Tips For Writing A Short Film Script

Making short films is a lot of fun, and can be a great learning experience if you’re new to filmmaking and looking to gain some credits for your portfolio. With accessible and affordable equipment like cameras, microphones, lights, and software, it is also much easier nowadays for independent moviemakers to create their own cinema. For film students, like Nicholas Otto-Bernstein, short projects are also easier to budget — in both time and money — and are invaluable for gaining skills and experience.

One thing all films need, of course, regardless of length, is a great script. If you’re interested in scriptwriting, honing your skills on short film scripts is a great way to learn formatting, industry standards, and how to tell a succinct story in just a few pages.

Simplicity Is Your Friend

Writing a 5 to 10-page screenplay is not as easy as it sounds. Scripts require a specific format that leaves a lot of white space on the page — so you need to keep the action lines concise, the dialogue engaging, and the setting descriptions minimal. Remember, a script isn’t like novel prose. It’s the blueprint for the movie director and the actors.

Yes, you are telling the story — but it’s brought to life by the actors and director and the technical crew. A film is a team effort, and you’re part of the team.

The Fewer The Better

Restricting the cast of characters to a minimum goes a long way to keeping your script short and punchy. One or two principal parts with the majority of the dialogue is a good benchmark. That lets you develop the characters and craft those witty exchanges without getting bogged down in a lot of extras the story doesn’t really have time for.

Save the large cast of eccentric and memorable side characters for your feature script, where they can shine.

Avoid The Prose Pitfalls

It’s tempting to add lots of descriptions or setting details or character thoughts to your action lines to illustrate the story. However, a script isn’t a work of prose fiction, like a novel or short story.

All that matters in a script is the dialogue and the essential, bare-bone details to get the story across. It will be the actors’ job to portray the characters’ inner lives, and the director will work with the rest of the crew to bring make the setting and events seem real.

Keep the details simple and concise, and let the dialogue shine.

Formatting Is Your Friend

You don’t need expensive software to write a script. Many word processors can format screenplays or you can find templates online to help set up macros for formatting.

Headers contain important information such as location, whether it’s interior or exterior, and time of day. Character names are centered and in all caps, making it easy for actors to find their lines on the page.

Ensuring your short film screenplay is properly formatted lets you determine how long it will be (the average is one minute per page). It also helps the production team break the script into locations, and know what time of day each scene is set in.

Screenplay writing is exciting and rewarding, and short scripts are a great length for developing your storytelling and scriptwriting skills.

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