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How to Write a Short Film Script: Ideas and Tips

Let’s talk about short films and how to write a script for one. We will list some creative tips and ideas that you can use in your filmmaking career.

Today we will find out how to write a short horror film, how to write a screenplay for a short film, list some short film script examples, identify the characteristics of a short film format, and give you some short film script ideas.

What are the key purposes of short films in the film industry?

Here are five reasons why you should take a closer look at short films and perhaps fall in love with the art of brevity altogether.

The vision of a director

It is in short films that the director’s authorial style is born, which he continues to develop in his full meters. Short films were shot by such universally recognized masters as Andrei Tarkovsky, Pedro Almodovar, David Lynch, Gaspar Noe, Quentin Tarantino. Despite the fact that their early works lasted not for two hours but for 10–20 minutes, and a unique author’s style is already guessed in these paintings.

Compressed format

In the age of social networks, we are used to consuming information very quickly and in huge quantities. In less than one second, a person understands whether they want to like a photo on Instagram, fluently forms an opinion about the situation in the world according to news headlines, eagerly scrolls the video clip to just catch the general idea. The format of the short film perfectly suits the spirit of the times. Such works last no more than half an hour, although they contain all the necessary elements of a full story: the plot, development, climax, and spectacular finale. In half an hour, you get the maximum experience. This is not 2.5 hours of illegible action about superheroes.

how to write a short film scriptThe role of the producer

The main viewers of short films are producers. They come to film festivals, where they are engaged in the search for young talents. If a producer liked a short meter, they make an appointment with the beginning director and start talking with them about possible filming of a full-length movie. That is how the career of many famous authors began. When viewing short movies, you can feel like a producer and evaluate the potential of each work. Among a dozen mediocre films, you will definitely find one diamond and exclaim, “This is who I would give my money to! If I had them, of course.”

The role of film critic

Since short films are not intended for wide distribution in movie theaters, their directors often allow themselves more daring artistic decisions than their counterparts in full-length films. That is why short films are traditionally considered a stronghold of author and experimental cinema. Among them, you can find works worthy of the attention of the most demanding cinephiles. After a session at the nearest bar, you can compete in eloquence with friends and argue about the strongest movie in the selection.

The atmosphere of a festival

Short film programs are a necessary attribute of the most authoritative world festivals in Cannes, Venice, Berlin, and other major movie screenings. Entries find a way to these contests after a careful selection of program directors. For example, in 2018, only 17 films out of the claimed 2,500 works were selected for the Cinéfondation program of the Cannes Film Festival. When attending short film sessions, you get involved in the world culture of watching movies, become a member of the international community of moviegoers, prepare to relish every short film as an exquisite treat.

Before we find out how to make a short film script, here are some reasons why these films are great for beginner filmmakers.

3 Reasons why short films are important for beginners

Here are the most important reasons why short films are important for beginner film directors.

1. Practicing filmmaking gradually 

You will get the necessary experience by working on short films, and this will allow you to move on to full-scale movies; you will get acquainted with the industry, know how the process of shooting a movie goes, and generally become a lot more comfortable.

2. Developing of your own style and vision

With experience come little nuances and tricks that you will be able to use in the future. You will form your own way of telling a story, find the things you like and dislike, and thus, you will feel more comfortable and confident when shooting a feature-length movie. You will learn to create your own short film script template.

3. Getting a chance to be noticed

By shooting a short film, you will be able to condense your creative ideas into a short video format, and thus, it can end up being appealing to some big wealthy guys in Hollywood who can invite you to shoot a full movie for them. Well, this is a dream scenario, which is quite rare, but you can only become famous by actually making films, and short films are a great way to get noticed.

How to write a good short film: step by step guide

How long should a script be for a short film? What should you know about writing a script for a short film? There are 5 rules for writing a short script:

1. The shorter the better

How to write a short film? A short film is everything that lasts from 15 seconds to 45 minutes. Make your movie shorter to minimize production costs. It’s clear that digital technology gives movie makers freedom, but time is still worth the money, as well as food for the crew. If the rush begins, the film will look amateurish. The film should be cheap, but it should not look cheap! In addition, if you want to send the film to the festival, then try to meet the deadline of 10 minutes or even 7-8 minutes tops. Why? If your film is longer, it will eat more time in the general display, and festivals usually prefer to show as many short films as possible in the required time frame! You can evoke emotions in a couple of minutes.

