Writing Comedy: My Process

Everyone writes differently. There are definitely no right or wrong ways to get words down on the page – there are certain standards and formats that you can use to your advantage, to present yourself as knowledgable and professional. The most important thing you can do is figure out what works for you – then stick to it. There’s no point in forcing yourself to write the way someone else does it, just because they do it that way. Try new ways to set up structure or pull out story, sure, but if it doesn’t work for you, don’t be afraid to say that it doesn’t work for you and go back to what you’ve always done.

I write comedy. It’s a bit of a beast, comedy, because there are so many different types. There’s romantic comedies, action comedies, balls out comedies, sitcoms, sketches, radio, television, film – it goes on and on and on. My style isn’t about having a huge belly laugh every minute, mine is about making people laugh with a touch of humanity – something to think about at the end.

As a result, my first drafts aren’t always so funny. I have to resist the urge to go back and tear everything apart in my early drafts – but this gets easier the more I write, as I know that I’ll probably tear it all apart in rewrites anyway. The first few drafts are all about getting the story right. The comedy comes later – there are always a handful of jokes in the early drafts but I’m more concerned about character arcs and plots instead of making people laugh. If jokes are there, it’s because they’ve happened naturally when I’ve written them.

The key thing I’ve found for me is to give myself permission for my work to not be bang on the first time around. It’s okay if it’s not perfect – that’s what multiple drafts are for. I can do a lot of work beforehand – outlines, scene by scene breakdowns – to make sure that the structure will do what it’s supposed to in the early drafts (and, I say ‘a lot of work’ but I know that I, personally, do less figuring out everything beforehand and let a lot of things happen on the page), but I need to remember that writing is a process, not a science. It’s part of the process to change, shape and mould things as you go along.

Another key thing I’ve learnt about myself as I write is that you have to trust yourself to be ruthless. You need to trust your instinct. Where does your script begin to soar? That’s most likely your strongest part. Where, when you re-read, do you feel like it’s still a bit of a slog? That’s likely a part that needs work. Don’t be afraid to acknowledge this. I find that looking back over my core idea for the scene and simplifying is a great way to cut extra weight. Likewise, getting out of scenes early and starting them late. The more scripts I read, the more I realise that this is really vital.

Once I’ve got the structure locked, the story strong, that’s when I start to do passes on the jokes. There will always be some in my early drafts – some I’ve worked out in an outline or a breakdown, some have happened on the page as I wrote. But they’re probably not the greatest jokes. Sometimes they are and they make me laugh like mad, so I’ll leave them in. Other times, they’re not working for the comedy as well as they should and so I analyse the scene, the character, the line and see what I can do to up the laughs and ramp up the hilarity.

I’m lucky in that I have a great co-writer who has a nose for comedy. That means that we can talk about scenes together and we’ll always end up throwing around new jokes, ideas, trying to keep the ball rolling until we hit the wall and then come up with a few more. Even on our individual projects, we work together in feedback on drafts, to try and bring the best out of the script.

Right now, I’m doing a first draft of our sitcom pilot. It’s been planned, written, torn apart, re-written. We’ve hit character problems, created new backstory, found new running jokes, developed new storylines. We’ve tried different structure formats to make the spine strong, started outlining and hit problems. Now, we’ve gotten to the point where we’ve an outline we feel good about and I’ve started the new first draft this week. And I just wanted to note this somewhere – that it’s okay for this draft not to be particularly hilarious; I trust Anton and I to enhance the comedy in later drafts. These early drafts are all about structure, story and character. Without those three, you’ve only got ink on a page or pixels on a computer screen. And that’s not all writing is. Writing is about emotion. Emotion comes out of characters you can relate to and a story you enjoy. And you can’t have either of those things without a solid story structure.

Right. Good little pep talk. Back to it.

Kill Your Babies

The phrase ‘kill your babies’ is one that often gets thrown around in writing and filmmaking. It basically means that you shouldn’t get too attached to your ideas because every once in awhile, you’ll have the best idea you’ve ever had in your life – your career, even – and you’ll want to keep it. But it doesn’t work for the story. And so, you’ll need to let it go, even though you’ll never come up with an idea that’s better.

