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How to Use Short Movie Scripts to Kickstart Your Screenwriting Career

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

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July 14, 2015 10 comments
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How to Use Short Movie Scripts to Kickstart Your Screenwriting Career

Are you sitting around by the phone waiting for a hotshot producer to call you and kick-start your screenwriting career? Well, here’s another option—kickstart it yourself by writing some kick-ass short movie 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. We’re not knocking these methods, but there’s also a more immediate route…

Sometimes the quickest way to start getting produced credits that you can pop up on IMDb and jumpstart your screenwriting career 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 career and they haven’t looked back.

Here are the steps you should consider when learning how to write short film scripts that you can actually shoot, that can gain you awards and recognition in film festivals.

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

♦  Low budget means low budget. Make sure your short movie scripts are filmable on your budget: This doesn’t include whatever space you have on a credit card. Don’t take on personal debt for your films! It means whatever money you actually have in your possession to spend on your project.

So even if that amount is nothing, something low like $500, or even thousands of dollars, make sure that what you write in your short movie script makes sense for what you have to spend.

♦  Minimal locations. Have your short movie scripts take place in one to three locations that you can get your hands on for free, like your house, your friends’ houses, a business owned by someone you know, etc.

Don’t include locations like Disneyland, an airplane, the Oval Office and other places you probably won’t have access to.

♦  Use an iPhone if needs be. When it comes to short movie scripts, don’t worry about fancy equipment. Even if you literally have no money, you can film something on your iPhone with friends and family in your own home that you can cut together on free editing software on your computer.

There are even film festivals out there that are completely devoted to films shot on cell phones, or have categories for mobile content that you can submit to.

Keep Your Short Movie 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.

They typically have shorts “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 movie scripts (5 to 20 pages.) The shorter the better, in fact. After all, 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. (And if you have a feature you want to sell, make your short out of a compelling scene.) 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 Movie Scripts by Stealing From Your Feature

If you have a feature film you want to sell, making short movies out of one of the best scenes can help gain interest from potential investors, actors, directors, and producers. Especially if it gets into major festivals and wins awards.

This worked wonders for Whiplash writer/director Damien Chazelle, who recently spoke at a screening of the film. He said he wrote the feature and, despite its inclusion on the 2012 Black List scripts, it was turned down everywhere because no one wanted to make a “jazz drumming movie.”

Instead of giving up, he took one of the most intense scenes in the script and made an 18-minute short film out of it. Based on the strength of the writing, this attracted JK Simmons to sign up as the story’s antagonist.

Watch this great 14-minute video on how it was done: Whiplash, From Short to Feature. 

The short film 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, as they say, is history.

Writing short movie 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 to make a compelling short film.

Even if you don’t get into major festivals or win awards, it’s incredibly useful to have 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, and you have the power to make your dreams a reality by creating your own short movie scripts and making it happen.

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We hope this post has given you some inspiration and please let us know your thoughts on writing short movie scripts to kickstart your screenwriting career 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 movie scripts by one of our script consultants. 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

More posts on how to use short movie scripts to break in…

♦  HOW TO DEVELOP SHORT FILM IDEAS THAT WILL WIN AWARDS

10 Comments
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  2. 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.

  3. 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!

  4. Marcia says:

    Where can I find the Duplass short film?

  5. Shelby says:

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

  6. 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!

  7. 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

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