We are halfway through the FiLMLaB short script contest. There’s still plenty of time to submit your seven page script for a chance at the Grand Prize: the filming and production of your story by a professional film crew.
In three act structure, the second act is always the longest, and arguably the most tedious to get through regardless of what you’re writing. Even a short story has a beginning, middle and end. And while there is plenty of time to finesse your story into its best version, below are links to some past FiLMLaB posts that might provide a bit of inspiration through the doldrums.
If you didn’t catch last week’s article on Oscar Shorts by Willamette Writers favorite, Danny Manus, you can review it here. In it, he discusses the three most important qualities of short films and deconstructs the nominated shorts:
“Creating compelling characters in a short is difficult as you don’t have the luxury of 10 pages to set them up and tell us their hopes, dreams, goals, backstories, fears, and motivations like in a feature. You’ve got less than 1 page to make them pop. In all of this year’s nominees, it’s about the present story and situation for the character, not their whole life story. Don’t make us feel like spectators, make us feel like participators. In Aya, there’s not much backstory, but the audience feels like the third person in the car with the actors.”
Danny has acted as a judge for numerous screenwriting and short film contests, as well teaching seminars at The Writers Store and conferences throughout the country.
In 2013, Golden Globe and Emmy Award winner Erik Bork (Band of Brothers, Apollo 13) acted as a FiLMLaB judge and shared his thoughts on short form in his blog entitled What Matters Most In A (SHORT) Script:
“Often the most memorable shorts have a fresh twist at the end that wraps things up in surprising but satisfying way. Sometimes they work by compressing an impressive amount of entertainment value and spectacle (or intense emotional realism) into a tiny package. Or they might have a quirky original idea at their heart, which makes them intriguing even on a conceptual level.”
Ultimately, though, the question for him always boils down to, “Did I care?”
That is the question. Review Erik’s article for advice on creating characters and stories your audience will care about.
And while my own 2013 article has specific references to that year’s thematic prompt (and don’t apply to this year’s contest), there are still some very applicable tips and trips worth looking at.
“Trip #1: Even a short story must have a beginning, middle and end. Every scene you write should have a beginning, middle and end, so there’s really no excuse not to close with a proper ending. That was the number one mistake we saw during last year’s judging: scripts that just stopped on page 7; the story didn’t end, it just stopped. If it takes you ten pages to tell your story, write ten pages as your first draft; write nine as your second draft and seven as your final draft. Be brutal in your editing. If it’s not essential—cut it.”
There is no question that writing shorts (stories, scripts) is difficult. This year’s contest is a particularly challenging with the introduction of not one, but three writing prompts. And next year will be different, but just as challenging, we hope, because our goal is to generate creativity in writers of all stripes by tightening their story constraints. We never know what the result will be, until all the scripts are judged and the next phase of experimentation begins: the production of the winning script.