That’s the theory anyway. Some people take it in different ways – some people say that once you’ve finished the first draft of your script your should go back and cut your best scene out entirely. Or cut your best idea. Your best line of dialogue. I never really understood that way of thinking – surely you would keep developing your ideas so that they matched your very best one, not cut your best one to match the calibre of the rest? But everyone writes differently, so if that’s what works for you as a writer, then knock yourself out.

I’m working on a sitcom at the moment with my partner in crime, Anton. We’re developing the plotline of the episode that we’ll end up writing as our pilot. We spent weeks putting all the storylines into context of the first series, making sure all the characters had arcs and often throwing old ideas out because we’d discover something even better that was borne out of story and character in the context of the episode instead of spontaneous inspiration. We’d slaved over this one particular episode and had some really strong ideas for it, we knew what needed to happen but it wasn’t coming together. There was something that wasn’t flowing naturally and neither of us wanted to try to force the episode into a shape it wasn’t going to fit into.

So we took a breather to try and figure it out and I suggested throwing everything out and figuring out what the function of the episode needed to be at its very core. Not surprisingly, Anton was slightly skeptical of doing that, considering how hard we’d been working on it. I probably would’ve reacted the same way if he’d suggested it to me. But, as I explained to him, we were just going to use it as an exercise to see if we could find what wasn’t working. It didn’t mean that we were binning everything to never look at it again. It was just about getting back to the core of the episode to see what we were trying to do and if there were better ways of doing it than what we were working with.

We did that. We got it back to the core function of story and character. We straightened out the kinks in the skeleton, laid all the groundwork properly, then went back and talked about the best possible way to hit all the beats and make the characters do exactly what they needed to do for the episode. And we came up with some amazing new ideas  out of that (some of which have been overtaken already by others).

But we also realised that the main idea we were working with for the episode still worked. Really really well. We weren’t so stubborn that we’d ‘killed’ it, then refused to bring it back into the story because it was too much of a good idea. What was the point of that if the idea was still working? We brought it back in, surrounded by other, newer ideas which were stronger and better (and funnier) and the whole episode sprung into new life.

That’s why I don’t really agree with the term ‘kill your babies’. In my eyes, it’s kind of like shooting yourself in the foot. If it’s not working with the rest of the story, then yes, you should probably put it aside and save it for something else. But if it still can play a strong enough role in terms of story and character in your script, I don’t see why you shouldn’t be able to revive that baby and bring it back to life.

So maybe the phrase should be ‘Knock Your Babies Out With A Sedative Until You Can Figure Out If They’re Working Or Not’?

Too long? Yeah, I think so too. I’ll work on it.

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!

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: Pace

The unsung hero of short films is pace.

Pace does not mean that everything races along at a million miles per hour. In the instance of film, pace does not mean speed. In the instance of film, pace means the rhythm of the story.

You’re watching a horror movie. The main character is watching television. Staring blankly at the screen. Then a twig snaps. They pause, wait for another noise to happen. Nothing. They turn back to the television. A creak. They pause again. Another creak. They’re frightened now; they stand and silently move toward the fireplace. Carefully, carefully, they pick up the poker and arm themselves. They slide noiselessly across the room until they’re next to the door, ready to attack whoever is in the house. Another creak. Louder. The intruder is getting close. Our hero regrips the handle of the poker, determined to do whatever they have to to get out of there alive. A rustle of clothing. Our hero glances up and realises they can see the doorway and themselves in the reflection of the mirror on the wall opposite. A shadow moves toward them from the hallway, there’s a cocking of a gun –

Our hero leaps forward and smashes the intruder on the head with the poker. It catches him on the shoulder but it’s enough to give them a few vital seconds of breathing space. They kick the gun out of the intruder’s hand and wallop them in the stomach with the poker again. Leaping over the faceless man as he sinks to the ground, they race for the door. They slip – catch themselves on a sideboard that sprawls over the floor behind them. They cannon into the door, wrestling with the door handle.

It’s locked.

