Randall Jahnson Talks Short Scripts

“FilmLab is a completely unique contest and an extraordinary opportunity to get discovered,” said veteran screenwriter Randall Jahnson, one of the hosts for FiLMLaB’s short script workshop held January 10th in West Linn. Along with director Martin Vavra and 2014 winner, Jon Dragt, they led a lively discussion with a sold out audience of writers for two and a half hours. Utilizing Jon’s winning script (along with a few director guided rewrites) and many video examples (the Porcelain Unicorn is one; others are listed below) the three amigos provided valuable insight and guidance for writers interested in tackling short form. “They are a portal, if you will, for longer forms,” Randall said, citing the Oscar nominated feature, Whiplash, which began as a short film.

Randall Jahnson at the 2015 FiLMLaB Workshop

Randall Jahnson at the 2015 FiLMLaB Workshop

For those of you who couldn’t join us for the workshop, Randall has provided a few notes for you to think about as you work on your short script.

  • Distill your story down to the essentials – the salient moment/scene
  • Make sure your story has conflict
  • Grab your audience’s attention ASAP – that usually means introducing conflict as soon as possible (a man with an old box anxiously approaching a door…)
  • Humor is one of the best ways to hook and hold our attention
  • A lot of successful short films play with expectations and perceptions – they reverse them or provide a twist at the end – a la O. Henry
  • Less is more with dialogue and verbal exposition; let the visuals drive the story
  • Keep it simple – you’re not telling War & Peace
  • More and more, short films are becoming the new calling card.  Because of their length and accessibility via YouTube or Vimeo, they are the way in which writers can get their work noticed.

Also pointed out during the workshop, was the new trend in book trailers for author websites. For example, the Thug Kitchen Cookbook, a foul and profane guide to healthy eating, shot to the top of the NYTimes Bestseller list once their book trailer was released. And in this brave new world of brave new media, authors are expected to be media savvy and aggressive self promoters. Knowing a little something about short form can only add to a writers marketability.

Here are a few more excellent examples used in the workshop to illustrate effective use of short scripts, short form, in short films, book trailers and even a car commercial. Each offers a unique perspective on the utility and power of short form.

The Black Hole 

Portal: No Escape

Miss Peregrine’s House For Peculiar Children

The Making of Miss Peregrine’s book trailer

Car commercial

We’ve had a couple of follow up questions, post workshop, the most common one seems to be whether or not you can enter more than one script into the #2015FiLMLaB Contest. The answer is yes; as long as each is registered and paid for separately. And, to use the character prompt correctly, we must see who or what Bug Eyed Bill is at least once in the script, whether its referencing an actual person, or a picture, or animal or prop.

Lastly, for those who attended the workshop and would like to reconnect with your classmates, may I suggest you join Willamette Writers at The Old Church on February 3rd, for their monthly lecture? There’s plenty of opportunity to meet up afterwards in the adjoining banquet room over decaf and cookies!

Hope to see you there!