Let’s start with the basics.
What is your story about? Can you explain it in a sentence? If yes, you are ready to write the screenplay. Short films are generally 10 minutes in length. This makes them easy to fit in between feature films in festivals.
Always think of a budget of $0.00. This way you can be realistic and it forces you to write a damn good story. Keep it to no more than three characters, preferably two or one. Really understand your characters. You must know how many hours they sleep a night. Do they snore and what type of toothpaste they use. It’s simple to describe a persona in a screenplay by height, age and such, but that is absolutely absurd. Focus on real-living-breathing people that you know and throw them into your movie. This way you can describe them in detail. To create characters from thin air is virtually impossible, so don’t do it.
Next, think of the location or locations that you will be shooting. Choose no more than two. Remember, it’s a short movie and you only have a few minutes to tell your story. Test the locations for sound, lighting and camera space. You are not shooting anything yet, but merely writing a script. And yet, it’s very important to know the location. By experiencing the location, you can describe it and make it come alive in your writing. Very few people make the location a character, don’t make this mistake. Think Kubrick and the “Shining.”
The last piece of advice I can give you about writing a short-movie screenplay is to know your ending. NEVER change your ending. Work backwards from your finale. The majority of films suck because they never knew the ending. They knew a character, a location or a general idea of a story, but not the last shot. Don’t make this mistake. Know your ending or don’t even begin to write your screenplay.
Oh yeah, before I forget, your first draft will be terrible. Finish the 10 or 15 pages without editing. Sometimes you can do it in one sitting, other times not. If you hit a wall, take a break and do something fun. Return when you are inspired again. Still, don’t edit. Let the screenplay sit for a couple of days before you begin editing. You will have a decent script by the 5th draft. It will never be perfect, so get used to it.
Next—plan the shoot.
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