Short film screenplays question



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  • Short film screenplays question

    Most of the discussions on this board deal with spec script writing or adaptations, and for good reason. But I'm asking of those experienced writers on the boards... have you written screenplays for short films? You know, the type of films that are seen at Sundance, etc.???

    Are there any pointers you can give?

    I'm contemplating writing a "short". I may also produce and direct it. I think that it would at least provide valuable experience with the filming process. I'm just itching to kick start my career, and can't wait to shop my spec scripts. I just have to be proactive and do something now...

    Thanks again for your help and input...
    Writer / Director available for your project.

  • #2
    Re: Short film screenplays question

    I have written and directed a bunch of shorts, and even won some awards for them. I've also been on film fest juries where I had to watch and judge hundreds of short films. If you haven't read my Raindance Diary on my website message boards - I reviewed almost *every* short I saw at the festival, and some of the things I said there may be helpful...

    Raindance Jury Duty:

    There's also a book by Frederick Levy on breaking in with short films. I saw one of his presentations (I think at Santa Fe) and many of the things he says I agree with...

    1) Keep it short. Frederick says keep it at 10 minutes or less, and I agree. My friend John enters these 24 hour film challenge things, where the movie has to be 3.5 minutes or less... and all of his films are *too long* at 3.5 minutes. Get in, get it done, get out! Don't over-stay your welcome! Programming films is easier if the film is 10 minutes or less, and that means your film ends up in more festivals. Also, less time to get boring. Ten minutes is a really long time.

    2) All of my shorts were set ups & punch lines... and not all were funny. I did a short called UNTIL PROVEN GUILTY about a pair of detectives on stake out who chase a guy with a bunch of bags who runs out of a department store during a payroll robbery. Much of the film is a foot chase. Ends with one detective savagely blowing away suspect *after* he gives up. They look in bags... stolen merchandise! The payroll theives got away, and they just killed a shoplifter. That's a punchline.

    You want some sort of ironic twist at the end if you're writing a serious story, or a big laugh if it's a comedy. You don't want that SNL peter out end. The structure of many shorts is set up and punch line - kind of like a 10 minute (or less) TWILIGHT ZONE episode.

    3) Levy says do a parody - those get passed around town like crazy. I've seen a half dozen BROKEBACK take offs, so I guess that's true.

    4) Use mystery! I saw this great short at Temecula called COUSIN OF SLEEP about this guy who has to get his stuff back from his GF's place - and all of their friends talk about why she did it... and you think it's about breaking up, but what they're saying is a little confusing... you know there's something you're missing and keep trying to figure out what *really* happened... ends up (punchline) she killed herself! But the mystery of what happened kicks off the film.

    5) Don't wimp out. You have less time to tell your story, so make it extreme. Give us a 2 hour experience in 10 minutes.

    6) The opposite of #5.... I read a friend's short script - and he has a hooker shoving a poodle in a microwave and blowing it up. You know, I don't want to see that film. Don't make a film that's just plain sick. You want something concentrated and emotional, not sickening.

    7) Keep it simple. You probably aren't paying people, so keep cast and locations at a minimum. I did a film called LAUNDRA-MATT about a guy doing his laundry. I cast my friend, and paid for his actual laundry. Shot in a day at the landramat. I did a film called PSICKO! about a husband and wife who keep trying to kill each other during a meal - two cast members, one dining room... and an electric carving knife! Small casts are best. One location is best. Too many people and places make it complicated - and things are bound to go wrong.

    I did a film called FIST FULL OF MOZERELLA where I had a big cast and a lot of locations, and the day I had the most supporting actors show up was the day my lead flaked. I had to shoot his costume draped over a paper bag I'd brought the props in. Over the shoulder shots of every one else... then later I shot his close ups and cut it together. Lesson learned - figure out a way to shoot the whole thing in one day.

    Hope that helps.

    - Bill
    Last edited by wcmartell; 03-08-2006, 07:49 PM.
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    • #3
      Re: Short film screenplays question

      Wow. Thanks WC. I figured I could count on you.
      Writer / Director available for your project.


      • #4
        Re: Short film screenplays question

        Thanks for posting the link to that Raindance blog, Bill, interesting read.


        • #5
          Re: Short film screenplays question

          Bill, how goes the SOAS rewrite? When will we see the new book?
          "This is insane, he has space dimentia" - a line from Armageddon


          • #6
            Re: Short film screenplays question

            I enjoy writing shorts. It's like the "wham bam thank you, ma'am" of screenwriting. Quick, intense and satisfying.

            it's not rocket surgery


            • #7
              Re: Short film screenplays question

              Have a great concept behind it.

              Keep it to 5/6pages (IMO 5 mins is the magic number).

              Write a great story, and within the limits.

              Have a great twist ending!