2. Do not forget about the practical aspects of scripting

Are you interested in short film scripts? There is a good thing about writing short scenarios: you can write anything you want because you don’t have any studio standing behind your back or any obligations. Nevertheless, do not forget about practical issues in this matter. Scripts with scenes of chases, car accidents, and so on are quite common, but many screenwriters do not seem to understand how long such scenes take. It’s better to take the script for a short film as an opportunity to evaluate and calculate how much time and money will be spent on each line you write on paper. Of course, you can picture a magnificent scene with white horses galloping on a moonlit night, but think about whether you have many cowboys or computer graphics specialists you know. If you have modest resources, think less.

3. Visualize

How to write a short film script? “A film is a visual medium.” "Show, don't tell." These are the golden rules of scriptwriting, which scriptwriters do not stop repeating. And still, you have to read scripts that are overflowing with dialogs. Cinema is the storytelling in pictures; it is the most economical way to convey information. And when you shoot a short film, it is all about saving time. Create a visual backstory for your characters. Try to reveal their temperament, profession, status, and everything else through visual images.

4. Find individual moments

How to write a script for a short film? The best shorts are often a separate moment that happens to the hero, but this moment inside hides the real story. What do we mean by hiding a story? We are talking about a conflict that must be resolved, a dilemma that has stood in the way of the hero, a decision that the protagonist must make. Try to add deadlines, the clock is ticking. This is not necessary, but it will add some tension to your plot.

5. Tell a story

How to write a good short film? It is always necessary to tell a fascinating story. Beware of ideas based only on a general concept or aimed at breaking all the rules only to break these rules. A short film is a great opportunity to expand the boundaries of what the film narrative is capable of, but it should still have something that emotionally captivates the viewer. In short, if this is not a super-short story, then there must be a hero in the film who is achieving his goal, and an antagonist who has become an obstacle for him.

5 Examples of great movies that originated from short films

Now that we know how to write a script for a short film, let’s move on.

When a novice director has a good idea, but there is no money for a big movie, they put their idea on the shelf until better times or packs it into an inexpensive short film - not to be lost in the product!

1. Saw

write a short horror film

The details of the legend vary in different sources, but in general, the story is as follows: in the early 2000s, students of the Australian film school James Wang and Lee Whannell wrote and shot the 10-minute horror film Saw. The short film, which became their term paper, was highly appreciated by the teacher, who advised friends to try their hand in Hollywood. That's where they immediately sent their achievements, especially since Wang and Lee Whannell already had a full script in their hands (the course project contained only a piece of it that they managed to remove for their own money). After watching the demo and reading the script, the management of the Twisted Pictures film company immediately got inspired by the idea of ​​cheap horror for direct-to-video production and allocated $1.2 million to partners to implement their ideas.

2. Mama

how to write a good short film

In 2008, Argentinean director Andres Musketti released the short film Mama. The film, which consisted of a single three-minute scene (two girls escaping from a nightmarish creature wandering around their house, which they call Mama), caught the eye of producer Guillermo del Toro and became, in his confession, “the worst thing that he has ever seen." The creepy, without any understatement, scene looked as if it was taken straight from some equally creepy full-length film, and when del Toro found out that there was no such film, he immediately invited Musketti to do it. 

3. Pixels

short film format

In 2010, a video by French director Patrick Jean appeared on YouTube, showing a fresh look at the apocalypse: characters of 8-bit computer games escaping from an old TV thrown into the trash can devour the planet in a few minutes. It was fun, it was fresh, and Hollywood immediately wanted to shoot a full-length film about the adventures of old-school pixels in the modern world. Screenwriters Tim Herlihy and Timothy Dowling composed a story about space aliens using old video games to enslave the Earth, Chris Columbus was recruited for directing, Adam Sandler played the main role, and the budget was no less than 88 million.

4. Hobo with a Shotgun

how to write a script for a short film

The young director Jason Eisener was not on the list of directors invited to shoot fake trailers for Grindhouse - only venerable authors like Eli Roth or Edgar Wright worked on this project, but he managed to make himself known anyway. When the competition for the best amateur trailer in the Grindhouse style was held at the South by Southwest festival, Eisener took first place with the trailer for Hobo with a Shotgun and received an offer to make a full-fledged movie.

5. Frankenweenie

how to write a good short film

Trying to make a career at Disney Studios, young Tim Burton directed the black-and-white short film Frankenweenie in 1984, in which he transformed the story of Frankenstein into a “childish” way. The half-hour tape about the boy, who collected in pieces and revived his beloved dog hit by a car was not appreciated by the studio management (according to the results of the test viewing, the authorities considered the film “too scary”). As a result, Burton was accused of wasting production money and fired. Frankenweenie, on the other hand, remained on a shelf as "unfit for display to children."

Last but not least, watch as many short films as possible. The knowledge of what people are watching cannot be replaced with anything, and you, as a viewer (as well as an author), should think and feel this.