Writing Short Films

Hey gang, I’m currently on restricted internet access for the next week, but I promise I’ll finish off my posts about auditions and introduce you to the cast I settled on really soon!

For now, I decided to gather together all my posts on writing short films and short film structure in one place, so that you guys can either give yourselves a crash course or reacquaint yourselves with my brilliant suggestions and ideas for writing shorts (if I do say so myself).

Here are the links!

Short Film Structure: Story Models
Short Film Structure: The Beginning
Short Film Structure: Characters
Short Film Structure: The Ending, Part 1 – The Twist
Short Film Structure: The Ending, Part 2 – No Twist
Short Film Structure: Audience 
Short Film Structure: Pace

And last, but not least:

Short Film Structure: THE STORY

Enjoy! Throw me any questions you’ve got and we’ll see if we can work out the answers!

Pre-Production: Auditions Part 03

The casting call.

It’s tough. Like I outlined in my post from earlier this week, the casting call is your pitch to actors. You want to inspire them to get involved in the project. You want them to take the time to click the ‘Apply’ button. You want them to want to give up their time to be a part of your little project, to make it the best it can possibly be.

This makes the casting call one of the most important pitches you will ever write.

You can’t give your actors the same pitch as you give your producer, your DOP, your crew. Your actors are different. They’re special. You want them to love your project as much as you do – if they really believe in what they’re doing, that will show on the screen. You can always tell if an actor doesn’t really care about what they’re doing. It might only be a split second in one shot, buried in 90 minutes, but that flicker is there. And the audience will see it and it could break the suspension of disbelief in the film and suddenly the audience aren’t invested any more but aren’t sure why.

Write a casting call that reflects the tone of your film. Remember that actors may have spent half an hour searching through casting calls, they’ve probably flicked through the list every few days or so. They’ve all seen dodgy looking casting calls, they’ve all seen casting calls for the same projects but with different titles and crew. You need to make yours stand out. Don’t be afraid to put your personality into it either – they’re not only reading to suss out the film, they also want to suss out the people behind the film. After all, you guys are going to be working pretty closely together, they want to know that it’ll be worth their time.

This is what I wrote for the casting call for ‘With A Little Help From Our Friends’:

Hi there! ‘With A Little Help From Our Friends’ is a seven minute short comedy film that is about two friends who are trying to convince their best friends not to date each other. Sounds confusing, but it’s a lot of fun – and, of course, has a twist at the end!

We’re shooting the last weekend in October (29th and 30th), in High Barnet, London. We, unfortunately, don’t have enough money to pay you but we will feed you, cover travel expenses (within reason – we probably won’t be able to fly you down from Glasgow!) and can promise you a good time on set – great crew, wicked script: we’re just looking for the perfect cast!

The film is being made by a collection of dedicated filmmakers with varying experience but the same amount of love for filmmaking. The script was shortlisted for a script competition last year (The London Screenwriters’ Festival Short Script Competition).

AUDITIONS ARE BEING HELD THIS SUNDAY 4TH SEPTEMBER FROM 11AM-2PM IN HIGH BARNET, LONDON.

Please do not apply if you have no intention of showing up for the audition. My iPhone only has so much battery to waste playing Angry Birds in the chunk of time you leave open.

If you have any questions, please get in touch, I’m more than happy to answer them!

Looking forward to hearing from you!

Alli
Writer and Director

It’s light, it’s a bit funny, it’s brief. Same as the film, really. It also helped when I wanted to reinforce about time-wasters (it worked too, everyone who had to pull out let me know they were doing so). But the amount of cover letters from enthused actors who were keen to get their hands on some comedy spoke volumes (I’ve spoken about comedy vs drama script before). The pitch worked. I got 100 odd applications for a reason.

Same rules apply for character descriptions. Make them interesting. Don’t be afraid to reveal things about your characters that happen in the script. People won’t even remember the character descriptions you posted by the time they see the film. Again, it’s about making the actors hungry to play a role like the one you’re describing. Here are my character descriptions:

MAX
19-22 years old, Max is intelligent, cheeky and is rarely seen without his best mate, Des. Max is usually the guy who has to convince Des out of his hair-brained schemes, but every so often he does allow himself to be dragged along and does have a lot of fun – until they get chased by a shopkeeper brandishing a broom or hiding in the bushes to hide from a small time security guard.

Max’s weakness is girls. He doesn’t quite know how to handle them and often finds himself talking at 100 miles per minute to avoid awkward silences. But when he spots Abby, it’s different. There’s an easiness there that makes it simple for him to be himself.

DES
19-22 years old. Loud. Dramatic. Physical. Des has an imagination that runs faster than Usain Bolt and he loves it. He’s never far away from his partner in crime, Max, although more often than not, the ideas are all Des’. He’s easy to talk to, but often says completely the wrong thing to girls who usually give him a swift slap across the face or a dark glare. He doesn’t mind, he knows that he’s awesome.

It’s when he comes across someone that he genuinely likes that his words and charm fail him and he isn’t sure what to do.

