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How to Use Short Film Scripts to Start Your Writing Career

Follow in the Footsteps of Damien Chazelle and the Duplass Brothers by Employing These Simple Tricks

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by Script Reader Pro in How to Write a Short Film
October 30, 2019 17 comments
Short film scripts

How to Use Short Film Scripts to Kickstart Your Screenwriting Career

Are you sitting around by the phone waiting for a producer to kickstart your career? Here’s another option: kickstart it yourself by writing short film scripts.

How did the Duplass Brothers and countless other filmmakers get their screenwriting careers off the ground? Not by entering screenwriting contests, networking or submitting to screenwriting pitch sites. (Please note: We’re not knocking these methods, but there’s also a more immediate route…)

Sometimes the quickest way to start getting produced credits is by writing and producing your own short movie scripts.

The Duplass brothers did this when they shot a short film on a shoestring budget about a guy leaving a message on an ansa-phone. This was the spark they needed to ignite their careers.

Here are the steps you should consider when learning how to write a script for a short film. Shorts that you can shoot, will gain awards and give your career the boost it needs.

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Write Short Film Scripts to Your Budget (Even If It’s Zero)

♦  Low budget means low budget. Make sure your short script is filmable on your budget. This doesn’t include whatever space you have on a credit card. Don’t take on personal debt to finance a short film.

Make sure that what you write in your short makes sense for what you have to spend. Even if that’s just $1000.

♦  Minimal locations. Base your short film scripts around one or two locations. Get your hands on free spots. Your house, a friends’ houses, a business owned by someone you know, etc. are all great places to start.

Don’t write in locations like Disneyland, or an airplane, or the Oval Office. Rewrite the locations of all places you probably won’t have access to.

♦  Use an iPhone if needs be. When it comes to short scripts, don’t worry about fancy equipment. Even if you have no money, film it on your iPhone. Cut it on free editing software on a laptop.

There are even film festivals out there that are completely devoted to films shot on cell phones. And others that have categories purely for mobile content.

Keep Your Short Film Scripts SHORT

Many aspiring screenwriters pen 30- to 45-minute short film scripts. The vast majority of film festivals will not program shorts at this kind of length.

Festivals typically have “blocks” of 60 to 90 minutes in each festival that need to fit anywhere from five to ten short films. So…

♦  Keep it short. Your best bet is to stick to writing 5 to 20-minute long short film scripts (5 to 20 pages.) The shorter the better, in fact. There’s no point in going to all the trouble to write and produce your own work if no one’s going to see it.

♦  Keep it simple. Make the plot of your short film scripts simple and compelling. Shorts with multiple storylines that are essentially mini-features don’t tend to work very well. There isn’t enough time to get invested in the story before the film is over, and a complex plot can become overwhelming to write. And to watch when you have limited screentime.

It’s best to stick to one storyline, one goal and one clear narrative.

Write Short Film Scripts by Stealing From Your Feature

Here’s one of the very best ways to hack learning how to write a script for a short film:

If you have a feature film to sell, making short movies out of one of the best scenes can help gain interest from potential investors. Especially if it gets into major festivals and wins an award or two.

Whiplash: From Short Script to Feature to Movie

This worked wonders for Whiplash writer/director Damien Chazelle. He wrote the feature and, despite its inclusion on the 2012 Black List scripts, it was turned down everywhere. No one wanted to make a “jazz drumming movie” apparently.

Instead of giving up, Chazelle took one of the most intense scenes and made an 18-minute short drama script out of it. Based on the strength of the writing, this attracted JK Simmons to sign on as Fletcher.

Watch this great short video on how his short drama script came together: Whiplash, From Short to Feature. 

 
Whiplash, the short script, was accepted at Sundance and went on to win the Short Film Jury Prize for US Fiction. Subsequently, there was plenty of interest in Chazelle’s feature script and the rest is history.

