Writing a Perfect Short Film Script | Beginner’s Guide & Tips


You have a great short film idea but don’t know how to turn it into a perfect script? It happened to me, and if I could know then where to start and how to write it professionally, I would have an excellent short film script. Don’t worry; you do not have that problem anymore. We got you covered.

So, what consists of a good short film script? As a rule, The essentials to the process of developing a professional short film script that can get you ahead as a short filmmaker has:

1) Script Title Page 

2) Logline/One-Line Description

3) Synopsis (2 pages or less)

4) Characters (2 pages or less) 

5) Characterization (1 page but more is welcome)

6) Theme and Conflict (1 page)

7) Structure (2 pages or less)

8) Treatment/Bible (5 pages or less)

9) Final Draft – Screenplay/Script 

10) Script Breakdown

11) The Pitch Letter

We have included the last two steps to give you a holistic idea to create a complete script docket that will impress the makers. Here we’ll break down some basic writing techniques that can help you start your screenplay on a good foot!

But first 

Things to Remember Before Writing a Short film

Why write a short film?

Writing a short film is a good way to start your professional career. You will get the hang of crisp storytelling techniques using minimalism and compressive methods to their benefit.

The Idea

Before getting down to writing, you have an idea that you want to explore and shape into a short film. If you are struggling to develop ideas, we have an interesting article on how to come up with short film ideas.

We will show you how to put that idea into shape, but the idea has to be roughly structured in your mind or on paper.

The conflict

Conflicts fuel the dramatic narrative. You have to have a core conflict in your short story on which the script should revolve. No, conflicts hold for nonfictional films as well. No viewing will engage an audience without a conflict.

how to write a short film script

The length of your film

A short film is bound by time. You must know you are writing a script for a short-length film, either made for television, cinema, or the internet (or some combination of these). The short length can span from a minute to a 45 min film. So before writing, you must roughly estimate your length.

Also, remember,

A Short Film script is not a Feature Film Script.

Many aspiring filmmakers confuse the script for a short film with that of a feature film.

There are many differences, including the following:

DescriptionShort FilmFeature Film
PagesA script pages range from one page to 50 pagesAverages between 90 to 120 pages
CharacterCharacter usually faces a single event. The character is not fully developed. The characterization is slowly revealed, and the character has time to develop into show different shades fully.
ConflictOne specific conflictOne core conflict that gets into a series of conflicts in each sequence.
NarrativeIt May or may not be dramatic with no clear focus as it may be an experimental gig.A structured narrative is necessary as it caters to a focussed audience with commercial intent.
Screenplay StructureMay or may not be structuredIt follows a three-act structure
www.newbiefilmschool.com

But, to make a perfect short, you need clarity in your vision, and the script becomes the foundation of the storytelling and production. So, to make a quality short film, a professional screenplay format must follow that is similar to feature films So. Let’s now go through the entire process of developing your short film script.

11 Essentials of a Short Film Script

More than a mere screenplay, a short film script consists of many elements. So, what should your short film script docket consist of? We explain below in a step-by-step way. It organically lets your script grow and forms an excellent tool to market your idea to the producers. So let’s begin.

  1. Script Title Page :

A script title page is the first page of a script that we have seen a hundred times whenever we get our hand on a script.  It should include the following:

1) The title of the screenplay. 

2) The name of the writer(s). 

3) The date is written (if it is updated). 

So get your first page ready and feel motivated to start your writing journey.

short film script
  1. Logline/One-Line Description

A logline, or one-line description, is a concise and intriguing summary of the plot of a work. It captures the story with precision and without spoilers. A well-crafted logline serves as a unique marketing tool for the project at hand. It is also an invaluable writing tool for the screenwriter, as it represents his or her promising idea. 

Okay, that was the technical answer, but for me, a logline is a lifeline for any script. If you can get your logline right, you can mostly get your script right.

A logline usually consists of one sentence – ranging from 10 to 25 words – that describes the central premise and tone of the story. It usually 

  • Defines the Protagonist’s desire and his world
  • Mentions a conflict that impedes his action 
  • Reveals the cost he has to pay for that
  • And creates main interest in the story

This description is the one that will be used to pitch the project to investors, production companies, agents, and managers. It should be no longer than a single short sentence or two.

To offer a concise description, some loglines are written in the present tense (i.e., “A “Navy Seal” must prevent a terrorist attack.”) or past tense (“A “Navy Seal” prevented a terrorist attack.”) to focus on the plot’s main character(s).

Loglines may also begin with a gerund or verb + preposition (i.e., “A “Navy Seal” must defuse a ticking bomb.”) as this construction generally focuses on the Protagonist’s actions.

3) Synopsis (2 pages or less)

A synopsis is a shortened version of the original work. It summarizes the action, characters, scenes, and tone to give the reader some basic information about the story. A short film synopsis only includes what’s necessary for understanding without spoiling anything.

A synopsis shouldn’t be more than two pages as its purpose is to tell the gist of the script yet not revealing the structure and the way you are going to present it.