Swearing, they frantically shove their hand in their pocket, searching for their keys. Nothing. A crash from the hallway – the intruder is coming after them. They look around and notice the keys on the kitchen bench. Without a second thought, they fly across the room, snatch up the keys and shove them roughly in the keyhole. The lock clicks, the door swings open –

– and slams shut.

The hero turns. The intruder, smiling, bears down on them, closing the space between their faces, a sick sick grin on their face.

CUT TO TITLE.

Pace. Notice the rhythm in that little story (please note, that’s not correctly formatted, it’s more prose-y than script-y). It starts slow. Wary. Builds the tension. It rises up and up and up then… BAM! It kicks forward a gear, racing, racing, racing then… BAM! The door slams and the pace slows again as our hero has to face the villain.

The rhythm of the piece is clear. It has a clear crescendo to a climax and then it tapers off to rebuild itself again. That’s not to say that all short scripts have to have that same rhythm – writing is an organic process and it’s different for every story. Pace is best in peaks and troughs. When you follow characters through lows and highs, when the story slows down enough for you to breathe and figure out what’s going on, then takes you by the hand, grins and zooms away without asking if you’re ready.

The pace can be set in post production. It is usually the most obvious place for it to be constructed. But if your script is too slow, unintentionally slow, everything you shoot on the day will be as well and that will be the first problem in the editing suite – and there are enough of them as it is. More often than not short films lose their pace. It’s astonishingly easy to do, even over five minutes or so. But if your characters amble along and nothing happens (and I mean those moments when you’re staring at the screen slightly perplexed that there doesn’t seem to be a point to what these characters are doing), you need to look over the pace again. Fix it in the script and there’ll be less to fix in post.

Think about what your characters want and what they’ll do to get it. Everything they do in every second in your film should be about that journey. If it’s not, cut it. You can probably cut a couple of scenes that do relate to the journey but not strongly enough.

After all, they’re called short films for a reason.

You Know What You’re Trying To Say? Say The Opposite.

As Ronan Keating once put it ‘You say it best when you say nothing at all.’ Perhaps not the best way to start off a new blog post, but I’m going to stick with it. The flashback to the nineties aside, I went and saw Thor on Tuesday night. I was looking forward to it – I’m not a comic book girl, but I have a soft spot for Kenneth Branagh and Chris Hemsworth so was keen to see what magic the two of them could cook up together.

This is not going to be a review on Thor. No spoilers, nothing like that.
About thirty minutes from the end of the film, I started to get fidgety. The 3D glasses (which I’m still not sold on) had scratches on them and I was struggling to find a position to watch in that wasn’t annoying or blurred. I could hear two girls talking loudly about something – potentially Chris Hemsworth’s abs, I don’t know – but they were on the other side of the cinema. If I’d had popcorn, I would’ve thrown it at them.
If you’ve ever watched a movie or a television show with me – my siblings will back me up here – at a certain point I can often predict the next line of dialogue and proceed to annoy everyone by saying it aloud. Yes, I’m that person. But the thing about writing is that the audience isn’t supposed to be able to predict what the characters are going to say. Good writing is all about sleight of hand – leading the audience one way whilst you’re slipping the rabbit into your hat for later.
There were a few moments toward the end of Thor that I was mumbling the next line of dialogue under my breath. It was cheesy, it was clichéd and it annoyed me. Thinking about it as I walked home, I realised what was so frustrating about it.
The moment would’ve been so much more powerful if the characters had said nothing at all.
Subtext. What the characters don’t say is often far more powerful than what they do. One of the best examples of subtext I’ve ever read was a scene with a Man and his Wife in a bookstore and they bump into his Mistress. They have an innocent conversation about reading – how the Mistress is very fond of reading, as is the Man but the Wife rather snippily puts in that she doesn’t read much anymore which surprises the Mistress because the Man is such a fierce reader that the Mistress can’t believe that it hasn’t rubbed off on the Wife.
But they’re not talking about reading.
They’re talking about sex.
And it makes the moment brilliant. Because the audience knows what they’re really talking about and it heightens the tension – will they acknowledge what they’re actually talking about? Does the Wife know that they’re not just talking about reading? It was wonderful to read and it stuck with me.
It’s the same with dialogue and character action in films. Having a conversation about something seemingly innocent that is, in fact, about something else is a really great concept for a short film because it can be sustained for the duration of the short. It’s hard to maintain that over long periods of time. But the actors will be able to convey to the audience what the character actually means in their action – the action will intentionally contradict the dialogue.
Even better than using something else as a foil for what the characters are actually saying is saying nothing at all. To convey it in a gesture or a glance – an actor will fall over themselves to play a moment like that. The power is in the silence. Some of the best comic moments are physical – I’m not talking slapstick, a simple look, a blink, a cough can be enough to have an audience gasping for laughter. Some of the strongest dramatic moments are caught within an action – a stoic father, a stunned girl, a sobbing child. Think about the moment before a kiss. The charged energy in the air. Two people staring into each others’ eyes. Just before they give into temptation…
That moment is always more powerful than the actual kiss.
Really think about your dialogue. In a short, if the dialogue isn’t earning its place, it has to go. You don’t have time to be mucking around with irrelevant dialogue. Everything has to be essential otherwise it’s too random.
As for this moment in Thor, all the character needed to do was smile warmly and touch the other character’s shoulder. Instead, he said what he was thinking to spell it out for the audience. Sometimes you need to do this. Here, you didn’t.
Although it might’ve been handy for those girls who were distracted by Chris Hemsworth’s abs to know what was going on with the story…

