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Coming up with ideas for short films


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#1 Daniel J. Ashley-Smith

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Posted 02 June 2005 - 03:11 PM

For some strange reason, I find coming up with short stories harder than feature length stories.

Every time I get a burst of interest to make a film, I always think too big, too big that I can't make it. I've tried making a post on shootingpeople.org for short, fundamental stories, but even then I got loads of scripts which contained shots that would be far too expensive to do.

Not sure if this is the same for everyone or not.

At the moment I've kinda teamed up with some friends from the theatre, hoping they?ll come up with some kind of short story. We have a good arrangement, they come up with the story, and draw some storyboards, and I make it happen using my knowledge and by getting crew.

Does everyone else get this problem? Probably not, considering most people on here are pro-dp's who only get hired to do the job. But... damn.. short stories are hard to come up with.
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#2 Wendell_Greene

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Posted 02 June 2005 - 03:32 PM

You should try writing a screenplay based on short stories you've read from one of your favorite authors. There are some great stories by Edgar Alan Poe, Ray Bradbury, Roald Dahl, and many other lesser known writers which would form the basis for some good short films.
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#3 Daniel J. Ashley-Smith

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Posted 02 June 2005 - 04:07 PM

You should try writing a screenplay based on short stories you've read from one of your favorite authors. There are some great stories by Edgar Alan Poe, Ray Bradbury, Roald Dahl, and many other lesser known writers which would form the basis for some good short films.

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

Yeh I was thinking about doing some kind of kids film, an adaptation of Roald Dahl's stories. Tnx Wendell.

Well, I come up with something since I made this thread. It's a bit naff, and has probably been done a billion times before, but here goes:

---------------------------------------

Family consists of mum, dad and daughter

Stray dog turns up on doorstep, abandoned.

Daughter hides dog away in shed, feeding him everyday, secretly. Doesn?t want her parents to find out she is keeping the dog.

Daughter does things like pretend she?s ill and can?t eat her dinner, but really she is just keeping it for the dog.

Parents eventually find the dog, and go to take the dog to a pound.

Daughter wants to keep dog, but parents won?t let her

Late night, family eating dinner. Daughter says she is not hungry and doesn?t want dinner, but this time she really means it. Parents discuss getting the dog back.

Father doesn?t mind keeping the dog, but mother won?t have any of it.

Daughter gets angry and upset and storms off to bed.

Mother and father have an argument, mother storms off to bed.

Father sits down in chair after argument, daughter walks in.

Father and daughter have a little heart to heart moment, dad makes daughter warmed milk to help her go to sleep.

Next day, collage of scenes. Daughter getting up out of bed, brushing teeth, walking into school, walking out of school, walking home.

On the way home, she hears a dog bark, she turns her head in excitement that it might be the dog she kept, but it was only someone else?s that was being taken for a walk. She looks down again, sad face, and continues walking.

When she gets home, her parents are both in front of her asking her what she wants for her birthday. The daughter says she doesn?t want anything, she just wants the dog back. Parents look at each other, and then look down at the floor, in knowing that they?ll only disappoint her.

The next day, the daughter is again walking home from school. Across the street a friend yells happy birthday, the daughter waves.

She continues walking. In the distant, she can hear a dog barking, she looks up, but doesn?t see anything and looks back down again. She hears it again, but then hears a call, from her dad. She turns around and see?s her dad driving the car and the dog poking its head out the window.

In a burst of excitement and joy, she runs up to the car which is just stopping on the curve. The dog gets out as well as the father, daughter picks up dog and hugs him, she then puts him down and hugs her father. Her mother is seen through the window smiling.

The End

----------------------------------------

Just a fundamental idea... could work I suppose..... (hey stop laughing...)

Edited by Daniel J. Ashley-Smith, 02 June 2005 - 04:07 PM.

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#4 Matt Pacini

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Posted 02 June 2005 - 06:25 PM

I've had the same problem.
I thought it was only me!
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#5 Jordan Brade

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Posted 02 June 2005 - 06:30 PM

I'm having the same problem!

What I want to do is just make a whole bunch of shorts and put them together as one big anthology movie. Unfortunately, ideas aren't coming as easy as I thought they would.
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#6 zrszach

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Posted 02 June 2005 - 07:02 PM

Same here <_< I start writing, and get a little carried away. I have a rough draft of a screenplay that is about 200 pages. haha, not exactly short film material. Even if I do get it down to half that.
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#7 Micah Fernandez

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Posted 02 June 2005 - 09:54 PM

The easiest (and most sincere) place to start with in formulating story ideas is with yourself. What interests you, what is important to you, what experiences in life do you find funny/tragic/scary, who do you find fascinating....those questions should guide you in choosing material to shoot. Once you've found something, think again what in particular (it has to be very specific, or else your project will end up trying to be too many things and failing at all) do you want to write about it. For instance, if you chose the current "War on Terror", will you tell the story from the Iraqi or American side? If on the American side, from a politician's or soldier's point of view? If a soldiers, a commanding officer or a grunt infantryman? If from a grunt, ask yourself again what makes him so special to have you point a camera at him and magnify his experience twentyfold for an audience to see?

