Last summer I was forlornly staring at my computer, a feature spec on the screen and the realisation it would likely never sell on my mind. As I mourned the loss of my creative baby and remembered the good times, I just couldn’t pull the plug on the first five pages. So I turned them into a short which I was fortunate enough to have produced.
Since then I’ve written many more, and I’m finding that not only does it really help hammer home disciplines I should be applying to my feature writing, it’s also helping me gain market exposure, reputation and industry contacts.
In fact I’ve gained so much from the experience I’m offering 30 reasons why any writer should consider investing time in shorts.
1. You Focus More on Story
Shorts force you to tackle story head on. They also give you the option to tell stories which are best when briefly told or don’t fit in with common structure.
2. You Refine Your Development Process
Writing features means we may tackle development as little as once a year. This is the foundation we build our scripts upon and honing that process is essential.
3. You Get to Try out New Genres
And you may find you’re better suited to them than you think. Going outside your comfort zone is far more approachable and enjoyable when you’re committing less.
4. You Get More Freedom to Speak
Shorts don’t need to be highly commercial so you’re not constrained by appeal. You don’t have to please the masses, you can take risks and get on your soapbox.
5. You Learn to Respect Budget
Do you need that shooting time? That character? Is the location viable with no budget? Are any special FX affordable? Props obtainable? Vehicles rentable?
6. You Really Have to Make Every Line Count
A very limited page count forces you to trim hard. You resist over describing. You need subtext. You say more with less. You say it without words.
7. You Focus on Emotion
Without excessive action, you create impact from emotion. Every beat has to drive the story forward in a compelling fashion. Every scene must maximise conflict.
8. You Learn to Build Character Fast
You have mere seconds to make your protag likable and characters multi-dimensional. Any backstory has to be implied with minor detail and the most brief of dialogue.
9. You Come to Appreciate how Short a Scene Can Be
You find yourself writing powerful scenes with little or no dialogue. You discover you can fit four very telling scenes in a single page.
10. You Can Add to Your Portfolio Fast
Refine and develop your concept on Monday, draft until Wednesday, re-write until Friday. Your portfolio rapidly fills with a diverse range of writing samples.
11. You Get to Practice Writing Log-Lines
You learn to focus on the fundamentals of your story and present it in an appealing way. Once you go to market, you gain insight into what appeals by trial and error.
12. Promotion is Free
Stage 32 allows you to upload log-lines and scripts, plus is also regularly visited by filmmakers requesting shorts. InkTip hosts short listings indefinitely for free.
13. You Learn to Deal With Read Requests
You get to develop your professional manner. You learn how to research those who contact you. You become hardened to taking pass after pass after pass.
14. You Connect With Others When it Really Matters
Everybody has to start somewhere and those you align with now may go on to become significantly more influential.
15. You Can Quickly Redraft
Upon every read request you can quickly read through your short, make improvements and catch typos. You will often remind yourself how good you are or how far you’ve come.
16. You Get to Practice Negotiating
If a filmmaker wants to produce your short, you’ll likely want to discuss terms such as writer credit, intellectual property and exclusivity.
17. It Doesn’t Matter You’re Not Going to Make Money
Because nobody else will. The producer may be losing money, the crew using their own equipment and actors traveling into set after getting time off work.
18. A Short Might be Selling Your Feature
Some of your shorts may make good teasers or trailers for your features. Or the producer may want to take things further in the future.
19. Going Into Production Humbles You
Any arrogance you have is quickly shed as you hope your not embarrassing yourself and the people who have put faith into your work.
20. You Appreciate Production More
You find out if you know how to share an fdx file. You learn to overcome confusion and obstacles. You admire each individual role from casting to DOP to makeup.
21. You Accept and Embrace Difference in Creative Opinion
Opinion that may be born out of shooting and resource limitations. Or perhaps improvements based around the valuable experience and insight others have.
22. You Tackle Sitting and Waiting
During production you may sitting around for months biting your nails in anticipation. You learn to bury that anxiety, break the paralysis and keep writing.
23. You Become Less Controlling
Hitting play on a completed short is hard. Everything will likely be different to what you imagined, but you quickly come to appreciate and admire why.
24. You Learn About Simple Writing Mistakes
Any clumsy dialogue becomes obvious. Poor pacing, lack of movement and excessive scene length highly apparent.
25. You Respect What Others Bring to the Table
Editors may cut up your scenes. Costume may dress your character different to how you imagined. Actors may trim lines or change wording. Most probably all for the better.
26. You Gain Industry Reputation
If five people work on one of your shorts, they know about you, your work and how easy you are to work with. That’s five voices working their way up the industry.
27. You May Have a Useful Feedback Tool
Not everybody enjoys or understands the format scripts are written in. Asking them to watch a short video will likely be more welcomed.
28. A Short Helps Sell You
You gain a credit which gives you more validity to help you sell yourself. If the short is shown at reputable festivals, that credit may become applicable on IMDB.
29. Others Will Be Selling You
The director, actors and crew are going to be promoting any short produced. Every time it’s played, regardless of if it’s on Vimeo or a major festival, it promotes you.
30. You Make New Friends
Friends who are also on a journey where your paths may cross again. And even if they rapidly outgrow you, being part of their success will only feel warm and rewarding.
So has this list caused you to consider writing shorts? Have you previously been, or still remain skeptical to their value? Have you had success with a short? Or can you add any more reasons to write them?
Stage 32 Shoutout
A version of this article was originally published on the Stage 32 Blog. If you’re in the film, television, or theatre industry, then please check out this rapidly growing social media network and consider joining up.
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Some Tips and Further Details
For an example of terms and conditions for producing shorts, you can visit my website www.cjwalley.com.
For InkTip’s free shorts listing service visit www.inktip.com/sa_short_script_listing.php you’ll need to supply your copyright details during submission.
There is no fixed page count for shorts. Anything less than feature length fits the definition. Festivals like shorts less than 10 minutes as they’re easy to block into a schedule. Raindance suggest a script length of 7–8pages. The shorter you go, the more you’ll push yourself and the more rewarding you’ll find it.
Shootin’ The Shorts is a project that highlights short scripts that are production ready and should excite filmmakers. It’s completely free and part of Script Revolution.