Need help developing short film ideas?
This article lists 13 ways to generate script ideas with advice on what factors to consider before writing your screenplay.
There are so many aspects of making a film - but before you can daydream about the cast or what camera to shoot on you need a story.
After all, that is what filmmaking is all about telling stories.
Development is the first stage of making a film. Enjoy the calm whilst you can, idea-generating and script development is one of the most creative parts of the filmmaking process.
This article is a sequel to my popular post short film script ideas.
13 Ways To Generate Short Film Ideas
There is plenty of advice out there on how ‘generate’ film ideas. Screenwriters and filmmakers have come up with ideas in many different ways before. Try to write a story that interests you personally (after all you will be working with this story for weeks, months or even years to follow).
Feel free to go through this list and rough draft script ideas. Further details on factors to consider before writing your screenplay are mapped out in detail below this list.
Write about something that has brought you great pain or happiness
Work backwards, write a great ending first then work out how to get there
Find a location first, write various scenarios of what could happen there
Write about a topic you are passionate about, a sports game, a music genre, an art style
Stick to a genre, work within the typical genre conventions - romance, action, horror, film noir
What is your favourite film and why?
What is your favourite book and why?
What is the most frightening thing that could happen to you? How does your main character react to this
Make a short film based around a feature film idea. The short film is your feature films pilot
Work with what you have access too. What equipment, location, props and costumes do you own?
Who or what is the antagonist in your story? What is going to hold your protagonist back?
Use the lyrics of your Favourite song as a starting point
Write about something you are dealing with in your life right now. What is on your mind?
After generating short film ideas and before writing your screenplay there are several things to consider –
Short Film Length
A short film is anything under 40 minutes in total length. However, this length can be determined on your final goals for the film. For example, if you are making a TV pilot you might aim for 25 minutes.
As you may already know, one page of a screenplay is approx 1 minute of screen time. So a 5 minute film will be around five pages long. The desired length of your film is important to decide upon before writing your script.
If you're new to filmmaking it makes sense to start small. A shorter film will cost less and take less time to complete.
Even if you are a seasoned filmmaker a professionally made short film can be used as a calling card. In the past, it was more typical for filmmakers to use low budget feature films to promote themselves. These days high-quality short films have been enough to convince producers and investors to trust upcoming filmmakers (see examples below).
Another factor determining length is film festivals. Every film festival has requirements on what length a short film should not exceed. Below I have listed the most popular film festivals and their requirements.
The maximum length for short films by festival -
Cannes – 15 minutes
Venice – 20 minutes
Berlin – 30 minutes
BFI London – 40 minutes
Tribeca – 40 minutes
SXSW 40 minutes
Raindance – 45 minutes
Toronto – 49 minutes
Sundance – 50 minutes
Even though some of these festival accept longer short films. Festival organises prefer films to be shorter as this allows them to showcase more films at the festival.
Your Film’s Goal
What type of short film idea you choose is also determined by your film's end goal.
For example, if your film is a student film then your school might have guidelines to follow. Your film might also be a practice piece where you experiment shooting within a certain genre. Some filmmakers choose to create a short film version of a feature film idea. This way you can use this as a calling card to show potential investors at festivals.
Once you have made your film you have the option of entering it into film festivals and competitions. Every festival has its own preferences for films so be sure to check out their guidelines and look at what previous film genre types where accepted.
You also have the option of putting your film up online. Keep in mind that sites such as YouTube might not allow films with swearing, horror or adult content. So the certification of your short film might also determine its exhibition options.
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Different genres can require different budgets. You might wish to make a special effects-heavy sci-fi short but without the knowledge on how to create those effects, this might not be doable in your budget. Before you set out to make a project you should have an idea of what your budget will be. Short films can range anywhere from $0 - $50,000 and beyond.
If shooting low budget, set scenes in nearby locations and include props you already own. If your aiming for a higher budget film keep in mind that money takes time to acquire.
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Short Film Examples
There are thousands of short films online that can be watched for free. The following examples are of award-winning short films that have been accepted into a range of popular film festivals. These films are of different lengths, genres, styles, and have been made within various budgets.
Genre – The Gunfighter
Drama – Fauve
Documentary – 73 Cows
Super Short – The Black Hole
Super Short - Tuck Me In
Career Creating Shorts
Many successful short film examples you see are online are the short films of famous film directors.
The trouble is the standards of film festivals are much higher than before. The expectations for award-winning films have changed. For this reason, the films I have included are all from new filmmakers. The short films below helped start the career of these following directors -
Polaroid - by Lars Klevberg (he went on to direct a feature film version of this short film and later directed the new child's play remake)
I am John Wayne - by Christina Choe (her short film won the grand prize at Slamdance film festival and later directed feature film Nancy which premiered at Sundance)
Factory Farmed - by Gareth Edwards (a short film submission to a 48-hour film festival, he went on to direct Monsters, Godzilla and Star Wars the Last Jedi)
For a filmmaker, a short film is a practice piece before taking on the responsibility of a feature film.
If you're just starting out start small, successful filmmakers have often made a handful or more short films before setting out to make features or high end shorts.