Short films featuring stories that roughly run five to thirty minutes in length are one way for new writers to introduce themselves to the film industry. This post, based on Raymond G Frensham’s book, Screenwriting, discusses the shorter film format and offers some guidelines.
Writing for short films requires different skills from the writer to those demanded by normal length versions. Like the short story, the short film is one of the most difficult formats to master, demanding precision, economy and compactness on the part of the writer.
1. One of the most important things to understand about short scripts is that the idea should fit its space. A short is not a longer story squashed to fit the allocated time. It’s not a sketch forcibly stretched to fit its format, nor is it a promo for some longer version of a future project.
2. The cardinal rules of screenwriting, such as making every sentence count and showing, not telling, are even more crucial in the shorter format. The writer has only a few pages to tell the story. Economy of form and execution are paramount. Swoop straight into the world and life of your protagonist. Explore a some crucial incident in your Hero’s life, which explains, informs and defines the wider story.
3. A twist in the tail tends to be more difficult to pull off in the short story format, since misleads and red herrings are less in evidence. Also, readers and audiences have grown wise and cynical in equal measure and are likely to predict all but the best crafted endings. So, look out for that.
4. Humour tends to work well in the shorter formats too, as long as it is not used as a sketch substitute.
The opportunities for producing short films are far more plentiful than they are with the longer formats. National and international TV stations often have slots for such shorter formats, not to mention the ubiquitous opportunities for showcasing work through the internet on sites such as YouTube. Despite denials, industry executives still see the short film as an opportunity to showcase their ability to make their first feature films. So should you.
The shorter film format requires a different approach to that of the feature script. This post briefly looks at some of these differences.