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How to: Short Film Ideas

Updated on May 4, 2014


You may not think the difference is that big between writing a short film and a feature film, but the differences are monumentally different. The pacing, the idea, the subject, plot, just about everything between the two are different.

When you are writing a feature film, the plot is built to last for a long time, generally 1-3 hours. There are subplots, lots of characters, a (generally) complex plot, but with a short film, there is none of that.


The Basics

With a short film, you don’t have sub plots, at least not big ones. In a short film you generally focus around one event or one moment. The characters are usually simple, and the idea isn’t meant to be dragged across multiple hours. Foreshadowing is very vague, and the things that are being foreshadowed happen quicker. With a short film, everything is simpler… Kind of…

Sure, there’s not a huge plot that needs to be carried out for hours, but with a short film, you should aim to put in as much content (necessary content) as possible without overfilling it. Make your screenplay/film be the one that is talked about for weeks. Make it re-watchable so it feels like a new experience each time someone lays eyes on your art. However, the idea itself should be relatively simple.


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Coming up with an Idea

To come up with an idea for a short film, start by trying to think of one moment in time. It can be hard, no doubt, but try to have it be very simple yet have a sense of complexity to it. Maybe have the idea be something along the lines of someone is trying to get out of a room. Sounds simple enough, right? But here’s the thing: take that idea and instead of just doing that one thing and focusing on him trying to get out, add some complexity to it. Make him have inner troubles, maybe he’s going insane. For every successful thing he does, try to make an obstacle equal to or more intense than the last one. What your script needs to have is depth. Make there be lots of small quirks in your characters, the plot shouldn’t be first-layer, people should get more than what they expect.

Having trouble coming up with an idea? Then start eavesdropping! Listen in on people’s conversations (but don’t get caught). Maybe you’ll hear someone talking about what they did last week and it sounded interesting to you. Take that and exaggerate it a bit. Then take that and add some depth to your characters/plot. This same thing can be applied to events that happened to you.


Story Time...

Last week I went to a fundraiser that took place in a church. When I went to the bathroom, I accidentally took a wrong turn, opened a door into the wrong room, and walked in. Standing there was a small child. She wore all black, had a bible pressed hard against her chest, and hiccupped every couple of seconds. Without saying anything (being courteous), I turned around and tried walking out the door which I came. The knob, however, was jammed. I turned back around to ask for help, and the little girl who was once there was gone. The hiccups that she had, however, still echoed throughout the room. And here we have an idea for a short story. However, this was also a lie.

Yes, I really went to a fundraiser in church, and yes I actually went to the bathroom, but everything else was 100% made up. But in a story, you can do that. Take things that happened to you and turn that into a story. This wasn’t the best idea, and it may have even been too complex and long. However, you can see how any old event can turn into a screenplay-worthy story.

In Conclusion

If you want to learn how to come up with an idea for a short screenplay/short film, then go online and watch some. My favorite short films are based around really cool, small ideas. So watch a lot of short films and take notes on what they do to achieve their attended meaning.

When it comes to coming up with ideas, keep your eyes open, and don’t be afraid to exaggerate. Make sure to make your ideas simple enough to keep the film short, but add some complexity within your own characters and plot. Know your plot and world inside and out, and you’ll be able to write some pretty amazing short screenplays!


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