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7 Ways to Make a Good Short Film Script Great

Film script

Short films are becoming more and more popular with seasoned filmmakers, breakout filmmakers, and students alike. Search on YouTube and you’ll find thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of short film examples. But what makes for a good short film script? How can you make it stand out from the crowd?

Today, we look at seven important aspects of a great short film script and how you can improve yours. Can you put these into practice when writing your next script?

Looking to write a short story? If so, try out Celtx’s script writing editor (Free) to ensure you are writing with industry standards.

Here are the 7 Ways You Can Make Your Short Film Great

  1. Keep Your Short Film Script Simple
  2. Use Limited Locations
  3. Keep it Short
  4. Put the Story First
  5. Be Specific With the Genre
  6. Add a Condition to Your Plot
  7. Bring In an Unexpected Twist

1. Keep Your Short Film Script Simple

Remember, you only have a limited number of pages to work within a short film. By cramming in many plot twists and numerous storylines, you could easily tie yourself in knots. With limited time to tell the story, you want to engage the audience with a core storyline and intriguing protagonist.

Your film also needs a strong and succinct premise that an audience can identify quickly. Characters with clear goals that are established early on allow you to cut to the action immediately and hook the audience. 

Keep budgeting in mind too. Restrictions can inspire creativity by forcing you to find ways to work with what you have. Writing a straightforward plot that’s economical to shoot, can nonetheless make for a great short film.

2. Use Limited Locations

To help you focus further, use only a couple, or even better, just one location. By keeping your characters and action in one place, you can keep your plot focused, only including those key details needed.

Yes, we’re going to talk about the budget once again. A one-location film can save you a lot of money as you can keep your cast and crew in one place for the entire shoot. 

By maintaining focus, you have a better opportunity to keep your audience engaged with the story you are trying to tell. These single locations could be anywhere, big, or small, from a room to a football stadium. 

Again, here is a fantastic opportunity to challenge yourself as a writer: how can you piece together all your scenes and story beats into a single place?

3. Keep it Short

After all, it is a short film. If your goal is to enter your film into a festival or competition, the ideal length is between five and ten minutes. 

Find a concept that has never been done before or consider a new twist on a current idea. Consider how you could condense that idea into a short film and the key details you’d need to write the script

If you find you’re heading towards the 45-minute length, it is perhaps time to think about changing the screen medium. Maybe your story will be better served as a television show or a feature film? Ask yourself this: is a short film the best way to tell my story?

4. Put the Story First

As with any story, characters need to be well-rounded individuals with whom an audience can empathize. With a short film, however, you are not going to have the luxury to include a detailed backstory and explanation in your short film script. You’ll only need to include the aspects of a character that are essential to the story. 

We’re going to return to the advice of keeping things simple, as this also goes for the story. Start with a protagonist, with a goal, and an antagonist. The antagonist doesn’t necessarily have to be a person, it could be an obstacle the protagonist must overcome.

Be wary of just presenting a scenario to the audience and not a story. Why should a viewer care about the protagonist or their quest? How will the protagonist reach their goal and what will be thrown in their way to prevent it? How do they overcome this struggle? 

The story is key.

5. Be Specific With the Genre

In the film and television space, you will have come across dual-genre narratives such as dramedies, rom-coms, action thrillers, and many more hybrids. However, in short films, the genre needs to be specific and deliberate.

Audiences need to have a clear idea of what they are watching. Once again, the genre needs to be determined in the early scenes in your short film script so if you’ve chosen a hybrid genre, it’s going to be more difficult to show this. 

By sticking to the rules of a certain genre, you can funnel your story through tropes, conventions, and even stick to certain character types and personalities. Or perhaps you could subvert the genre and do something unexpected. Either way, choose one genre.

6. Add a Condition to Your Plot

The plot of your short film script will need to move fast in your short film, so ensure the stakes are high for your protagonist at the moment in time you’re portraying. Their goal must mean a lot to them, and they will do whatever it takes to attain it. 

You could add in a time limit or other condition facing your protagonist that they must overcome. Do they have a hurdle that could hinder them in achieving their goal? Is there another power at work that adds more pressure? 

7. Bring In an Unexpected Twist

We’ve already mentioned putting a spin on a current idea. Why not take it a step further and add a unique twist to the end of your short film? Is there something hiding in the background of your film, or have you hinted at something throughout?

The set-up and payoff can work well within short films as well as features; use an object or clue at the start of the film to then pay off at the end, surprising your audience. This will leave them with a lasting impression of your film, despite it only being five to ten minutes long. 

So, there you have it: whether it’s your first time filmmaking or you’ve already made several, these seven methods can help ensure your short film will have a long-lasting impression. You may already have a good short film script, but we’re hoping now that you’ve read these tips, you can make it a great one.


Looking for tools to plan a short film? With tools for narrative ideation such as a script editor, storyboard, and index cards, sign up for Celtx and get all studio tools free for your first 7 days.

Whether you’re a seasoned professional looking to present a unique vision or win over a competitive project, or you’ve just gotten your first camera and are looking for a way to hone your skills and get noticed, short films are an essential part of the filmmaking lifeblood no matter your age, credentials, or experience.

Author

  • Noel Moffatt, a graduate of Memorial University in St.John's NL, now works as an SEO specialist for Celtx to help people transform great ideas into scripts.

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