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Short Film Ideas: How to Come Up With 100% Unique Ideas

A Comprehensive Guide on Good Short Movie Ideas vs Bad Short Movie Ideas and How to Write the Former

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by Script Reader Pro in How to Write a Short Film
September 12, 2018 44 comments
short film ideas

Short Film Ideas: How to Come Up With 100% Unique and Filmable Ideas

Generally, when you have a great idea for a short, you know it. It’s those short film ideas that just “pop” and feel right. And everyone who you tell it to thinks it’s a great idea for a short movie too.

We’ll tackle the actual writing and developing of shorts in another post, but for now we’re going to focus on how to come up with initial short film ideas that will spark people’s imagination in the first place.

Here’s What’s Coming Up:

♦  Why come up with short movie ideas and not feature ideas?

♦  Good short film ideas vs. bad short film ideas

♦  3 ways to generate good short movie ideas

So let’s get to it.

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Why Come Up With Short Film Ideas and Not Feature Ideas?

The first key step in developing short film story ideas for beginners or pros, is to decide what your motivation is. Why do you want to write and produce a short film, rather than a feature-length screenplay or TV pilot?

There are two good reasons for choosing to come up with short movie ideas over feature ideas:

No More Waiting by the Phone

Rather than sitting by the phone waiting for a manager, development executive or producer to call you with great news about your feature spec, by developing short script ideas you’re taking your destiny in your own hands.

You’re writing, shooting and producing your own content and putting it out there.

Sometimes this can be the very best way to gain some credits and kick-start a screenwriting career.

You Have Complete Creative Control

For many writers, the ability to have complete creative control over their short film ideas and to produce a tangible sample of their writing is a big bonus.

Plus, maybe you want to actually write, direct, produce or act in your own short films. Or all four. These days, with the ease of access to online platforms, you don’t have to limit yourself—you can create your own opportunities.

Movies are a visual medium, so why not show your writing ability visually, and also give yourself the chance to be showcased in short film festivals and be in the running for short film awards?

short film ideas

Good vs. Bad Short Film Ideas: A Checklist

Here’s a quick checklist of a few of the differences between short movie ideas that are worth developing and those that are not:

1.  Develop Short Movie Ideas That are Simple

Ask yourself: How many characters on average are in your short film story ideas? How complex is the plot? How visual is the story?

Whereas feature film concepts often benefit from complex storylines and characters, short film ideas do not. You have so little time in a short to set up the characters and story that if the idea is overly complicated the audience will tune out.

This often means sticking to one location and developing short film ideas with only one or two characters. Often, the best short film ideas are those that are super-simple and shot in one location.

Take a look at these simple short movie ideas:

♦  A son sits down to dinner with his absentee father.

♦  A girl tries to decide whether or not to jump from a waterfall.

♦  A man struggles to record the perfect voicemail message.

All of the above short film story ideas were developed into heartfelt, compelling shorts, with lean and accessible storylines. They also all premiered in major film festivals.

If you develop short film ideas with one character, one location and a plot you can articulate in one sentence, then chances are you’re probably on the right track.

2.  Develop Short Movie Ideas That Are No Longer Than 20 Minutes 

Piggybacking off the first point, how long are your short script ideas likely to be? If you have multiple characters, locations and plot lines, this is likely to bloat the eventual page count.

Here at Script Reader Pro we regularly receive short films for script coverage that are 30 or even 40 pages long. This is simply too long for a short film. Ideally, you want to aim for that sweet spot somewhere between 5 and 20 minutes as it will make your film that much more attractive to programmers at short film festivals.

Programmers want to cram as many shorts into one night as possible, so naturally 5-minute short film story ideas are much more likely to get in than those that stretch to 30 minutes or more.

Refer back to the three examples of good short movie ideas in the above section. Ideas like these naturally lend themselves to shorter scripts because brevity is inherent in their premises.

They’re small snapshots of a person’s life—a single scene that’s loaded with conflict—and this is often the best way to make sure your short film ideas stay just that: short!

3.  Develop Short Film Ideas That Are Cheap to Shoot

How much money do you think your short movie ideas will cost to produce? Are they one-location shoots that won’t cost any money and involve only one actor? Or will you have to pay to shoot in a coffee shop and feed five actors?

There’s no need to over-spend on a short. Short films are generally meant to be calling cards or to build up your skills as a filmmaker. You can absolutely get distribution for a short, but it won’t pay much.

As an example, a filmmaker friend of ours won a festival with his short, and one of the major short distributors in the world picked it up for just $300.

