Why Am I Making This
• Short films are often made as tools to
develop your skills as a filmmaker, and to
prove your ability to make feature films.
• You must make sure that, whether you are
working in a team, or by yourself, the film
you are creating plays to your advantages,
and most importantly, works within your
What is a Short Film?
• Firstly, it is not a good idea to try and fit a story for a feature into a short. Short films only
have time to explore a single idea. However, this can change depending on how short the
film is. If your short is more than 20 minutes then there’s a good chance you’ll be able to
deal with more characters and a secondary story strand.
• The majority of festivals accept anything under half an hour as a short. Most programmers
and curators, unfortunately, find it hard to place shorts over 20 mins.Also, most funding in
the UK goes towards films that are around 10 minutes in length.
• If the film you are making primarily acts as a joke then try not to make it any longer than 3
minutes. Plus, films like this give a much better impression when they get us to think as well
as make us laugh.A good example of this in Christopher Nolan’s short film Doodlebug
which manages to to get a laugh, but also shows a filmmaker interesting in exploring deeper
Finding the Story
• There are three basic elements needed for any dramatic story:
a world, a character, and a problem.
• Short films still require these, but just don’t have as much time
to establish and develop each one of these elements.Therefore,
the more successful shorts use one pivotal point in one main
character’s life as a focal point.
• Before you start exploring the character’s problem you must first form a world that is easily
recognised.Therefore, it can come in handy to use a familiar event such as a wedding, a birthday,
or christmas day.
• With a setting like this you can assume the audience’s familiarity with the event, and you have
instantly put your characters into a world filled with barely suppressed emotions.This always
helps when creating dramatic tension and story events, as well as giving the story a finite time
• The journey is another setting commonly used in short films.This is where the film focuses on
a significant event in the main character’s life so the character gets taken on a metaphorical
emotional journey, but it often works well when a literal journey is used as the setting also.
The Character and the
• The five most important questions you should ask yourself whilst developing you story are:
Who is the main character? What is their problem? How will the audience recognise the
problem? Are the stakes high enough? Am I telling the story from the best point of view?
• The audience has to know who the film is about from the very start, and they won’t know if
you don’t know.The main character has the problem. If your character doesn’t have a problem
then you don’t have a film that works as a dramatic narrative.
• You must also identify what is driving your main character through the story.The drive should
be either a want, a need, or an obligation.Whatever is driving your character needs to be
obvious to the audience.
• As well as a drive, there also needs to be an obstacle stopping your character from going after
their want, need, or obligation.This obstacle creates the problem.
• Commonly the problem comes from inside the character, for example they are shy, or insecure.
This explains why a lot of shorts focus on children, or teenagers, because their age and lack of
experience of the adult world gives a brilliant source of problems recognised across the globe.
Making Problems Manifest to
• A vital way in which to show your talent as a filmmaker is to turn your character’s internal
problem into the film’s centre, and to do it in such a way that it is easily seen by your audience.
• In films we rarely hear what a character is thinking.Therefore, we must see the character doing
things that suggest what they are thinking and feeling.
• A great example of this is at the end of Lynne Ramsay’s Gasman when the young girl picks up
the rock with clear intent to throw it at the other little girl and her mother. However, she
drops the rock, suggesting many different, and contradictory feelings the girl has: anger at the
other little girl and her mother; fear of competing for her father’s love; yearning to have a sister.
Are the Stakes High
• The audience must know what is at stake,
and what the character could lose if they
do not overcome their problem.
Am I Telling the Story from
the Best Point ofView?
• The meaning of the story can take many different forms depending on which character tells it
and what happens to them at the end.
• You must make sure that your meaning works well with your mains character’s journey.
• You should stick to one main character. If you switch character’s half way through then your
audience will not be able to identify with either, and, therefore, weakening the overall impact of
What Does My Story
• To get a hint of what your meaning will be you must
first know how your story begins and finishes.This
helps you with crucial choices as you start to develop
The Tone of the Film
• Tone closely connects with genre.Although genre isn’t as big an
issue in short film than in features, it is useful to understand
what you’re writing in general.
• Shorts do not have the time to shift between tones. It will
simply make the audience agitated.
• The tone is made clear from the way each element backs the
• Choices from the director, production designer, composer etc
help to create this tone. However, the tone is first suggested at
by the script.
• When developing a story it is common for people to go through many drafts.
• A good way to help you develop your story is to let friends read your script, and then question
them. However, it is best to use simple open question to make sure they’ve understood it. If
they are having trouble with your script it is likely there is a problem with it.
• Another good way to check the strength of your story is by pitching it in under one minute
using this 10-point plan:Title;Genre/Tone;Setting (time and place);Main
character;Want/need/obligation;Opposition;Catalyst for change; Climax; Resolution; and And
the audience feels... (theme).
• This exercise shows you what the important facts you must make clear, and subsequently show
the audience so that they understand your story.
• If you are finding this exercise hard then it means you have too much plot and/or characters in
• Check through your script and make sure that every character serves a purpose.
Unity and Causality
• Unity: Each scene need to show something which
boosts our knowledge of the character and their
• Causality: Every scene should advance the story so
that what happens at the end could in no way have
happened sooner-every scene that comes before the
end leads up to that final moment.
The Step Outline
• Another effective way of testing your film is by writing step outlines on large filing cards. Use
only one card for each scene and write one each card:A one sentence summary of what
happens;what is revealed that is crucial to the plot;what is revealed that is crucial to the
audience’s knowledge of the characters;any suggestion of an important theme.
• There could be a few short scenes that only establish place and time. However, every scene of
significant action should be working to provide something on either plot, character, or theme.
Once you’ve written the cards then see if you can combine scenes to make them work better,
or lose some entirely.
• You should then decide the best order to tell the story. If you are at the start of your career
then you have a great opportunity to take risk that may never be available again.Therefore, you
should seize those opportunities to be unique, an innovative. However, if your story simply
works better as a straightforward linear narrative, then don’t play around with non-linear
structures just because you can.
• Your talent is proven best through your visualisation of your story, and the quality of
performance you get from your cast.
Remember it’s a Film
• Once you know you have a good story you must make it
• To do this you need to: make the world and characters clear to
your audience as quickly as possible and with as little dialogue as
possible;Use both visuals and sound (use sound in inventive ways
for more impact, and sound can also suggest a whole world
outside of the frame which you cannot afford to film);Establish
your tone;Your main character must always be performing some
activity;Try to show a change in your character rather then reveal
it through dialogue;Cinematic devices such as parallel action help
build tension and advance the story;Always go back to your step
outline to make sure everything that is important is made clear to
your audience visually.
The Final Words
• Dialogue should be the last thing you write, and
usually the less of it you need for the story to be told
the more cinematic your film will feel.
The Audience for the
• You need to remember that your first audience is a reader of the
script, one of which may be able to begin the process of funding it.
• So you must do everything possible to make sure the reader can
visualise your film as they read it.To do this you should follow screen
writing conventions (these can be found on websites such as
• It is always helpful to read other scripts to become more familiar with
way of conveying action and tone in the script.
• Lastly, you should stay away from writing camera directions, and things
going on inside the character’s mind that the audience can’t see.