In a 48-hour film competition, your task is to produce an entire short film within 48 hours. How do you write a short film script overnight? First up – don’t panic! Sure the other team members are all sitting around twiddling their thumbs waiting for you to turn in your script but they haven’t got much choice so focus on your task at hand.
Consider a Writing Partner
It’s difficult enough to craft a great short film script over a couple of months let alone overnight. Given the time pressure, it’s no surprise that many teams comprise more than one writer. Consider writing your 48-hour script with a like-minded writing partner – under pressure two minds can be better than one.
Decide on the Style
Before you even start brainstorming, decide what style of film you’re making – is it a serious drama? Black comedy? Spoof? Film Noir? Will it be arty and atmospheric? Your specified genre will dictate this to a degree, but it’s really worth clarifying early on. The Horror genre, for example, can be expressed in many different stylistic ways – your intended film could be funny, satirical, disgusting, moody, experimental, arty, naturalistic or gothic.
Brainstorm for an Idea
So you now know what sort of film you all want to make – it’s time to brainstorm for the great idea. And fast. An important part of writing for the 48 Hour competition is realizing that writing at this pace is all about making the best decisions fast. Completion not perfection!
Fast, effective brainstorming requires participants to be open to throwing in any idea they might have no matter how ill-formed or ridiculous. You simply don’t have time to be overly critical or perfectionist about it. What you’re doing is just throwing ideas out onto the table until something sticks or excites someone. If there’s more than one of you, you’ll invariably spark ideas in each other just by talking. But if you’re stuck – here are some brainstorming exercises to help get you going.
Tip: Give yourself a brainstorming time limit – agree with your director and any co-writers on the time that you will decide on an idea by. Obviously the sooner you commit to your idea the better.
Brainstorm Your Story
So now you have your idea and you need to get the story down. Write down the core idea and brainstorm by asking yourself the following question:
What could happen to, for example, a man who thinks he’s a dog? The possible answers to this question are infinite and it’s now your job to choose a couple of them to build your story around.
Once you have one plot point you love – ask yourself – what happens next? Once you find that answer, ask yourself the same question again.
Tip: Try to give your story a basic beginning, middle, and end framework. It will stop you meandering and stalling in the middle.
Identify Your Characters
As your story develops you’ll start to see who is in your story. You won’t have a lot of time to develop a huge cast of characters so focus on the main character and those integral to the story. By doing this first, you’re now in a good position to quickly tell the director and crew what type of actors, locations and props you’ll probably need.
Write the (Rough) First Draft
Once you have the rough story in place it’s time to write the script. My best advice at this point is to just bang out a rough draft. You don’t have time at this stage to start being fiddly or precious about dialogue and gags. Remember the objective is to get the script finished. And it doesn’t matter how rough it is, as you’ll have time to go back and improve it. It’s just so much easier to work on an existing document than a blank page.
Edit the Script
When your rough draft is in place now you get to go back and start editing, changing and improving your script.
As you do this ask yourself the following questions – what is my core idea? Is my script serving the core idea? Is there anything that I can cut because it’s superfluous? What is my genre? And am I being true to my intended genre? Is there anything taking me out of my intended genre and can I cut it?
Tip: Try to avoid cliché (unless of course your script is a spoof or satire or intentionally corny). It will make your work more original.
And from here on in, it is just a case of refining and polishing in whatever time you have left.
Have fun and good luck!
© Kathryn Burnett 2015
New Zealand based Kathryn Burnett is an award-winning screenwriter, playwright, script development consultant and workshop facilitator who has worked in film and television for 20 years. She has significant television, short and feature film credits and wrote the multi-award-winning short film “Shelved”. In 2011, she created a series of ideation training workshops and has been helping organisations and individuals be their creative best ever since.
Wanna fire up your next project? Sign up for Kathryn's excellent Creative Action Plan on her website.