It’s amazing how many “How To Write A Short Film Script” blogs there are online, but they’re actually critiques of what your script should be in the end not actually “How” to make it happen!
So the net is full of a load of guys and gals who review things rather than make things, but this blog is different, I’ve been writing scripts since the 80s, have 5 produced feature films, have written for main stream UK TV, commercials, numerous shorts n loads of scripts for scenes etc, special commissions for clients. Which all means I KNOW what it’s like to stare at a blank sheet of paper, to be continuously throwing ideas around in your head but nothing seems to develop the way I want or stick. But it also means I know how to get out of those situations.
Here are a list of simple tips and tricks that will get you rockin’ on your way again to your next script!
1. Knocking Down the Coconuts – stop thinking of your current script as your greatest and the last you’ll ever make!
In this blog I’m going to use a lot of references to other arts since they can be more easily seen there. This first tip goes to my days as a fine artist. From the word go I realised that not every painting was any good. Why would I? How could anyone expect every painting from the start to work? At first it may be one in ten, then 2 out of 10, 3 and so on, it’s like hitting coconuts at a fayre you get better with practice.
So chill out! This isn’t the last script you’re going to write therefore it’s not necessarily going to be your greatest! Relaxing will make it more likely that something will pop out of your subconscious (which is infinitely bigger that your conscious) maybe this one won’t be the best, perhaps it’ll just be OK but not what you regard of as great (but then do you really want to be one of those that people say “yeah their first was great but they’ve been going downhill ever since”?). Having said that maybe what you think as not that great will be something that really pushes someone else’s buttons. I used to write for the popular UK TV series THE BILL, I found the characters dull, their speech trite, the storylines obvious with twists that I thought anyone would spot, but the public loved it!
2. Scripts Are Made Up of Scenes
Don’t try and just sit down and write a whole scripts all at once. Practice first just by writing scenes – screenplays are made up of scenes in the same way as a house is made up of bricks. Would you expect someone to build a house when they haven’t even built a wall? Course not?! You’d start off by building a wall or two, get onto garages, then rooms and so on.
I find what really works well is to go and sit in a cafe or bar and look at the people around you then imagine what they might be saying. Something like this can easily trigger off an idea for a whole film or a great start for a film. A spark you can fan into flame.
To give you an idea about the sort of thing we’re talking about an also to give you some scenes to just get on shooting with I’ve uploaded some 38 single scenes (all copyright free originals of mine). Visit Blog Page
3. Don’t Put All Your Eggs Into One Basket
If you decide on what your film is going to be from the outset you will often find that it’s not going to suit your needs or may go into a block and not just because you’ve run out of ideas either! It may be, for example, that its budget is staring to get high or the story is becoming very complicated – so it’s really a feature film rather than a ten minute short! Or perhaps what you thought was great has now developed into a dead end.
If this happens you’ll end up frustrated and disappointed. When you think of the script you’ll get a headache and the more you try to dig out of it the worse the headache gets! So don’t do it!
A better approach is to not have just one idea. I go for at least 4 preferably 7. They won’t necessarily all be good, or at least appear that way at the start but funnily enough often the ones that appealed least yield the best fruit.
This means that if things start to bog down on your prime script you can take a day off and develop another a little – a really great offshoot of this is that very often ideas from the second script end up unlocking the premiere script! (maybe by giving a great idea for a twist or an unexpected character that adds a new dimension).
4. Work Out Your Characters And Your Script Will Write Itself
The title pretty much say it all. The characters really do have to be solid in your mind before putting pen to paper. You just do this by imagining various movie stars in those roles or what I do is to go back to those cafes and bars I mentioned earlier and indulge in a bit of people watching – just having people around you will rally help you to relax and write anyhow.
This isn’t a new idea by any means, there was an old Italian theatre approach called Comedia dell’Arte which goes back to the 16th century, in which performers specialised in particular characters and would walk into the auditorium where the audience would demand this or that story and the performers would improvise one! The actors’ group had a hero, a villain, a joke character etc., and in fact it was from this root that a formula of what characters should be present in any film should be. So if you look into Comedia dell’Arte and put those characters into a script you’ll be off to a pretty solid footing. You’ll see they have a surprising degree of three dimensionality.
5. Bathe In The Style You Want
Again I’m going to use a parallel artistic truth: If, for example, you want to sing opera you shouldn’t go around singing AC/DC all the time! Likewise if you spend a lot of time watching soaps your scripts will have a soap feel. This also goes for acting – only a very few soap actors ever go onto film acting after. Speaking as a director, I’ve tried and found they’re very locked into not just a single character but also the overall production approach.
What I fin very useful then is to watch a film or two in the style you want to achieve and you’ll be pleasantly surprised how you script swill adopt that style.
6. Write Short Not Long
As well as watching films in the style you want to emulate also watch shorts to get into the short vibe. By far the most common fault I see in short films is the filmmakers trying to say too much, probably due to only watching features.
In fact a short could just be an excerpt of a feature. Going back to my advice on writing scenes first you may well find that a single scene with just a scene or tow added is now an entire sort film. So don’t try to compress a convoluted thriller into 5 minutes! Aim for around 4 scenes.So there you have six tips which if you follow will produce a script, or if you’re already experienced will get you out fo that dreaded mental block which happens to all of use once in a while.
I’m also going to add another technique for generating scripts in a week or two; the “WILDCARD” technique, which is for more experience writers, which I’m sure you’ll enjoy!
In the meantime, there are a couple of books I’d recommend (out of the 1000s on the subject!) the first is The Screenwriter’s Bible – 6th Edition which gives all you need to get your script looking really professional, not just in how it’s laid out but also as to what you should be putting in and leaving out. It’s a great reference source.
The second is Cinematic Storytelling: The 100 Most Powerful Film Conventions Every Filmmaker Must Know this is particularly useful if you’re more used to theatre writing where words say what’s going on a lot more than visuals.
You may know of books you yourself have found interesting/useful. Please let me know of any!
Have a good one! Look forward to hearing your thoughts and comments!