Short Film Structure: Story Models

When I was at uni and I told a friend and fellow student that I wanted to be a writer, his eyes lit up.

‘I have the perfect book for you,’ he said. It wasn’t until a few months later when we were at his house shooting a short film, that he thrust it into my hands.

‘This is the bible of writing. Read it. You’ll thank me later.’

The book was written by Linda Aronson and titled ‘Screenwriting Updated: New and Conventional Ways of Writing for the Screen’. I’m going to be honest, I was not enthused by the thought of recreationally reading what was essentially a textbook. I was in my second year of uni and non-fiction wasn’t exactly the most exciting genre for me – especially when I had Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings instead. But I stuck with it. And I read it.

And I loved it.

It was the first book I’d read about writing and it was easy to read, very informative with great examples of films I’d actually seen. A lot of the things I read and learnt from Aronson’s book I still think about now. I met her last year at the London Screenwriters’ Festival and her presence was a huge factor in mejustifying the price of the ticket – although now having been to last year’s one, I can’t recommend it enough.

One of the notes that I have scribbled down in my notebook still is a nugget I found within the pages of that book.

Look at existing story models from a different point of view than the protagonist.

Think ‘Romeo and Juliet’ from the point of view of Lady Capulet. ‘Cinderella’ from the point of view of an ugly stepsister.

I think this is a great point to think about when coming up with ideas for short films.

A new spin on an old theme.

Is what it essentially means. I unintentionally stumbled across this last week when I sent out a Tweet as I was eating my lunch in the park, bookless and notebookless.

It was based on something I was actually watching. I couldn’t decide if Pigeon 1 was flirting or trying to intimidate Pigeon 2. I figured it was funnier if he was trying to flirt, so that’s what I Tweeted. As an impulse, I added the hashtag before I posted it as I thought it might be a nice punchline for the story.

Ten minutes later, I decided to send out another, following the style of the hashtag.

I was surprised to note that my first Tweet had gotten a few replies, people amused by the observation. I figured it would be fun to see where it could go and I had nothing else to do whilst I was enjoying the sun in the park, so I continued.

By adopting a familiar story model of a cheating husband so evident in soaps, the audience (my followers) were aware of where it was going and how it might end. An easily recognisable narrative strand with a new spin on it.
However, my lunch hour was wrapping up, so I needed to figure a way to end it. I planted a little foreshadowing.
By blending the foreshadowing with believable character behaviour (pigeons will linger around for food, after all), the audience may not have even noticed it was there.

By reminding the audience that the story actually is about a pack of birds, the humour of the situation is slightly heightened – the drama heightens the comedy. And it gives me a natural end to the story.

