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7 Critical Tips for Short Film Ideas

Short film ideas are all around you. But why write short film scripts instead of features? Most filmmakers who embark on making a short film do so in order to get exposure in film festivals and show the world a slice of their talents.

With a stack of submissions a mile high, you need a strategy to execute short film ideas in a successful way to get noticed by festival programmers or short film script competitions.

Get advice on short film ideas from former Sundance Programmer, Roberta Marie Monroe, with our FREE download of the first chapter of her book, How Not to Make a Short Film! Just enter your email below!

Let’s explore 7 short film tips:

1. Ten minutes is the sweet spot. In festival programming, short films are ideal for positioning between features, so stay clear of writing a short film that’s 30-minutes in length. Some festivals do use longer shorts, but those are often presented in a different venue with a smaller audience. If the subject matter is one that needs further exploration, then write it as a feature. One size does not fit all stories, but 10 minutes is the ideal length for short film production for festivals.

2. Show, don't tell. Being efficient in your storytelling is even more important when writing short films. Keep dialogue light and tell your story visually. You’d be surprised how much dialogue you can cut in a short film script. Body language speaks volumes! Watch people in coffeeshops or other public places. See how much you can tell about a person without ever hearing their dialogue – the way they hold a book, what they’re wearing, and the eye contact they give (or don’t give) all says a lot about who they are. Use natural human interaction as a catalyst for your short film ideas.

3. Get right to it. The first 30 seconds can make or break you. When you write your short film script, pay close attention to the opening scene. Show everything about your character in their actions and the setting you choose to open your film. One of the secrets to learning how to make short films that succeed is nailing the opening. Make a great first impression and show exactly who your character is in a compelling way.

4. Be inventive. Short film ideas should be born from imagination and exploration of a new world. It can be a slice of life or an adventure into outer space. Think of it as 10 minutes of time spent in a world you’ve been dying to explore. Be an adventurer and break outside of the box. This is your film. You don’t have studio heads keeping you in check. This is your chance to be as wild and creative as you want, so don’t hold back!

5. If you don’t want to think bigger, then think backwards. Maybe budget is an issue (let’s face it, it usually is), then what can you do with the resources you already have? Think of the locations and actors available to you and craft a story around your current resources. Less can be more. You don’t always need special effects to make your story stand out in the crowd. Oftentimes the best short film ideas are the simplest ones that grip an audience with emotion instead of pizzazz.

6. Learn from the masters. Watch successful short films, attend film festivals, and get to know short film making inside and out, especially if you want to learn how to direct a short film for the first time. You don’t need to reinvent the wheel, but you do need to find a way to make your project original. Reach out to others for inspiration and advice.

7. Tell a compelling story! This tip may be listed as #7, but it’s really the #1 rule of any kind of writing. Write the most amazing story you can, full of rich characters and plot that moves the viewer emotionally. Make them remember your film long after the screen fades to black.

For invaluable advice on short film ideas, download the 1st chapter of Roberta Marie Monroe’s book, How Not to Make a Short Film FREE!