Making a Short Film: The Key Lessons in Screenwriting

When getting the ropes of learning how to become a filmmaker, the chief anxiety would perhaps be the perception that one is a rookie and the fear that no one would watch your production. One of the ways to overcome this fear is through writing short films. You’ll be able to sharpen your skills and show your filmmaking abilities to people who in turn give you much-needed feedback. How else will others know you’re a fantastic movie writer if your content doesn’t make it outside the folder on your computer?
A lot of writers and directors we see started out by making shorts. These films are fantastic in that they showcase one’s creativity and style and that can be eventually picked up by producers who turn it into a feature film if the script and visuals are exceptional. In this digital age, distribution is no longer a primary concern as there are several film festivals to submit your work.

It is however not as simple as it sounds. There are steps to keep in mind with it comes to making your film. Screenwriting, the production, and the post-production are the three movie phases.


Lessons to remember when learning how to write a film script

One does not naturally wake up and become a fantastic writer. It takes a lot of practice and other small nuggets of wisdom to guide you through your path. Here are a few lessons to remember when writing a movie. Though these lessons could apply to any writer, they are worthwhile for budding filmmakers.


1. Read, don’t watch

You may have met the sort of person with a hard drive full of movies and has watched just about everything ever made in the name of research. The irony of this approach is that, instead of sparking your creativity, it stifles it. Part of becoming a filmmaker is cultivating your imagination and writing from that space, not from what you’ve seen others do.


The other danger of watching television is that you begin comparing your work with others. As a budding creative, this is just about one of the worst things you can do. The more you become insecure about your writing, the less likely your work is to see the light of day.

The best way forward is always to write more, continually tweaking your writing according to skills and styles you’ve picked up along the way.


2. A lot of people won’t like your work, and that’s okay

It’s hard enough trying to believe that you can make a film and excel at it. It’s even harder when those around you doubt your abilities. Keep this in mind to help you navigate the tight spaces that come with being a creative and facing criticism. Though easier said than done, remember the universal truth- not everyone will like you. Same applies to your craft. Only seek to do your best, and those you’re unable to please may have to source for another talent elsewhere.


3. Write for one

Tying into the previous point, given that you can’t please everyone, the ideal person to write for is you. Understanding the fundamental reason for why you write is what will keep you grounded through bad ideas, bad breaks and criticism. If you’re learning how to make a movie, ensure that you’re doing it because it’s genuinely something that brings you happiness. It is in wanting to share this happiness with others that win you fans.


4. Go Deeper

Some of the greatest works in film today are done by people who dug deep into what it means to be human and managed to capture it in words. We’ve all at one time or another come across something that made us laugh uncomfortably because it was true. This ability to bring an audience to an emotional awareness is what high artistry is all about.
When working on the details of how to write a film script, do not be afraid to spend hours on a piece that requires deep thinking. Though it may be exhausting, the returns will be well worth it.


5. Unplug

From J K Rowling to Cal Newport- we’ve all heard of well- known authors going off into a cabin in the mountains to churn out their next book. You may not have the time or luxury to do the same, but when working on how to write a screenplay, consider giving the same seriousness to the action as these creatives do. Remove all the distraction from around you and work with a single focus. It will surprise you how much you get done and what you uncover in your flow state.


6. Keep it simple

Unless you’re drafting a NASA manual, aim to keep your language as simple as you can. Big words don’t make you look smarter than the average person; they make you pretentious. Depending on your audience, keep it conversational. Writing a movie is about storytelling, not wowing people with your grammatical skills.
Another aspect of keeping it simple is limiting what you say and leaving the rest to the reader’s imagination. For example, a group of friends after watching a film they all came out with different interpretations as though each of them had watched a different movie. When telling a story, limit your descriptions and background information. Only give what helps carry your story forward. If it doesn’t add to the plot, then leave it out.


7. Make it lifelike

A murderer in a script doesn’t have to like heavy metal. Like you, he could burst to random well-beloved tunes when cleaning their dishes. Part of making your screenplay realistic is by acknowledging all dimensions of what it means to be human. That includes making the villain relate-able and creating a protagonist with a behavior that’s disagreeable to most people. Your audience should see themselves in your characters and relate to them so that they can remain engrossed in your narrative.


8. If you don’t take yourself seriously, no one will

“I just want to make films!” may be something you say exasperated as you’re in a job you hate. The degree to which you respect your craft is the degree to which others will treat it. Your actions and steps ought to be toward making your aspirations of becoming a filmmaker seriously and not waiting for things to magically fall into place before you can start churning out scripts. It requires taking risks and making bold moves.


9. Write daily

You may have heard this before; to become a writer you need to write daily. That is especially the case when working on a film; not writing daily diminishes the clarity that you once had the characters and plot. With time, the fire and giddiness of writing fade, and if you take too much time off, you may end up entirely abandoning your project.


10. Shelf the first movie draft for a month or more

The idea behind stepping back after finishing your first draft is to become more objective when you come round to do the edits. At this point, you’re able to see plot holes and undeveloped characters better. You’re also not as attached to your work, and therefore revisions or deletions won’t be hard to do. Remember- don’t judge yourself during this process. Not everyone will get it right the first time.


11. Work-life balance

Having a well-rounded life doesn’t stop when you’re writing a screenplay or making a movie. Having things to keep you grounded such as family, friends, and hobbies help you from being too consumed with your masterpiece. It also helps give perspective.


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