At Cannes, they told him a short could possibly get about $75 to $100 per minute in a distribution deal, and that would be on the high end. So if you have a 10 minute short, that’s at most $1000. Yet we know people and have heard stories of many writers spending $15,000 to $25,000 on a short.

Don’t Do It

Save that money to shoot a feature later when your skills are more advanced. When you’re first developing creative short film ideas, write down every resource that you can get for free or cheap.

Here are some ideas: Do friends and/or relatives live nearby? Ask if you can shoot at their place. Maybe your aunt is a doctor? Can you shoot at her office after hours for free? Maybe your cousin manages a coffee shop? Can you go in before they open and shoot some scenes?

Also, f you’re willing to get creative and bend your schedule around businesses’ operating hours, many will be willing to help you.

Make the same list for props and wardrobe. What do you already own? What can you borrow from friends? What can you buy at half-price at Goodwill?

Only after you’ve secured free or cheap locations and resources should you begin really developing your short movie ideas. Then you know you’ll be writing a script that you can actually shoot on a low budget, rather than coming up with the idea only to find it’s out of your budget.

4.  Develop Short Film Ideas With a Twist

Do your short ideas tend to focus on one moment, develop a little, and then end in roughly the same place? If so, you may need to try to come up with short film ideas with a twist.

Many of the best short film ideas are based on simple moments in a person’s life that ends with a twist, shocking the audience in some way. This isn’t to say all short film ideas should develop in this way, but it’s definitely worth considering in order to make it memorable.

3 Ways to Generate Truly Original and Creative Ideas

Here are a few ways to get your creative juices flowing when it comes to generating short film story ideas:

1. Watch and Break Down a Ton of Short Films

Perhaps the easiest way to come up with good short film ideas is to simply watch as many shorts as you can and see what already works. Go to FilmShorts.com which breaks down short films into festival winners, different genres and shorts by famous directors, etc. and get inspired.

Once you’ve found some shorts in your chosen genre you’d like to emulate, have a go at breaking them down. If you want to focus on funny short film ideas, or short horror film ideas, for example, watch a bunch of Comedy short award winners and break them down.

Write an outline of the short as you watch—one scene per line—noting what happens in each. Who’s the protagonist of each scene? Who or what is the antagonist? What’s the conflict? How is it set up, escalated and resolved?

2. Pull a Scene From Your Feature Script

In 2012, Damien Chazelle was told that his feature script would never be made because “no one wants to make a jazz drumming movie.” Rather than give up, he pulled the most intense scene from the script and turned it into a short.

This short then went on to garner a ton of interest and eventually secure investment for his movie, Whiplash. You can do the same. If you have a great scene in a feature that’s full of conflict and can stand alone, consider pulling it out and reworking as a short.

3. Get Outside

Rather than sit in front of your laptop struggling to come up with creative short film ideas, shut it down, turn off all your electronic devices and get outside. Go to the park, or for a hike or simply a walk down a busy city street.

Do a 24-hour or 48-hour digital detox and see how much easier it is to come up with good short film ideas by letting your mind have more space to roam and free-associate.

Also, start to pay more attention to real life events. Become more aware of real-life news events from the perspective of potential short movie ideas. While watching the news, for example, think “Could this be an idea for a short film?”

Take moments from the news or even your own life and see if they could be developed into a single moment from a character’s life that would make a compelling short movie.

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Conclusion

Overall, you want to make sure that the short film story ideas you come up with are short, simple and loaded with conflict. It’s worth remembering that 5-minute short film ideas are much more likely to garner some interest than those that run for 20+ minutes.

The best way to learn what short movie ideas actually work is by studying those that have actually made it to the big screen, won awards and kick-started writers’ careers.

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We hope these short film ideas for beginners and pros alike have given you some food for thought. How do you come up with good short film ideas? Do you start with short film plot ideas or with a character? What do you think of our methods outlined above? Let us know in the comments section below!

short film ideas

Enjoyed This Post? Read More on How to Come Up With Great Short Film Ideas… 

How to Use Short Movie Scripts to Kickstart Your Screenwriting Career

How to Write a Screenplay That’s Unlike Any Other in 6 Steps

Script Ideas: 5 Proven Ways to Unlock Original Movie Ideas

[© Photo credits: Unsplash]

44 Comments
  1. Pauline says:

    You’ve given my shorts a new life with your ideas on producing one or two of them. Thank you.

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      Thanks for the feedback, Pauline. Good luck with them!

  2. Michael says:

    I have a movie Idea based on the 7 TRUMPETS in REVELATION that will sell out all over AMERICA

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      Good luck with it Michael!

