Pulse College advanced diploma in film production

Scriptwriting. Sounds easy right? Especially if it’s going to be for a short film? Well… not exactly.

So, what does it take to write a script for a short film – successfully? There are lots of considerations to take into account and in this post we’ll give you the heads up on the most important ones. And hopefully when it comes to writing the script for your own short film – if you do enough research and put the work in – you’ll nail it!

Focus on the main Message

In a short film – you have limited time. It is very important from the start to get crystal clear what the key message and idea of the film is – that’s the core concept and everything else is subservient to it. You will not have time to develop a very elaborate plot with many characters and their various backstories. For this reason, it’s advisable to avoid sub-plots, back stories and having too many characters.

This short film on Anxiety makes its’ core message very clear:

To get a true sense of the core message, you will have to do your homework… This leads onto…

Research, Research, Research.

Regardless of the length of the production – knowing what you’re going to write about from the outset is key. Asking yourself questions like what’s the story about (the main message above), who are the characters and in particular who is the protagonist, what happens to them, how does it end. Research for scriptwriting is key. This of course takes time but it will be a necessary precursor to getting to the point that you’re actually ready to write – be that keyboard to screen or pen to paper!

Captivate the Audience

How you start is essential in catching the attention of the audience. Have you invoked their curiosity? This is key across any film length but probably especially with a short film where time is so precious. Creating this curiosity is a preliminary key to success.

As Robert Webb, author of the Science of Storytelling puts it ‘ The place of maximum curiosity – the zone in which storytellers play – is when people think they have some idea but aren’t quite sure.’

Professor George Loewenstein who has rigorously studied the psychology of curiosity says – curiosity can be induced by

  1. The posing of a question or presentation of a puzzle
  2. Exposure to a sequence of events with anticipated but unknown resolution
  3. The violation of expectations that triggers a search for an explanation
  4. Knowledge of possession of information by someone else

Often you will naturally interweave 1 or more of these elements into your story. But keep these elements of intrigue  in mind as you put together your short film.

Likewise…how you end the film is also vital. It is the opportunity to resolve the ongoing conflict of the story’s protagonist and whatever antagonistic force that’s getting in their way. If you manage to create a feeling for the audience of being really moved at the end of your short film – this is the ultimate sig of success.

Think Practical

If you are reading this – it’s a fair assumption that you don’t have a million euro budget for production? When creating a short film, it’s very important to keep in mind the limitations (both financially and practically/logistically) that you are facing. You may not be able to recreate that action scene from die hard…but that doesn’t mean you cannot be very creative and produce something worthwhile. You just have to be practical and economical (covered below) in your approach to writing the short film.

Is it going to be worth travelling hours to get that one shot? Well that’s subjective and depends on you… but if you want to actually produce the film in a reasonable timeline – a practical mindset will help.

The short film ‘Different’ makes the most of a simplistic setting and still gets it core message across loud and clear.


Keep it Short

In general – the shorter the better. On average, a short film can be anything from 15 seconds to forty-five minutes. While there is a creative challenge to refining what to put in – it will give you a better starting point. Cut the filler. Does the audience need to see this scene? Again by going back to the first point of focusing on the key message of the film…. A lot of headaches can be avoided and unnecessary content can be edited out.

Brevity in Dialogue

“The most valuable of all talents is that of never using two words when one will do” –Thomas Jefferson.

Following on from the basic premise of keeping it short – the dialogue should also get to the point. When you have limited time – make the words count. It’s ok. to be punchy and to get to the point. If your characters dialogue isn’t moving the overall story forward or revealing pertinent information about them, then you might need to cut it or re-write it entirely.

It’s being practical & making every single word add to the story.

Harnessing the visual

You’ve heard the expression “a picture tells the thousand words”. Well that’s exactly what your film is aiming to do. It’s telling a story. As you strive to avoid overkill on the dialogue – making the most of the visuals is key. It’s also one of the most economical ways to tell that story and illuminate the core message that you want to deliver to the audience.
A characters costume, look, body language, immediate environment – will tell you everything you need to know about their circumstances, status and overall emotional state.

It can say everything without a word being spoken.

Re-Writing & Editing the Short Film

‘A Work of Art is never finished, only abandoned.’ Paul Valery.

Meaning there will always be more to do and tweak. Maybe that one scene should be a fraction longer or a change in dialogue ever so slightly there? The pursuit of perfection in any artistic endeavour is never ending.

That said…

You can and should edit. Ruthlessly. However there will come a point when you have to just do a final cut. Finish! Take a break from the work if necessary and re-edit your edits but sooner or later… just press the proverbial send button (or however you are releasing it) and wrap the project up.

Go through your process. Be wildly creative. Don’t hold yourself back. But when it comes to editing… edit mercilessly. And then – when it’s as good as it can get…release it and learn.

It’s also in this process of creating and gathering feedback that you’ll speed up your learning experience and improve the overall quality of your scriptwriting and films. Embrace the feedback.

Interested in Scriptwriting?

Our Scriptwriting and Screenwriting course is designed to allow your natural story telling talent to shine. This online and intensive bootcamp will teach you how to get your ideas down on paper and turn them into film scripts or proposals with practical exercises and personal feedback from our course tutors.

For more full information on the bootcamp of demystifying scriptwriting check it out here.

Final Words on Writing a Script for Short Film

It is craft and a challenge to create something of value in a short space. You have limited time but that’s the beauty of it. However with the tips above – you will be well on your way to writing your own short film.

If you have any further questions about any of our courses or are asking yourself how to get into the film industry– then please get in contact with us.