What is his conflict? That's the question you, as a writer and a director, should always be aiming to answer. Keep in mind however, that conflict is different from problem, in the sense that it must feature two active forces in that person's situation that threaten to tear him apart if he does not choose one path. Your story for instance, while nice and simple, does not feature a conflict, only a problem.

Sorry for going off into an essay like that, and being quite abstract about it ;) but I believe firmly that the selection of your material is inseparable with your reasons for doing so. Don't worry, stories are numerous and as abundant as the uniqueness of human experiences. :) I hope that helped someone somehow.

Edited by Micah, 02 June 2005 - 09:55 PM.

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#8 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 02 June 2005 - 11:01 PM

Ever heard the saying "sorry I wrote you such a long letter -- I didn't have time to write you one that was short"?

Meaning, it's harder to be shorter. You have to have a REALLY strong story set-up. Basically, it's like writing a one-act play with no subplot and little time spent setting up character.

Probably the best and most famous short films is "Occurance at Owl Creek Bridge". A great set-up: a man is trotted out to be hung by the army. They tie the rope to a bridge, put the noose around his neck, push him off. The rope breaks, he swims away, runs for his life, finds himself approaching his old farm. Sees his wife, runs towards her, suddenly he jerks back, and we cut to his body dangling from the rope tied to the bridge. The entire escape took place in his head the moment he was hung just before his neck snapped.

No dialogue, strong set-up, ironic twist ending, simple characterizations, visual presentation.

Of course, the same could be said for "Bambi Meets Godzilla"...
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#9 robtags

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Posted 03 June 2005 - 01:08 AM

Ever heard the saying "sorry I wrote you such a long letter -- I didn't have time to write you one that was short"?

Meaning, it's harder to be shorter. You have to have a REALLY strong story set-up.  Basically, it's like writing a one-act play with no subplot and little time spent setting up character.

Probably the best and most famous short films is "Occurance at Owl Creek Bridge". A great set-up: a man is trotted out to be hung by the army. They tie the rope to a bridge, put the noose around his neck, push him off.  The rope breaks, he swims away, runs for his life, finds himself approaching his old farm. Sees his wife, runs towards her, suddenly he jerks back, and we cut to his body dangling from the rope tied to the bridge. The entire escape took place in his head the moment he was hung just before his neck snapped.

No dialogue, strong set-up, ironic twist ending, simple characterizations, visual presentation.

Of course, the same could be said for "Bambi Meets Godzilla"...

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>


I love that short film.
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#10 drew_town

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Posted 03 June 2005 - 09:56 PM

Another approach is to distance yourself from plot-driven and character-driven shorts. Many shorts center around ideas and abstracts rather than plots and characters. These I find quite interesting. Poetry and music are strong inspirations for these types of shorts.

I don't really think it's harder to be shorter. You just have to work to the point a little more directly. Shave off the fluff of a feature. Granted a feature project might be more well-rounded and "complete" than a short but I think it could be just as effective. Find the one idea you want to explore and represent it visually.

Watch you some Maya Deren. You should be especially interested in these Daniel since Deren formed the roots of today's music video styles which you admire so much. And that was way back in the 1950's.
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#11 Robert Edge

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Posted 03 June 2005 - 10:49 PM

Daniel,

I guess I'm a bit slow.

I don't have any problem with your scenario.

In fact, I think that Chekov could have made it into a great story. Indeed, I think that Flan O'Brien, who wrote a novel called At Swim Two Birds, could have had some fun with this material.

There is a caveat to that, which is that Chekov or O'Brien would have to have known one thing.

Why did the mother change her mind?

Te answer to that question is essential, because, as you present it, the film is about the mother. You could change the secenario very easily so that the film is about the father or the daugher. But as it stands, it is about the mother, and if that is what you intend, you need to make it so.

With the greatest respect to Mr. Mullen, I think that Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge and what he has to say about it misses the point.

Let me make a couple of suggestions, which you can take on board or ignore as you see fit:

Get yourself a copy of John Gardner's The Art of Fiction. If you have a bit of patience, before you read that book, there is a short novel of his (about 120 pages) that is worth checking out. It is called Grendel. As for Gardner, he is dead. He was killed in a motorcyle accident in about 1985 or 1986. However, there are some people, including myself, who think that the Art of Fiction is the finest book ever written about writing, and who also think that Grendel is a very special book.

