Tip #2: Keep It Simple, (Not) Stupid

Most short films operate on highly limited budgets, with very few locations, tight filming schedules and minimal special effects. You can still write a successful short film by using these limitations to your advantage, rather than viewing them as restraints on your creativity. A skilled writer can still tell a powerful story in ten minutes, without relying on exotic locales, extraneous effects, or an excessive budget.

Screenwriting Tip #3: Show, Don't Tell

Although many writing teachers have employed the phrase “show, don't tell” to the point of cliché, the idea behind it is an essential part of screenplay writing. In short films, you don't have time for characters to go off on long soliloquies or navel-gazing monologues while the audience waits for the next story beat. 

Instead, you should focus on how to get the characters to show their desires, fears and conflicts by using the least amount of dialogue possible. This approach makes your scripts shorter, the action more concise, and the tasks for the director and actors much easier.

Screenwriting Tip #4: Be Quick, But Don't Rush

On the other side of the coin, many first-time writers of short scripts attempt to tell the story as quickly as possible. The downside to this approach is that they rush through the action and skip through too many story beats. You should find the quickest method to establish each point in the story, without skipping over any essential information the audience needs to understand the characters.

Screenwriting Tip #5: What Happens Next?

You should end the script at a point where the action during the film has changed the character and has the audience asking, “What happens next?” In too many instances, short film screenwriters don't know how to create a memorable ending. Since short films frequently don't allow for noticeable character arcs, writers often get frustrated and reach a stopping point in the story.

Since making short films is typically much easier and cheaper than the same process for features, writing for short films often can establish your reputation as a screenwriter more so than writing and submitting unproduced feature screenplays. Many young directors and actors actively seek out talented writers to help them develop their ideas into scripts, which they can use to launch their own careers. 

Producers, studio executives and agents can make the time to watch a ten-minute short film on YouTube or another video sharing site, where they would not clear two hours out of their schedule to read your feature-length script. Short films also show the powers-that-be that other talented people have invested time, money and effort into bringing your ideas to life, which can influence them to follow suit.

If you want to learn how to create a compelling short script with dynamic characters, contact us at StoryIntoScreenplayBlog [at] gmail [dot] com. You can also follow us on Twitter and Like us on Facebook. We can work with you in turning your concepts and ideas into dynamic screenplays that can get the attention of agents, managers and producers.

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