LUCY
19-22 years old. Lucy is full of boundless energy and enthusiasm, with a tinge of melodramatics and tends to over-exaggerate the smallest of things. Often, this leads into her wicked sense of humour and is somehow endearing to those who don’t know her.

But underneath the energy, Lucy is a little more shy when it comes to going out on a limb for her love life. After all, isn’t it more romantic to pine from the corner than go up and talk to the person that she likes?

ABBY
19-22 years old. Creative, quiet but with a vibrant streak that not many people get to see, Abby will always surprise you. She wants to be an actress, but she’s got a back up career in case she needs it. There’s two sides to Abby and a lot of people underestimate her due to the fact that she’s often standing in the shadow of her best friend Lucy. Abby doesn’t mind – she knows that if she keeps trying she’ll get where she wants to be in the end.

Can I let you in on a secret? Max and Des don’t get chased by a shop-keeper with a broom in the film. Des doesn’t get slapped by a girl. There are no scenes with Lucy seizing her chance and nervously telling the boy she likes that she likes him. That doesn’t matter. What matters is that all these things give you an idea of character, which then is built into the film through action. It gives the actors a chance to figure out who they want to play with, who they want to create, who they want to become.

Do you know the character who got the most applications? Abby. Easily. I’m still not sure why. Perhaps because she is described as a bit conflicted, perhaps because she’s the most relatable character in the set. I have no idea. But what I do know is that on audition day, the actors all came in and genuinely enjoyed auditioning for me. There was a fair amount of laughter and I think we all had a lot of fun.

Plus, no-one I eventually cast in the film complained about the lack of brooms or slaps in the script.

Think About Your Audience…

Rewrites. 

A word that sends a shiver down the spine of most writers.

Not me. But I’m a bit weird like that.

I’ve just done what I hope is the final rewrite on With A Little Help From Our Friends. I’m not planning on doing any more until I’ve locked in what’s actually happening with it, but for now, it’s pretty much good to go. I read it for the first time in a few months and realised that something was missing. It took me awhile focusing on other things in the script – and, admittedly, a lot of the notes I made were more directorial than writer-focused which was an exciting twist on the usual process – before I realised what it was.

I was putting the audience in the wrong position in the beginning.

When I get to a certain stage in a script, I find it really helps push the story to think about who the audience is going to click with and who you want them to click with. For instance, if you’re writing a mystery film, you’re NOT going to reveal the killer in the first scene and so the audience clicks with the detective character. If you’re writing an action flick, you want them to click with the hero, not the villain. Or perhaps the damsel in distress character and then the hero comes in and sweeps her/him off to safety and they race away together.

In most scripts, there is a character who is essentially representing the audience. It isn’t always the same character either – it varies. Shakespeare did it: the character who identifies the characters, who doesn’t quite understand what’s going on, the one who is in the same position as the audience and asks the questions they can’t. In movies, it’s often the protagonist – they discover the rules of the world at the same time as the audience. It has become a lot more subtle (usually) since Shakespeare, but consider how you want your audience to feel in each scene and push that emotion as far as you can.

The audience is the most important thing you’ve got to focus on as a filmmaker.

After all, if you’ve got no audience, you’ve not really got much of a film.

Short Film Structure: Characters

I started posting earlier this week about the structure of short films – something that is less discussed and talked about when creating films. I find this quite interesting as short films are a great way of getting your work out there – especially with great platforms such as YouTube and Vimeo kicking around on the internet and such a wide range of short film festivals going on across the world these days.
See my previous post below (or click here) on good ways to start your short.
Enough rambling. On with it!



+ The characters in a short film should be easily recognisable. 


In order to not waste precious minutes on the setup, the characters need to be easily recognisable. In ‘Spider‘ (see earlier post), it’s a man apologising to an unimpressed girl. In ‘Mulitple Choice’ (directed by Mike Goode, written by Ian Thomson), it’s a group of boys with a clear group structure:



You can understand each ‘type’ of character immediately. You’ve got the Nerd – the one who is panicking about being late and is willing to do whatever it takes to get the grade; you’ve got the Leader – the one who comes up with the hair-brained scheme and is calm in any emergency; you’ve got the Follower – the one who doesn’t really want to go along with it but has no other option and, of course, the Teacher – the one who is smarter than we all think. This character dynamic is set up from the first thirty seconds of the film.

Nerd is screeching at his friends and racing out of the flat, panicking.
Follower wakes up, blearily but makes no real contribution.
Leader is totally disinterested, more focused on something totally random instead of the matter at hand.
All these character types are easily recognisable and the audience immediately knows who the characters are and (most probably) how they’re going to act and are willing to go along with their story.
Of course, not all characters in short films have to be archetypes. For the short films that are more of a Coming Of Age or Loss Of Innocence themed, the focus is solely on how the character changes over the course of the film. That being said, they still generally start off as an easily recognisable ‘type’ of person and evolve from there.
But the starting point for most characters in a short film should be a person that the audience can instantly understand. This way, the film can instantly kick off and get going instead of spending the first three minutes in setting things up and then running out of time for the important bit – telling the story.

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