Second, I would suggest that you read Rust Hills's Writing in General and the Short Story in Particular. Hills was an editor, perhaps best known for the work that he did at Esquire when the magazine was publishing serious fiction. It is a very short book, and not in the same league as Gardner's, but it is still worth reading. Not in print, but available second-hand.
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#12 Robert Edge

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Posted 04 June 2005 - 12:03 AM

I suppose I should mention that Gardner's Grendel is the story of Beowolf told from the point of view of the monster. And a good story it is....
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#13 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 04 June 2005 - 01:17 AM

Daniel,
With the greatest respect to Mr. Mullen, I think that Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge and what he has to say about it misses the point.

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>


Care to elaborate? I only meant to point out that it was an effective short film.
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#14 Dan Salzmann

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Posted 04 June 2005 - 02:23 AM

I liked Owl Creek Bridge. At school it always seemed to be shown with The Red Balloon.
The one thing about Owl Creek Bridge that is the "it was just a dream" denouement has been so overworked that I find it somewhat irksome.
Just my two cents.
Seems that all short forms are difficult.
In terms of cinematography I find super8 in some ways more difficult to work in than 35mm because there is so much less margin for error in terms of exposure and DOF is difficult to reduce.
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#15 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 04 June 2005 - 02:45 AM

I liked Owl Creek Bridge. At school it always seemed to be shown with The Red Balloon.
The one thing about Owl Creek Bridge that is the "it was just a dream" denouement has been so overworked that I find it somewhat irksome.

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>


Yes, although the "just a dream" cliche is generally used to show that a character was actually in no real danger, negating the conflict presented in the dream and weakening the dramatic effect of the piece. In this case, it is the opposite -- the reality contains the threat and the escape presented in the dream was illusory, which is a lot bleaker in final effect.

But it's true that you can't do that trick too many times...

However, my point is that a lot of memorable short films usually end ironically. I don't know why. While some short films are actually features in miniature, I tend to think of the best short films as being a different art form altogether, just like a good short story is not a novel in miniature.

The worst short films usually begin with the alarm clock ringing and a character waking up in bed, etc. -- not that one couldn't do a good film with this beginning but usually it is a rather unimaginative approach that does not bode well.

The other thing I hate, after seeing it in a slew of USC short films once, is a short film ending with two characters once in conflict shaking hands in friendship (cut to insert of hand extending out in friendship...), with new understanding of each other. I'm all for that in real life, but I can only see that message played out a few times in a row of shorts before I'm sick of it.
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#16 Wendell_Greene

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Posted 04 June 2005 - 08:52 AM

However, my point is that a lot of memorable short films usually end ironically. I don't know why. While some short films are actually features in miniature, I tend to think of the best short films as being a different art form altogether, just like a good short story is not a novel in miniature.

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>



IMO, this is why so many episodes of Rod Serling's "The Twilight Zone" were so memorable; the teleplays were based on really good short stories.
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#17 Jeremy Montana

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Posted 07 June 2005 - 02:47 PM

I am the complete opposite of your scenario, and as a matter of fact I struggle endlessly with working out an idea that can encompass an entire feature. Most of my ideas are perfect for 2, 5, 10, or 20 minute films but are otherwise not maleable or epic enough to stretch to 2 hours.

Too be entirely forthcoming, I love short film. I love being able to sit someone down who has agreed to watch/critique, and see them react to the ironic twist or curious ending. Short, sweet, and chock full of meaning, a well made short can be.


I only mention this in order to show there are people in a different boat, but we still need to paddle.
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#18 Phil Rhodes

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Posted 07 June 2005 - 05:31 PM

Hi,

I can't write shorts; they always end up 30-40 pages.

But if I write a feature, it'll never be produced.

I give up.

Phil
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#19 Josh Bass

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Posted 07 June 2005 - 07:55 PM

I get a lot of ideas, and follow through with very few of them. I see things on TV that piss me off, and make me want to parody them, or I see something in real life that makes me want to take it, exaggerate it, and make a story out of it. Sometimes a simple event, or phrase, or something triggers an idea (3/4 of my stuff starts out with "what if there was a guy --insert quirk here---?"). How 'bout commercial parodies? Short, many opportunities to do cool cinematography stuff, and you have the idea right there. Just twist it.
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#20 Ronald Carrion

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Posted 06 January 2011 - 04:36 AM

I wanted to make a short movie based on "Arena", the classical science fiction story. But then, I found it very hard to do : the guy is talking to himself all the time (thinking), and the planet he is in has blue arena.
I started with the adaption based in what I had and could achieve: instead of one guy with voice over, two guys, so they can talk to each other and jump to conclusions. And, not a planet with blue arena anymore, but a desert full of dunes.
Let's see.
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