  3. V says:

    I am currently working on a short but it has way more than two or three characters and it will be about 30-40mins. Is it still considered as a short or not?

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      Yes it’s still a short.

  4. andrew burns says:

    Does anyone know of any good short film screenplay contests?

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      ScreenCraft have a good one.

  5. John says:

    A son sits down to dinner with his absentee father
    A girl tries to decide whether or not to jump off a waterfall
    A man struggles to record the perfect voicemail message

    Can you give the titles of those short films? I know last one is form Duplass brothers 🙂 but what about the first two?

  6. Elsie A. says:

    Hi. If im making a short documentary about a crisis in my (real) life, is it still a short?

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      Yes, “short” refers to the length of the film, not the content.

  7. Isidra says:

    These are really enormous ideas in regarding
    short film writing. You have touched some good points here.
    Any way keep up the great writing.

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      Thanks, Isidra!

  8. Starkey says:

    How do I get you to read my short? It’s ready for production. Budget director and actors in place.

  9. Stephanie Beattie says:

    I hadn’t thought about shorts in this way and now want to write one! v.inspiring. Thank u.

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      Glad to hear it, Stephanie.

  10. Naser Shillova says:

    The length of 5-20 minutes is exactly what we consider at Link International Film Festival. Anything above we wouldn’t even watch.

  11. Emma Wiscicka says:

    I’m making a film with my daughter and she did these and never came up with any film maybe add more steps next time ☺️

  12. Gagan says:

    A short proving Racism wrong more like a narrative story is that a good choice.. It doesn’t have twists but will show the truth happening. Can I have your Suggestion please.

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      We have a short film coverage service you may be interested in.

  13. Clay says:

    Love these ideas. Really going to work on my shorts now.

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      Good luck, Clay!

  14. Derek Dewitt says:

    I want to work on a short film this summer so thanks for sharing this. I like your point about writing a short film that is easy to shoot. I’ll be sure to consider this so I can stay within my budget and time frame.

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      Thanks, Derek.

  15. Tim Yaotome says:

    I find it awesome that you said that a person can create a short film by themselves in order to boost their screenwriting career while having complete freedom of how to have it produced. If I wanted to create a short film comparing how poor and rich people live for an indie contest, I would hire a post-production service to help edit the video. That way, they can increase its quality and make it more relatable in the audience.

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      Good idea, thanks, Tim.

  16. Steele Honda says:

    Thanks for the tips on how to come up with filmable short film ideas. I think that it’s really important to take into account your production design when deciding how and what to film. Deciding on what props you need to rent and what aesthetic you want your film and set to have goes a long way in making the finished product good.

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      Thanks for the input, Steele!

  17. Silas Knight says:

    You’ve got great tips for coming up with a unique film. I love how you said that it’s best to try and have a small cast of characters so that they can be developed. Filming and directing movies has always seemed like it’d be a lot of fun.

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      Thanks, Silas!

  18. Ivan R says:

    I’ve had a hard time writing shorts
    Think I need to have a go at Tv
    or maybe features
    It is so hard
    Any help would be much appreciated.

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      Don’t give up, Ivan – you’re in the right place.

  19. Natalia says:

    Hi just wanted to say this is probably the best screenwriting blog I’ve come across in my long journey to breaking in to the industry (whatever that means!)

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      Welcome aboard, Natalia!

  20. Angela Waterford says:

    I have an idea for a short dance film, but I don’t know how to make it work. Personally, I think my motivation would be realized if I hire a director to make things happen for me. Since I would be able to have complete creative control for my project, I’m sure that the director I’ll hire will help me push my ideas in the right direction.

  21. Kamil Mahajan says:

    How do I come up with short film ideas that haven’t been done yet?

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      Dig deep!

  22. Melissa says:

    I’m working on some short ideas at the moment so this post came at just the right time 🙂

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      Glad we could help 🙂

  23. Atif says:

    Hi,
    As you say the real life events easily convert in to short film.Just watch in you tube how i made short with child just deny food while take smart phone from him.

  24. Joe Saggs says:

    I have an idea for a film. Basically cars turn into robots.

  25. Joe Saggs says:

    Someone talk?

  26. Faylinn Byrne says:

    I really liked that you mentioned that if you can generate an idea that contains one character, one location, and a simple plot you are going the right direction. My son and his friends have always loved making homemade movies, and I love watching them when they are done. They are very talented young men, and my son’s birthday is coming up, so I am thinking about buying him used cinema equipment to help him move on with his dream. Thank you for these tips, and I will share this article with him so he can improve his skills.

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      Thanks for sharing, Faylinn – happy writing and producing your short films 🙂

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