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Directing and writing short films


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#1 robin pront

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Posted 23 July 2007 - 05:48 AM

Hi,

I'm a student filmmaker and next year has to be the one where I make my mini masterpiece.
Although I'm pretty good at writing scripts and coming up with good stories i'm having troubles doing this for short films. You can read as many books about screenwriting as you want, they all apply to feature films. To those who are experienced, how do scripts for feature films differ from short films. A one act structure? Are short films more gimmicky? Shorter scenes? A plot twist at the ending?
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#2 Zamir Merali

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Posted 23 July 2007 - 09:21 AM

The main differences between a short narrative structure versus a long one is the difference in character development and plot complexity. A short film gives you much less time to develop characters which is why most short films normaly have either very one dimensional characters or very cliched characters. Fitting into this stereotype would made life easier to you but that's not to say that every short film have these types of characters, you just need to be extra creative. The second difference is that people have much less patience when watching a short film so every scene needs to be entertaining, contribute to the plot and has to have constant devices to keep the atention. A twist at the end is not necessary but alot of short films have them because they tend to keep the audiences attention. Basically, it boils down to having the audience involved in the story enough so that they have to know what happens at the end and don't mind sitting through the middle.
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#3 Josh Brokenbourgh

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Posted 23 July 2007 - 10:07 AM

The main differences between a short narrative structure versus a long one is the difference in character development and plot complexity. A short film gives you much less time to develop characters which is why most short films normaly have either very one dimensional characters or very cliched characters. Fitting into this stereotype would made life easier to you but that's not to say that every short film have these types of characters, you just need to be extra creative. The second difference is that people have much less patience when watching a short film so every scene needs to be entertaining, contribute to the plot and has to have constant devices to keep the atention. A twist at the end is not necessary but alot of short films have them because they tend to keep the audiences attention. Basically, it boils down to having the audience involved in the story enough so that they have to know what happens at the end and don't mind sitting through the middle.


Best advice you could get really.

When I write shorts I just make sure the basic elements are there- A recognizable character that we can some how connect to, conflict and a resolve. You don't have to think of it like act one two and three. Just make sure that when you read it you can imagine it down to the last detail so when it comes time to convey your vision it is clear to you and your crew.
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#4 Satsuki Murashige

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Posted 23 July 2007 - 05:42 PM

For short films, I think the most important elements are a strong setup (conflict) with an interesting setting and a strong payoff (resolution). I think good shorts are based on good concepts more than original characters because you have just enough time to illustrate an idea but not quite enough to reveal a character with any real depth. In such a short format, you'll probably have to rely on stock character types (the inept reluctant gangster, the cute curious kid, the elderly cantankerous spinster, etc.) so cast actors who can add their own spin to these types and let them improv their actions and prop usage to add more life to the characters.

Try to write a film where these elements are established in a cinematic way (visually, or by juxtaposing visual and aural) as opposed to relying on dialogue or voice-over (this is mainly for reasons of speed and economy -- if you can illustrate an idea faster with words, then do that instead). Cut the fat -- there's no time for scenes which don't further the setup. Try to get as much production value into your film as possible and do a lot of pre-production planning; rehearse your actors extensively, do as much production design as you can, find evocative locations, incorporate camera movement, play with staging and blocking. Try to have a few "money shots" which really evoke the mood or theme of the film in a cinematic way. Have a strong vision of how the film should look and feel and stick to the plan. And most importantly, try to get a talented crew (not just a bunch of warm bodies) to help you out (try your local film schools or recent graduates). These folks can really elevate your project if you listen to them and let them contribute. Don't overschedule your shooting days and take care of your crew.
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#5 Douglas Sunlin

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Posted 23 July 2007 - 06:29 PM

Seems similar to differences between literary short stories and novels.
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#6 Chris Keth

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Posted 24 July 2007 - 12:27 AM

Seems similar to differences between literary short stories and novels.


It is. One key difference is in a short film (short story), you had better be in the meat of the story in a page or so. With a feature (novel) you can take your time and give it 20 pages or more.
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#7 e gustavo petersen

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Posted 24 July 2007 - 02:20 AM

I'd say treat it like a commercial and keep the short film short. Focus your energy and resources on telling a concise story. Also if you plan on sending it to film festivals, you'll have a better chance of making it into several screening if it's short, i.e in and around five minutes. It'll also force discipline on you the concentrate your story on what's essential.

Edited by Eric Gustavo Petersen, 24 July 2007 - 02:21 AM.

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#8 robin pront

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Posted 24 July 2007 - 04:38 AM

All right, thanks for the replies, the're very insightful.
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#9 Bill DiPietra

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Posted 07 August 2007 - 09:33 PM

Just write...
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#10 Greg Traw

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Posted 18 September 2007 - 07:05 AM

I think you are all wrong. Part of the problem with most short films today is that they don't respect the medium itself. I mean how many shorts films have we all seen at festivals that start out with the '...I walked outside and a bird crapped on my shoulder and then I lost my car keys and on and on and on' scenario and then comes the cute, clever ending. I'm sorry, but I not really interested in what's "clever."

What made Chekov's, Poe's and Hemingway's short stories so great is they're all about mood, irony, subtext, symbolism and situation. It's those elements that give the short story its greatest power not classical, linear storytelling on short hand and fast forward.

Well, same goes for the short film... very rarely are they done right.

Edited by Greg Traw, 18 September 2007 - 07:07 AM.

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#11 Matthew W. Phillips

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Posted 18 September 2007 - 12:57 PM

I think you are all wrong. Part of the problem with most short films today is that they don't respect the medium itself. I mean how many shorts films have we all seen at festivals that start out with the '...I walked outside and a bird crapped on my shoulder and then I lost my car keys and on and on and on' scenario and then comes the cute, clever ending. I'm sorry, but I not really interested in what's "clever."


Greg, you are referring to "Slippery Slope" story telling and I do agree that it is usually not the best way to do things, especially in a short film. However, I don't agree that it is a "today" thing and that writers of antiquity didn't do that. Read Shakespear's "King Lear"...it's almost comical (at least to me) how all hell breaks loose at the end in such a short amount of time.

My 2 pennies are that a short film should always begin with the antagonist. Why? Mainly because they are normally the most interesting person. Sad to say, the protagonists are seldom all that interesting on their own. Begin with a strong scene with the antagonist to get the audience interested. If your antagonist isn't a person, but a scenario, start with the scenario that's most interesting and work your way back. Most people I've spoke with would sit through a movie more intently if they have an engaging intro and then go back to get the answers with great interest over watching the film develop up to a climax. I think this is especially true of short films.

I'm sure the differences of opinion are coming... :rolleyes:
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Wooden Camera

Abel Cine

FJS International, LLC

Ritter Battery

Glidecam