Cherwell Film School: Writing a screenplay

So, you’ve secured what you think will be a ground-breaking premise. It’s relatable, topical and simultaneously timeless. But a good screenplay is still in order, in fact it’s primordial for the quality of the premise in your head to carry through to the screen. Although much of the advice on writing screenplays is applicable to both shorts and features – they sometimes differ, as they need to take a different approach to telling an impactful story due to time restraint. My advice will focus on how to write a screenplay for a short.

  • Twist, twist, twist: A short film screenplay does not have the time to be remembered through extravagancies in of character development, or intricate revelations of the human psyche. The drama of life is captured because the script drags pout a question throughout most of the film, which is then answered at the end. But it’s best if it’s not in the way one expects.
  • Motion: Mark Axelrod of Chapman University, in his book ‘Constructing Dialogue’ specifically looks at the language of screenplays. He concludes that the most effective ones have a motion of purpose. This, he states, is most successfully indicated when the last word of one character is closely associated with the first word of the follow-up response. This emulates real life conversations. Take a careful listen next time there’s a conversation going on.
  • Detail: Film is a visual form of storytelling. You should be telling things more with image than dialogue. This means that directions and character descriptions are fundamental in telling a believable story. Particularly for shorts where limited time means the audience needs visual cues to set the scene before it starts changing.