How do you pack an entire journey of change into a short film?
24. Who likes short shorts?
We’re guessing you’ve heard about the three-act structure a few times if you’re an aspiring screenwriter. But you’ve also been told to avoid a feature script and write a short film at this stage. Are you mightily confuzzled how to pull off a tight structure in so few pages?
We’ve got a few pointers to get you started so you can write any short film with a full structure that will validate you as a ruling screenwriting boss. We won’t lie to you – it isn’t easy. But we want you to do it because it’ll showcase some serious understanding of story and its components.
But just how DF do you achieve so much with so little?
Story of the week
In each episode of a TV show with several protagonists, each has a mini-goal contributing to a much bigger goal to be revealed at the end of the series. Each character arc in every episode gets a beginning, middle, and end. These three components make up the story of the week.
For example, in The Americans, a typical episode might feature the following:
- Elizabeth & Phillip are assigned a mission from KGB headquarters.
- Nina has her own mission extracting information from Agent Beeman.
- Paige tries to investigate her parents and goes on a little journey of her own.
That’s three stories in one 45-minute episode, and a heck of a lot of story juggling. Because there are multiple protagonists, you have to stick to the major plot points, with little in between.
In a feature film, the protagonist can have many scenes gradually heading towards each plot point. Now that’s a spoiled protagonist – we wish we got that kind of special treatment!
In a short film, you don’t have such a luxury; however, it can be somewhat liberating. Some writers who prefer slow-burning character arcs with a more novelistic approach might find major plot points a challenge. Others find big moments easier but get tripped up with the build-up.
Cut the fat
In your short film, concentrate on just the main plot points in your story. It may sound daunting, but when you break your story down like this – confining it to the most important stages to a character’s journey – not only will it be practice for concise storytelling, but you’ll end up with a riveting short film to boot.
Apply this knowledge to any short film you write, and we guarantee the audience will feel as though they’ve been through a satisfying story, complete with beginning, middle, and end – with a strong message woven into the foundation.
The most important reason you should write all your short films like this is so you can practice writing structurally. That way, when the time comes for you to write a longer script, you’ll know the importance and function of structure like the back of your hand.
The best way to learn how the limits of short film can be pushed and experimented with is simply by watching the best of the best. These guys are up-and-coming talents on the top of their game, so take note.
We like short shorts!
Get yourself on Vimeo and watch as many short films as you possibly can. Find award-winning shorts if you can – see what you’re up against.
Watch many different types of shorts too. See what can be achieved in a 90-second story. If you can find them, the Oscars shorts will offer inspiration.
Go back to your opening scenes. Brainstorm all the alternative ideas that could hurl your story into motion faster. Take the most cogent ideas, and update your script.