Writing short film scripts from your features should be pretty easy. Just make sure that the scene has a clear beginning, middle, and end, and plenty of conflict.

Using a Short Script as a Sample

Even if the movie doesn’t go anywhere, it’s still an incredibly useful thing to have in your portfolio: a filmed sample of your work. You have a better chance of getting potential agents and managers to watch a compelling 5-minute short movie than read a feature script. Plus, it’s so much easier to query them with a link to an actual finished product.

Remember that the success of your writing career is in your hands. Only you have the power to make your dreams a reality by creating your own short film scripts and making it happen.

Short Script Writing Examples

One way to learn how to write a script for a short film, of course, is to read other writers’ efforts.

Below you’ll find some resources where you can read free short film scripts:

SimplyScripts has an archive of unproduced shorts divided into genres, such as short drama scripts, family, horror and much more.

Monologue Blogger has a collection of 15 free short film scripts. The genres are drama, comedy and dark humor/crime.

IMSDb has a few short movie scripts that you can read for free, including one by Rex Pickett, the author of the novel, Sideways.

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We hope this post has given you some inspiration on how to write a script for a short film and kickstart your writing career. Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below. Have you had any success breaking in via short film scripts? What do you think of our method outlined in the post?

Don’t forget you can get coverage on your short script by one of our pro screenwriters. Choose the genre expert you think will be best suited to strengthening your short film script before you start shooting or entering into contests.

short movie scripts

Enjoy This Post? Read More on How to Write a Script for a Short Film…

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[© Photo credits: Unsplash]

17 Comments
  1. Jorge says:

    Excellent idea you’ve given me. I have eight Spec screenplays and can’t say I’ve pitched any of them yet because I’m still growing as a screenwriter, but I think casting and shooting a scene from any of my full length features is an attainable, tangible goal.

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      Sounds good, Jorge.

  2. Gary Heard says:

    This a Great idea. I have been turning all of my full feature screen play ideas into short film scripts. And soon going to film them as short films. I highly recommend people doing this.

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      Good luck, Gary. Keep at it!

  3. Marcia says:

    Where can I find the Duplass short film?

  4. Shelby says:

    Lovely just what I was looking for about short movie scripts.

  5. Charles Obike says:

    Thanks a lot!…you have kindled my drowsy and lingering intent to kick start with starting up with my movie making ideas.
    With your guide I am very convinced I can make a little headway.
    Regards,
    Charles.

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      Thanks, Charles. Always great to hear feedback like this!

  6. Dominic McKevitt says:

    Hi Team
    Thank you so much for your advice which I feel is a great idea that will work.
    I would love to know as to how you could get your short listed on IMDb please?
    Kindest regards
    Dominic aka John Lennon Cohen

  7. Richard Gustason says:

    I am in the process of doing just that. Getting ready to film one of my shorts. This was a much needed boost. Thanks for sharing.

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      Sounds good, best of luck with the short, Richard!

  8. oscar julian lopez rincon says:

    good-job, guys

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      Thanks, Oscar!

  9. Glenn says:

    I’ve written, directed and produced four shorts in the past few years. They were all such fun experiences. I met so many great people and learned a lot. Since I didn’t go to film school, making short films was quite an education for me. I made some good decisions but also made some mistakes which actually helped me grow as a writer and filmmaker. One of the biggest lessons I learned, which was mentioned in the article, is not to go into debt shooting shorts. Keep it all in perspective, keep it small scale and look for people to work with who are passionate about filmmaking. Don’t hire or work with people who are just looking for money. Passion should always be your first motivation. Also, theres one detail that kept haunting me again and again: watch out for stupid continuity mistakes while shooting that will come back to haunt you in the editing process!

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      Great advice – thanks, Glenn and good luck with your next project!

  10. Pier Robinson says:

    Great info. I just shot my first short this past summer. Editing now and entering into festivals. Great advice. Take your power back into your own hands!

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      Glad you enjoyed the post, Pier – good luck with the short!

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