The following is a two-page synopsis of an upcoming short film:

short film script synopsis
  1. Characters:

In order to mention all characters in a screenplay for a short film script, you need to follow the trends and format that is used for Hollywood productions. 

  • The protagonist ( Hero)
  • The Antagonist (Anti- Hero), t
  • The Supporting characters

 Your central character(s) are the ones that viewers can identify with the best. These are called “protagonists” and “antagonists.”

The character is usually written by using a present-tense action verb such as “writes” for a letter or “dresses” for clothing. 

  1. Characterization

The characters represent who we are. They show all of the good, bad, and neutral human qualities that exist within us. The character represents a person’s inner thoughts, feelings, and judgments about themselves or others that help shape their behavior.

The characters in the short films should not be elaborate, but they should be created or written with the specific event in mind ( the central conflict  of the short film)

The story must revolve around the main character or the central characters – The Protagonist – whose present status is challenged as he chases their desire and how they change after overcoming or surrendering to the challenge is the short story. 

Here, the challenge has to be a specific conflict. Usually, the antagonist or his setup creates the problem. 

The short story usually has to focus on a single event; else, it tends to lean towards a feature as you begin to invest your time in the characters.

So, the other characters in a short script may not be well defined but should cater to the protagonist’s event.

The personality and characteristics of the characters will develop naturally as you write the script and may require subtle changes in specific scenes or acts.

The dialogues are essential to reflect a real person’s voice in the script. 

But writing characters is tricky as it needs your craft and art that must develop empathy, thus making the characters relatable to the audience.

You must keep the script as concise as possible while also time-stamping your scenes with all your action points and beats. These transitions pull the reader into different emotional states, which all lead to character motivation and conclusion.

  1. Theme and Conflict

Theme: 

The theme is basically the moral conclusion the audience derives from the story plots, conflicts, characterizations, and the style of the storytelling.

The protagonist, who is obese and ugly, learns to embrace what makes him unique and different from everyone else.

Conflict: 

Conflict is the idea or views the protagonist holds that clashes with that of the antagonist, which will stop him/her from achieving his goal.

Example –  The protagonist is so excited by his newfound love for himself that he begins to neglect his friends and family.

  1. Structure

The next step is to decide the structure. A short film structure, like other screenplay structures, is a detailed study that consists of certain key elements. However, there are many versions to a structure, but the 3 Act structure is the most accepted structure. 

Also, if you see every story has a beginning, middle, and end. So, all the story structures – be it the 3 Act, Dan Harmon’s story circle, or the Save the cat beats, all mean the same with a little tweak in their approach.

 But for this article, let’s stick to the 3 -Act structure.

The above structure shows the 1st Act as the Setup.

The Basic Short Film Structure:

Act 1: Set Up 

The Beginning: It defines the Protagonist and his world. In this Act, we delve into what he desires in the particular story. Be it Fiction or Non – fiction, the Setup is significant to begin the story. Just in the middle or a bit later in the Setup, we encounter the first inciting incident.

Inciting Incident: It is that incident that triggers the Protagonist to take a decision on his desire. The incident disrupts the present state of the character.

Plot Point One: This is the stage where the Protagonist takes the plunge and doesn’t look back at his previous stage. It is a hesitant entry into the new state. 

ACT 2: Confrontation

Plot Turns: As the main character enters the second Act, he encounters various plot turns, but he overcomes them one by one. Usually, this is the period of time where he is getting closer to his goal.

Midpoint: This is a critical point in the story. Yes, right in the middle of it, where there is a vital plot twist—something which he/she never saw coming.

Plot Point Two: It happens at the point of the story when the Protagonist almost reaches the goal but yet not there. This is the moment of the antagonist, and he destroys the road ahead. It is a point of no return where neither the Protagonist can go back to his previous status nor does he sees hope in the future.

ACT 3 : Resolution

Plot Point 3( Pre-climax): This is the moment of the real change in the Protagonist as he has to shed his skin to become a new person. 

Climax: The Protagonist finally defeats his nemesis.

Denouement: Here, you resolve the final part, and all the loose ends are tied back. It is also the culmination of the story.

End: The Protagonist accepts his new self, and that becomes his present state.

The above steps work in short films as well. The only difference here is that you deal with one specific conflict, but the story plays to its structure.

8. Treatment/Bible (5 pages or less but more is welcome)

Treatment for a short film script is often a summary of the screenplay and is less than five pages. It gives an overview of the story, characters, and goals. Treatments also contain important dialogue from character interactions or important sequences in the screenplay.

It can be a good way to give an idea about how the story might play out to those who are unfamiliar with the genre you are writing for so that you can get feedback before completing it as a full-length screenplay. Treatment writers often include some illustrations or photographs in their treatments to help describe scenes or ideas that might be difficult to relate through only words on paper.

Treatment should have a title page with the screenwriter’s name immediately followed by the title of the work and, if applicable, the title of an existing work from which it is derived (as in “ALIEN NATION by Rockne O’Bannon & James Cameron” or “THE SEARCHERS written by Frank S. Nugent”). The treatment itself begins with an introductory paragraph that briefly introduces the story and explains how it is unique or innovative.

