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How to Write an Effective Screenplay for a Short Film

The most common mistake inexperienced filmmakers make is their story is weak and therefore their film is weak. This is because they spend little or no time writing a screenplay as they find it bewildering.


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    Short vs Feature film. Short films and feature films are very much alike but also different. The main differences are feature films are made up of many scenes which give you the space to develop more complex characters and face an increasing array of obstacles. Technically much is the same when you start out with your idea however you may consider doing a treatment after your outline and using beat sheets to help you with structure.


pre screenplay

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    Read screenplays. Before you begin writing a screenplay it is a good idea to read and analyse screenplays to your favorite films and similar films to yours.
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    Set a goal. By breaking down screenwriting into manageable chunks and working out a deadline it will give you motivation.

    • Time. A micro-budget short film should take a few weeks to conceive and edit. Don’t feel too pressured though as this may put you off instead just focus on writing 10 minutes a day.
  3. 3
    Calm environment. Work in a calming environment.


Get an idea

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    Choose a Film Title. The right film title is crucial as it will make it easier to market your screenplay and convey to the audience what the film is about. This can be established at anytime of the process.
  2. 2
    Key Theme. If you are unsure what the theme is, it’s the key lesson the protagonist has learnt by the end of the film.
  3. 3

    Formulate a premise. Write a short sentence (15 words or less) of the fundamental concept which drives the plot.

    • Whose story is it?
    • What do they want?
    • What’s stopping them getting it?
    • What’s at stake?
    • The premise for E.T. could be ‘A lonely boy is befriended by an alien’.
    • Seek feedback on your premise before you develop your film.




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    What do you have available? By working out what actors, props and locations are available locally you can make your film cheaply and easily.
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    Character development. This is an important part of development. The key areas of developing a character are:

    • 1.Name
    • 2.Appearance
    • 3.Traits. Sociological, Psychological and physical.
  3. 3

    Character arc.

    • 1.Heroes quest, on the way he faces his worst fears.
    • 2.Bonding. At first two people who have to work together despise each other, yet they learn to live together and finally they love each other.
  4. 4

    . Dis-functional to Functional

    • What personal experiences do you have that you can apply to the characters?
  5. 5
    Where? (ex. location)
  6. 6
    What? (ex. theme, format, genre, characters goal, worst and best events that could occur)
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    Why? USP(unique selling position)
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    When? (time setting for story, deadline for finished film, schedule)
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    If stuck. Watch a couple of short films and analyse using these key areas.
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    Brainstorm the beginning and end of the film. Do this as mind maps. Then start filling in what happens in between, to make sure it doesn’t become too complicated start at the end and work to the beginning, as the middle is usually harder.



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    Create a template for the outline: (Title) is a short (genre) of (how many minutes?) aimed at (target audience) set in (location), (premise)… (Write the action that takes place in the film in the third person in a few hundred words).

    • Redraft outline a couple of times.
    • Get feedback on your outline.


Write your script

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    Write a script. Write for 10 minutes each day.

    • Structure. There are different ways of structuring a short film, but most importantly keep it simple, so you follow the journey of the protagonist and have no subplots. For example you could follow the three act structure (beginning, middle and end), or you could structure it like a joke following a moment in the protagonists life which ends on a punchline (twist).
    • Action. Keep this simple. Don’t write camera angles, instead infer them.
    • Dialogue. Add dialogue in after you have written the rest of the script, this way it will be more visual. Keep it simple and remember that it should not sound like real conversations.
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Feature film differences

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    Outline. Should be no longer than a couple of pages long. write a paragraph for each scene.



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    Remember this quote: Ernest Hemingway “The first draft of anything is shit.”
  2. 2
    A common mistake with short film scripts is that they are overwritten and underdeveloped, only do a couple of drafts.
  3. 3
    Get feedback, create a list of key issues raised.
  4. 4
    Put your screenplay aside for a week.
  5. 5
    Read through. Get some people together to read through your script.
  6. 6
    Look at each element separately: re-draft dialogue; re-draft action; address structural problems.

Sample Script and Outline

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  • Make a screenplay about something you are passionate about.
  • When casting, remember this; NEVER pick someone just because of his or her looks, or vice versa! Always choose based on their ACTING because you are looking for ACTORS not MODELS.
  • If you are finding it challenging you could work on it with others.
  • A problem with most film writers is motivation. If you find a theme/topic you really like it should be easier to write.
  • Show; don’t tell. Films are a visual medium.
  • If you are afraid of asking for feedback, it could help if you write down the worst things the other person could say.


  • The most common pitfall first time screenwriters make is they don’t spend enough time developing the script and then to compensate, they tend to overwrite the script.

Things You’ll Need

  • A notepad, keep this with you at all times. To add and recall details.
  • Pencil, Colored Pens – to mark out corrections/alterations.
  • Screenwriting software, e.g Final Draft – used by professional screenwriters


Makassar Culture , Like to operating audio visual