I got a startlingly positive response out of it, so I decided to blog about it and use it as an example of a new spin on an existing story model. This is a series of tweets, but there’s no reason that this thought process can’t be applied to writing short films. Or films in general, come to that.
Think about the stories you like most. Then think about what the story ‘model’ is. There are several classic examples – many are listed in Aronson’s book – but off the top of my head there are Star Crossed Lovers (Romeo and Juliet), Underdog Triumph (Cinderella, Rocky), The Quest (Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings); there are differing models for differing authors. Think about the key plot and character points of your story and see how you might be able to twist it into something new.
After all, who’d have thought that Twitter would find pigeons’ love lives so interesting?
Links:

London Screenwriters’ Festival

Short Film Structure: The Story

I’ve been thinking about this post for awhile and I could bang on for days and days and days about stories in short films, but it’s easier just to bold it in an attempt to make it stick in your mind. There’s really only one thing you need to know about writing stories for short films.

Keep it simple.

That’s honestly all it is.

Keep it simple.

Don’t try and fit the plotline of an entire episode of Doctor Who in there. Don’t try and tackle abridging an idea that could probably be a feature film into the length of a short film.

Chances are it won’t work. It’s too much content to fit into 7 to 10 minutes. Some of the best shorts I’ve ever seen have been five minutes long.

The short film is the best way to showcase your writing talent of (to quote *ahem* Robert McKee) ‘a good story, well told’. In case of short films, the mantra should be ‘a simple story, well told’. The more you put in to a short, the riskier it becomes to get it across quickly in the amount of time you’ve got.

In ‘Spider’, the story is about a practical joker apologising to his girlfriend.

In ‘Multiple Choice’, the story is about three students planning to convince their lecturer to let them resit their exam.

In ‘Lucky’, the story is about a guy trying to save his life.

In ‘Side by Side’, the story is about two friends, using each other as an escape.

They’re all simple stories, well told.

You do hear the odd success story that talks about the feature film being based on a short film written a gazillion years ago. But that’s because the short film is a film in itself. It’s not a short pretending to be a feature or a short pretending to be a television show.

It’s just a short.

With a strong story. And strong characters.

Because the writer has taken the time to develop these two elements to make the film the best it can be.

Keep it simple.

You’ll spend much less time rewriting it.

Short Film Structure: The Ending Part II

This week we’re back on short film structure. Still talking about the ending – the twist-less ending.

It’s a popular theme in short film (or short stories) to have a twist (spoken about here) at the end of the film. Of course, not every short film has a twist – some have a naturally progressive ending like most feature films. These endings can be just as tricky to write – as I’ve said before, the ending is the key to any film. If you don’t pull off the ending, the entire film can fall over. It doesn’t matter how amazing your beginning is – the audience will say ‘Started well, but not sure what happened toward the end.’ You can have beaten the second act into submission – the audience will say ‘The rest was great, but what was with the ending? And, of course, the dreaded ‘Looked great, didn’t really get the story.’

I recently came across a short film called ‘Side by Side’ through Twitter (made by Jamie Hooper and the Fingercuff gang) and thought it was a fantastic little film. The thing I liked most about it was the ending.

It’s a very simple story of two unlikely friends. There’s no ‘twist’ that it was all a dream (which, arguably, isn’t a twist, just lazy writing), there’s no sudden death of one of the characters – it’s an innocent portrayal of two people enjoying themselves. And the one moment of conflict is resolved at the end, seconds after the main conflict happens.
The small gesture of the Man revealing that the unicorn was fine after all is all the story needs to reassure the audience that everything is going to be okay. This is, ultimately, what films and books and plays and stories are designed to do. To reassure the audience that they’re going to be okay. At the end of a Shakespearean tragedy, they’re still going to walk out of it okay. Even though the Girl has a pretty horrible home life, she has a friend in the Man and it’s all going to be okay.
By giving the characters what they need, rather than what they want (although, in this case, it’s the same thing – the Girl wants/needs a father figure, the Man wants/needs a friend), it reassures the audience that life moves on and that they’ll get through it.
Never forget that the most important part of any film is leaving the audience satisfied. If they’re satisfied, they’ll tell their friends about it, then their friends will go and see it and so on and so forth and then, before you know it, Steven Spielberg will be knocking on your door.
What do you mean, that’s not how it happens? Of course it is. How else do people get films made these days?
Links

Short Film Structure: The Ending, Part 1- The Twist

We’re back on Short Film Structure this week, talking about the (arguably) most important part of ANY film: the ending.