  1. Final Draft – Screenplay/Script (9 pages or less as requested by client).

A screenplay is often referred to as a script. It is a film’s spine, including the scenes and stage directions, which serves as a guideline for the final production’s use.

The short film screenplay format can be either “Scene Headings” or “Action,” though there are no hard and fast rules for personal projects. 

A screenplay is written in a structured format. It has typically eight elements:

  • Scene Heading.
  • Action.
  • Character.
  • Dialogues.
  • Parenthesis.
  • Extensions.
  • Transition.
  • Shot

The image below points out the various elements of the script format.

Writers sometimes have their scripts reviewed before shooting their movie, discussing where key scenes should take place and whether any dialog or action should be changed to make the film more compelling. This breakdown is also called the script breakdown.

  1. Script/ Budget breakdown of a short film:

A budget breakdown of a short film is a standard list of expenses and fees that are likely to be incurred on the production of a short film. But before that, the script breakdown can include different categories, including cast and crew, locations, shots, and props. The production adds to the requirement adding the video equipment rentals, video editing software rentals, sound recording fees, and other costs associated with the filming process. The breakdown can include up to ten accounts. 

But why am I included in the script? Well, it is not a rule, but a breakdown of the budget happens from a script. The various elements of the script format help us to decipher the production requirement of the movie. Sometimes, the writers have to present the criteria in the film through script breakdowns minus the costs.

Scenes/Visuals:

-Cast and crew (10) $500 

-Food and water for the cast (150) 

-Location fees (250)   -Locations with permits (100)

-Video equipment rentals (100)

-Video editing software rental (250)

-Audio recording software rental (100)

-Custom design of posters and flyers for the film (25) 

-Graphic design work for website and flyers (25) 

-Posters and flyers printed (250) 

-Animations (150) 

-Music licensing fees (25) 

-Sound recording fees (100) 

-Special effects costs (400) 

-Other: Screenwriting, equipment rentals, insurance, etc.

-Total: ($1,175)

Image Example of a Cast list

  1. The Pitch Letter

The pitch or the query letter is a short letter which is written by a screenwriter to a producer in order to get their script read. It should sell your short film script as best as possible.

These letters are the very first impression of a film producer. When you submit your screenplay for consideration, always include a query letter.

There are two types of query letters:

  • The first type describes your screenplay in very few words. It is written when an agent sells a script to a studio or production company. 
  • The second type is much longer and includes the synopsis of the script. It is written by a screenwriter himself/herself to producers and studios directly.

The letter’s main objective is to sell your script. It’s your best opportunity to describe your screenplay, but also to the producers what you have in mind.

To deliver a great letter, you must include all the information about your script as mentioned above from the logline to the final draft.

Always be sure to include your contact information at the end of the letter, so the producer can easily contact you.

While writing, kindly follow the tips mentioned below as they will help you write the perfect short film.

Valuable Tips for Writing Your Short Film Script:

  1. Set clear story goals and narrative purpose. You must have a clear vision of what the story is about and how you will resolve it. One way to accomplish this is to write down the four basic elements of a short film script on a sheet of paper: Theme, Conflict, Setting, and Second Plot Point. Establish your story’s themes and the themes of your characters.
  2. Plot – The plot is the basis of a short film script. It works best when it is linear, although you can tell some stories in a circular way. Plan your story in stages or beats, and mark the points where the plot will progress. Most writers find that it is easiest to write their first draft on index cards. Then they can fit it into a word processing document on their computer and make changes as they go along. After you have written the first draft, you can then move on to the next draft.
  3. Characters –  A short film script has a small cast, often no more than three or four characters. You may want to create a character profile for each one as you develop them.
  4. Dialogue – Try to make your characters believable and realistic by having them talk in normal conversational tones, avoiding any made-up or “cutesy” dialogue that is unnatural for the character or situation.
  5. Scene description – You need to give the reader a clear picture of what is happening in every scene. Be specific with the setting and let your reader know who is present, what they are wearing, any props that have been used, and the weather conditions if relevant. Make sure you can identify which character is speaking at any given time by using action beats or tags to show their dialogue.
  6. Writing tips – Learn about the camera and how to control it to reveal the scene. Learn about lighting, composition, and creating strong visual images. These are very important for any written document, whether it is a short film script or an academic paper, or a business report.
  7. Structure – To write your short film script, you need to know how many scenes there will be and where those scenes will fall into the story arc. Make sure there are no plot holes and try to give each scene a purpose. For example, if the protagonist is going to a doctor’s appointment in one scene, make sure that you have given him an issue or problem before he goes. Then he can receive his diagnosis and react accordingly.
  8. Voiceover – Some short film scripts are written entirely in voiceover. It means that the writer describes what is happening through the character’s inner dialogue instead of through dialogue between them. It can work, but it is better to write actively and allow the reader to fill in the blanks.

Final Words:

I hope this article was helpful to you! This post featured a detailed breakdown of how to write a screenplay for your short film. We covered techniques like scene description and dialogue and the importance of character development and outlining your script.

So,  If you’re looking to make an impressive film for college or just practicing on your own, I hope this post was just for you!

Recent Content