short film

How to Get Ideas for a Short Film

Do you want to make films? If you’re going to strap on your camera and start making a movie, you’re going to need a great story. Learning to let your creativity flow or get yourself writing doesn’t have to be exhausting. Learn to find a good story and develop it into a script that would be great for a short film.

Find a story

Start with a word, an image, or an object.

All a story needs is a seed to sow and follow until it grows. Will it turn into a great short film? Maybe, maybe not. All you need at the beginning is to get an idea and start to see where it takes you. Here are some effective brainstorming methods to start a story: A good way to start a story? Just start writing. Get out a pen and paper or sit in front of the computer and get yourself to write for a period of time. Let’s say 10 or 15 minutes. Don’t worry if your writing will become a “story” or if it’s good enough for a movie. You’re just looking for an idea. 99% of what you write is crap, but there may be a small snippet that you can turn into a story. Give yourself ideas.

Try word exercises.

All it takes to get an idea for a story is a little spark. Make a list of more or less random pictures, the first words that come to mind: Nursery, Oakland, Ashtray, Oil Painting. Great list. Come up with at least 20 words and then try to connect them. What does the list make you think of? An after-school painting class in the East Bay that’s full of kindergarten teachers? A lit cigarette in a painter’s studio? Start with an image and let it expand. Find the story around these pictures.

Start speculating with some good ideas.

A good way to start a story idea is to speculate about weird, surprising, or absurd scenarios that might work well for a story. What if all food was just in pill form? What if you found out your father is a spy? What if your dog could suddenly talk? Good plots and characters can come from speculation.

Find short stories that you can relate to.

A great way to come up with an idea for a short film is to rework a story that has already been written by someone else. Look through recently published collections of short stories with compelling plots and find one that you would enjoy making into a movie. In general, it is difficult to adapt a novel into a short film. Try to stay focused on short stories. Watch Joyce Carol Oates’ “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” as a good example of a small story with an enticing and exciting plot.

Try to shoot the movie in real life.

Who says your short films have to be fiction? If you want to make a short film, consider filming the world around you and making a documentary. Find a local music festival in your area and ask if you can film interviews with the bands, or film a friend trying to get better than their training schedule. Find a good story happening around you and get permission to record it.

Keep a dream journal.

Dreams can be a good inspiration for a short film, especially if you like crazy things. If you want an idea from your dream, set your alarm in the middle of the night to snap you out of your dream and quickly scribble the plot in your dream journal. Dreams can be a great place to provide you with imagery, odd occurrences, and dialogue for short films. what scares you A good scary dream can be a great start for a short horror film. When writing your script and shooting your short film, try to capture the same atmosphere as your spooky dream. Check out David Lynch’s short film series Rabbits for inspiration.

Thanks to the past.

History is full of fascinating happenings. You can also just delve into other subjects like: psychology (or character studies), geography, etc.

Make a short film.

There’s no reason why you shouldn’t make a short film out of an old flick. You can take a scene from it, use a theme or a character from the old movie.

Bring the story to the point.

Can you write a sentence of 15 words or less that captures the essential concept of your idea’s plot? Then you are on the right track. Once you have your initial idea, try writing your elevator presentation. Describe your film as briefly and quickly as possible to give yourself a chance to write the best possible script and describe the story to others to recruit actors and other supporters. Avoid being vague or abstract and focus on the scenario and plot. Good examples of a short story might look like this: A boy finds a small alien and brings it home. After class, the kindergarten teachers start drawing strange pictures. Bad examples of a short story might look like this: A man struggles with depression. A series of mysterious events befalls the residents of Pittsburgh.

Think practical.

Think about what is available to you and how you can use what you have. Make a list of the props, locations, and actors available on-site, and think about how these might make a good story once you start out. Maybe your friend who boxes three times a week will inspire you to create a great boxing story. Make sure your story is filmable. Equipment and sets are of high quality when you shoot a film yourself and work without the support and money of a studio. Again, it’s hard to shoot a sci-fi work in your mother’s basement. Try and make sure you are able to get the scenes you want for the movie you want to make. Are you able to film a crane ride over New York City if you live in Scranton and don’t have money or a camera? Probably not. Think of a solution.

Develop the story

Find a main character (protagonist) and an adversary (antagonist).

Each story has a protagonist and an antagonist to provide conflict and suspense. If you’re unsure who is what, then it’s important that you give thought to developing your story and make clear sense of who you want us to like and why. A protagonist is a character that we root for, sympathize with and build a kind of emotional connection to. The antagonist is the character, situation or environment that works against the protagonist, creating drama so to speak. An antagonist isn’t necessarily a mustache-twirling villain, as it can also be a tough situation or other distraction.

Find a great environment.

In a short film, this is a practical concern and a story concern. Good environments create suspense and drama of their own, but you may not be able to fly to Bermuda to shoot a beach scene. Find a location that complements the story you want to tell, but is also available. Try to work with what you have. When you know you have to film your parents’ house, it’s hard to shoot an epic sci-fi movie in the backyard or basement. Instead, try to think of a good home story that works. Think of stories that happen in houses in the town where you might live. Stories that work with their environment are often better.

Find a conflict.

