How to write a Script for a short film
So, you want to write a screenplay for a short film. The number one priority in script writing is to be prepared and organized.
I class short films into two categories 1 to 10 minutes in length and 11to 45 minutes in length and there are different methods depending on the length of the film. Ahead of time you must have an idea of the story and how complicated your story is. By that I mean how many characters and locations.
To be honest I’m not a fan of 1 to 5-minute short films because I look at them like they are long TV ads, it is very difficult to create a plot with a conclusion, and it is always very difficult to flush out the characters personality, of which I am a strong believer.
Plan your script
However, it is possible to do this because in all scripts whether one-minute or forty-five minutes you must have three main elements. And these would be the first act, second act and third act. The first act is setting up the script, the second act is the conflict and the third act is the resolution. So, as I said it’s very difficult in a short script to get the message across.
I am a filmmaker in that I am a scriptwriter, director and producer. Every screenwriter should be imagining their script on the screen and I’m sure that is the gaol of most screenwriters. I write scripts for the audience, so that the audience will enjoy watching the film. You must detach yourself when writing a script and solely be open to no personal feelings or attachments. Remember this screenplay is generally about a fictitious situation and fictitious characters. Of course, you can take stories from your friends and family, watching TV and life in general, but it is still not completely real, otherwise it would be a documentary.
The shortest screenplay I had written, and it was my second script, was 15 pages in length, and that film was called “Hello Tom Sullivan”, so that accounted for approximately 15 minutes of film, including closing credits, on the screen. One page of dialogue and action equaling one minute of film. You will need to keep this in mind when writing your screenplay because someone, and usually a producer or director, will read it. They will want to know how many locations the script has, how many characters and also how many pages in the script.
The reason they want to know this is because it’s all about the budget. The more locations you have the bigger the budget needed, and the longer setting up time for the scenes to be shot. Of course, if the producer and/or director has access to free talent, which is usually the case with short films, and crew and equipment then everything becomes easier. But nevertheless, someone has to pay even if it’s for feeding the cast and crew.
Why am I talking about this when I’m writing this blog about screenwriting only? Well because if you want your script to be produced you have to think like a producer and have as little locations as possible in your script. It is not that easy. They do this with low-budget horror films and that’s why you only see the film shot sometimes in one location only. LOW BUDGET!
These are the most important elements in script writing software for your short film.
Synopsis – it is important to write a synopsis, which is pretty much telling the story. It’s not every time that you will write a synopsis as an example of my short film, “Hello Tom Sullivan”, which I wrote sitting in bed at 8 AM on a Sunday morning and I had it completed by 1 PM the same day without a synopsis. This script was 15 pages in length. This screenplay included characters and storyline. Sometimes you hear about singer-songwriter’s writing a hit song in a matter of hours and it just flows. That is the only time though this has happened. Length – As I mentioned before the length of the script needs to be considered. It’s not imperative but be aware that your script will be made into a film, hopefully. But you can always just write and see where the story takes you. That’s’ why we have script editors to condense screenplays.
Characters – I won’t say that characters is the most important element in a script but it is close to the top of the list. I have noticed in many short film scripts I have read that the author tends to only use first names.
Even with my short films the character has an age, an appearance, colour of hair and a first name and surname. They also have work, or college, or hobbies and they have a certain type of lifestyle. I do this for believability in each character, and it helps me to form a full rounded character. This is not to say that all of these elements need to be listed in the script, but it does help when your script moves to casting. In the script of course the character. with dialogue, will only have a first name most of the time. I can’t stress to you enough the importance of having this firmly in mind when writing the screenplay.
Locations and action – This is always very interesting to me. You set the heading location and then underneath that you have action. In this section I always add not just the action taking place, but also the elements in the scene. Again this helps everyone to understand what is going on in the scene.
For instance, if Joe is walking through a door into a lounge room and meets Elizabeth, they exchange pleasantries. Elizabeth offers Joe a drink of wine. This is what most short films would have.
In my script as a screenwriter I would have Joe walking through a door into a lounge room and meets Elizabeth, they exchange pleasantries. On the dining room table there is a bottle of red wine with two wine glasses. Elizabeth pours Joe a glass of wine and one for herself.
This sets up the scene as Elizabeth was expecting Joe and no one else because there are only two wineglasses. The wine is red which to me symbolizes friendship or relationship and warmness. There is more work doing it this way, but the screenwriter in this scene has set a mood. It’s much easier to write for characters if there is a mood that has been set. The mood always takes place in action and some of the best moments captured on film is when there is no dialogue and just a feeling, and the audience will respond to this.
Remember this is a visual medium and you can create outstanding moments without dialogue.
Write a script for your audience.
Acts – All screenplays have three acts, whether they are short or long films. The first act is setting up the story. The second act is the resulting conflict in the story and the third act is the resolution. All three acts can vary in page length, however for a balanced screenplay the page lengths for all acts should be similar in length. When talking about feature scripts there are exceptions to this rule. Action scripts generally have conflict right from the beginning and continues throughout the film, but they do have sub plots. Some of them! Horror generally has a long third act and is usually part of scene two and conflict. Drama generally has all three acts of a similar page length.
Having said that writing is creative, and the rules are meant to be broken.
With shorts I would try and keep all acts of a similar length as you only have a short time to tell a story. So, you need a resolution, or the audience will walk away wondering what the whole film was about.
I have tried most of the screenwriting apps available including, Final Draft, Celtx, Writer
Duet, Studiobinder and Fountain. After using these apps I came to the conclusion that I
wanted a great screenwriting app that would allow me to just write with no distraction.
So, I developed the screen writing app SPSCloud.
Author David M. Raynor
Multi international award-winning Writer, Director, producer.
The founder and CEO of SPSCloud screenwriting apps.