It’s often the endings which can make a film fall short. Poorly executed, they can leave your audience confused, annoyed and kind of like the person who misses out on a piece of birthday cake – shafted. The reason is this: they invest time and emotion into the characters (whether it’s 9 minutes or 90 minutes) and if the resolution the film is building towards doesn’t work, that’s when they get frustrated that ‘the story didn’t end how it should’ve’.

One of the main reasons that the audience can feel this way is that people have an expectation of where they want the story to go. You expect a rom-com to end with a happily ever after, you expect an action flick to end with the good guy beating the bad guys. When things don’t happen like that – without a good reason why they don’t – people get annoyed.

This leads me to the first point about endings.

+ The Twist:  

Short films and short stories are often famous for the twist. The moment that caps the rest of the story off and reveals it for what it really is. As writing twists goes – it’s really really hard. You effectively wrench the story into a totally different direction in the dying seconds of the film and expect the audience to love it. It takes careful set-up and planning to really pull off a fabulous twist but at the base of it all is this:

Give the audience what they want in a way they don’t expect.

I HATE that phrase. The first time I heard it, I was at university and it felt like one of those high and mighty know-it-all phrases that never makes any sense.

Until you figure out what people are actually trying to say when they say it.

Watch this short – there are spoilers in the next paragraph, so watch it now:

Lucky‘ Directed by Nash Edgerton – Blue Tongue Films

Yep, it’s another Nash Edgerton short. He makes good films, so sue me. This is another great example of a really well executed short film. And the best bit is that even though the protagonist gets killed at the end, it’s still a satisfying short to watch.

It’s because he gives the audience what they want, in a way they don’t expect. I tend to call it ‘The Double Twist’ or ‘The Final Kick‘. The entire film is all about the audience hoping against all hope that he’ll somehow get out of it – even though it seems impossible that he will.

And he does.

As you breathe out with him as he manages to regain control of the car, you can’t help but be disappointed that it was so ‘easy’. He escaped. What happens now? It’s incredibly anti-climatic. And then in the next second, he turns off the ignition and the car explodes. He doesn’t get away with it and the second twist/final kick happens when you’re catching your breath, which makes the explosion more terrifying because your breath gets caught in your throat.

As you watch it, you wonder how he’s going to get out of it because it seems impossible that he will. Therefore, you expect that he won’t. So when he does, it’s disappointing – until the car explodes.

You’ve got what you wanted, in a way you don’t expect.

That’s what people mean by that awkward phrase. Know your audience as well as your characters. Know what they’ll be thinking at that exact moment, know where they’ll be wanting the story to go. Once you know that, help take them there. Then once they’re there, whip the rug out from beneath their feet.

It’s something I tend to think about once I’ve got a draft of the script written instead of starting the story thinking of the audience. Start with the characters (often they’ll be more surprising than you expect them to be anyway) and then figure out what the audience will be thinking during each beat of the story.

Go to one of my earlier posts (click here), and watch ‘Spider’. Also made by Nash Edgerton, the ending is fantastic and another great example of the double twist. If you haven’t seen it already, watch it. If you’ve already watched it – read on.

When the spider drops into Jill’s lap and she loses control of the car, you think that’s it. It’s all over. Jack’s gone one step too far and they’re dead. But no, they manage to pull the car over and she jumps out of the car, trying to get the spider off her. You have barely got time to be relieved when Jack throws the spider at her and – as a reflex – she jumps backward.

The double twist makes that moment so much stronger (and ‘Spider’ has a triple twist too with the ambulance). You want Jack to learn from his mistakes but he won’t until he’s made the BIGGEST mistake – at the highest cost.

Of course, not all short films have twists – I’ll be blogging soon about twist-less short films – but I think twists in shorts can be a really effective way of making them memorable (and enjoyable) to watch.

Links

Blue Tongue Films Website
Blue Tongue Films YouTube Channel
Follow Blue Tongue Films on Twitter