Writing a Script for a Short Film

By Martin Dansky BSc.dansky.jpg

When it comes to writing a screenplay one should have a rough idea of what one wants to show. The best way would be through visual images that can be translated into some kind of outline for the script. The outline might be the basis for a synopsis or a short summary of what the film is about. If a short film is being made then one really doesn’t have to worry too much about character development; there really isn’t much time to work on a subplot or elaborate on the main character. I usually pick a slice of life, or an event, which may even be based on personal experiences. As far as subject matter is concerned, if a person wants to tell a story then one’s own life can serve very well as a backdrop.

Today a lot is based on visual effects, which serves to attract the attention of the viewing public and compensates for a script that might otherwise be poor in dialogue. The point is, the writer should be concerned to tell a story in whatever way. He should be aware that the director has his/her own creative vision, so ideally the writer should collaborate with the director to ensure the film respects the story. (Nowadays, some writers opt to be directors themselves so as to minimize compromising their work.) Otherwise the writer should develop enough confidence to hand over the reigns of his work to the director who will be the one to attach a series of visual images to the text. Whether the story is through visuals, a narrative tale or a dialogue between two characters, the writer shouldn’t be deterred from the job at hand and that is relaying his message, if any, to the eventual viewing public. After all, the script is likely to end up in a film office and will be farmed out to potential directors who would like to work with something creative.

In a slice of life situation, when characters are used to transmit ideas, the writer should not be concerned with a detailed dialogue. He should realize that in real life people talk in phrases, sentences are said to round off concerns and express opinions. By making these statements wordy the writer is ignoring a vital issue: there are going to be people moving about, using these sentences. There has to be certain open-endedness to the dialogue so that it would appear one character is cutting off another as he speaks or that a person has started to talk at a moment when something distracts him,as it happens in real life. It would help if the writer would visually imagine those sentences before finishing a final copy that he wants a director to feed into actor’s mouths. Examine phone conversations or introductory dialogues between real people to see that a lot of interruptions, pauses and interjections are taken for granted and are tremendously underdeveloped in novice film scripts. Actions do speak louder and do not need to be accompanied by words. They allow the viewer to absorb what has been previously said or to anticipate what will be said in the context of what is being seen.

As far as a storyline is concerned, if the film is short it could be based on an event like a birthday party. People are invited over and everyone carries their own baggage but if the script is going to concentrate on the party host then little he/she has to be given the most attention. Again that attention does not have to be transmitted into words as much as the dialogue around the main figure touches him and his relationship with the other people. Relationships are a key in dealing with a fictional dialogue just as in real situations, so the writer can develop the notion of one character being more dominant than another. There are many shades of grey when it comes to toning the script especially if there are many characters and each one has a particular quirk.

Sometimes a book can be translated into a film script. I prefer to start with the notion that what I have to say has to get to a quick climax and denouement rather than worrying over digesting someone else’s tale. If the writer has an idea of the market he wants to reach then he may also like to get real life characters involved. He might want to interview people or live a day with them. This is especially valuable in short films having an important social context, like our misconception of the capabilities of disadvantaged children or how squatters really live. Such films may also become documentaries, as they tend to be real accounts about what happens to people under certain circumstances. If the film is appealing then the writer may later want to develop his ideas into a series of short scripts, dealing with other slices of life involving the same person or event. Or he may want to move onto another venue and expand his story into a narrative book form. The importance is to know how you want to appeal to your reader or potential filmmaking associate and how to be flexible in your approach.

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