Stories need a conflict to touch us. What makes the viewer interested in your story and short film? What does your protagonist want? What is stopping the protagonist from getting it? The answers to these questions feed your source of conflict. Once you’ve developed your original idea, start focusing on what’s causing the conflict in the story and exploit that as best you can. A conflict doesn’t have to involve a fistfight or a gunfight to be very dramatic. It has to be a real conflict between real characters with emotions. If a boy brings home an alien, what trouble will he get into? What is his risk in doing this? What captivates us when we watch kindergarten teachers paint? Find the inner and the outer story. What we see is the outer story: a character walks through the world and things happen. What makes it captivating is the inner story. How does the character change? What does this mean for the character? A good short film, or any type of story, has both of these elements at once.

Keep it simple

Limit the scope of your story as much as possible. A short film is minimal storytelling, a short story is not a novel. That’s not to say it can’t be sophisticated and unconventional, but a short film has to work very well with a limited number of elements, characters, and scenes. Alternatively, it can be fun to force yourself to film a very long or complicated story as short as possible. What does war and peace look like in a 10 minute film? What if all the Star Wars movies happened in 10 minutes with the equipment you have handy? how would you do it

Stay away from short film clichés.

As with any art form, there are also boring ideas and clichéd stories in short films. If you’ve never spun one, then avoiding this crap will put you one step ahead of the game. Avoid the following short film clichés: A character is alone, stares in the mirror and talks, then commits suicide. Anything involving a bounty hunter. Two characters argue about something until we find out it’s actually a character with a personality disorder. The film starts with the sound of an alarm clock and the protangonist gets out of bed.

Try to keep your film under 10 minutes playing time.

Making a film of any length is extremely complicated. Try to keep your film as short as possible, especially if you are doing it for the first time. Shooting a really great, short, dramatic and exciting three minute film is a real achievement. Try to do this before embarking on a 45 minute gangster masterpiece with a slow motion shootout.

Watch some short films.

If you want to make a movie, watch a few. Just as you should not attempt to write a novel unless you have studied the form of the novel. It’s important to get an insight into how short films work and what it takes to make a good short film before attempting to make one yourself. It’s not just a shorter version of a long film: a short film is its own medium with different tricks and techniques. Check out a few before you set about rolling your own. YouTube and Vimeo are great resources for short films, both good and bad. Check whether your home town has a short film festival or not – common in some regions – to see some competitors in person. Music videos are also a great style of short film that you’re probably already familiar with. Look closely at how your favorite music video is made and study it thoroughly. Check out Spike Jonze, Hype Williams and Michel Gondry for modern masterpieces in form.

Write the script

Summarize your story.

A table of contents doesn’t have to be formal or include roman numerals (unless you want it to). Storyboards typically help you get a sense of what scenes you need to shoot later in the process and give you a comic-book-style visual theme for the movie as you write it. Briefly outline what will happen physically in the story and what the basic dialogues are. Film is a visual medium for telling stories, so don’t rely solely on dialogue to tell the story. For good stories, the synopsis should explicitly state the outer story, but the inner story is only hinted at.

Write a script.

Once you have the basic elements of a story you want it to be, you can fill out the rest and write the screenplay, including any dialogue and directing directions you want in the film. Try to make it as specific as possible so that someone else would be able to shoot and see the film the way you do.

Surprise yourself

You probably have ideas about where you want your story to go, but try to leave room for surprises as you write the story. If you’re rigidly going in a certain direction with your short film, then it won’t come as a surprise to your audience, and they’ll expect the story to end the same way. When you write, try to steer her in a direction you’re not too sure about. Let happy accidents happen and follow them to the next more interesting conclusions. This is how good stories are written. Francis Ford Coppola directed the sequel to The Outsiders, called Rumble Fish, without writing a script until the day the scene was filmed. None of the cast had any idea what was going to happen next, which gave the film a spontaneous and experimental feel.

Look for constructive criticism.

Once you’ve written a script, show it to some friends or some people who share your love for the film and who are able to offer you constructive criticism. Listen to them and try to revise your script as much as possible. Some filmmakers work for years on a script, which then goes into production for years. It’s a long process to make a film for a reason. Try showing your script to potential collaborators. Actors, producers, potential directors. Show the script to people who can help.

Start with a folder of ideas.

Not every idea will work immediately. Keep a folder by collecting ideas that you could turn into future scripts. Some filmmakers have an idea and fail to make the film in decades. Scorsese’s Gangs of New York has been debated as a possibility for 30 years. Save your ideas for times when they may be actionable. Keep your little notes organized by the following: Characters Places Actions Structure


Keep a file for your movie ideas. keep it simple Even though film is a visual medium, you should consider its relationship to sound. Be patient! It’s not easy to get good ideas. Just try again! Animated shorts are the lowest budget films and they are also easy to create with one person. Blender is 100% free animation software. If you’re trying to get some actors, take advantage of your joy or put up audition posters or something. Have fun! Take your friends as your actors and sit in a chair while yelling at them! Have fun! The main character should not change.


About the Author

nicole king

Nicole King

Nicole is a shopaholic with decades of experience. With a passion for writing and an undeniable ability to grab the best deals, Nicole enjoys helping others feed their inner-shopaholic too. Her work has been featured on Business Insider, Lifehacker, The Motley Fool, USA Today, and Moneyish.