In a nutshell: Writing the compelling short film

Writte by Aletha Manaka


The scene opens with staccatos; think of it as a song. In music, a staccato is a note that signifies a short duration and it is followed by silence. It can start on a high note and gradually flow into a pause, or it can start on a low note building up to a sudden break. It is that break, or silence, that prompts the listener, and in this case, the viewer to closely follow every step that follows, making sure not to miss any detail as the level of interest heightens. Alternatively, one can decide to watch the film in bits indulging and withdrawing at intervals, hoping to see something eye catching. From the moment you start listening to a song, emotions start welling up from within you, or it`s the unique sound that grabs your attention. It is the same with a short film script; you either have an audience from the outset or lose the audience because your introduction was poor. This is why a solid introduction is essential.

Act 1

Enter these factors: characters, genre, settings and emotions. As you introduce each character, you highlight on their emotions and as you build up, you emphasize on character development for the viewers to relate to. The one element that must remain consistent throughout a short film script is the single theme being explored every time a character progresses during his / her journey, only to confront various obstacle(s) along the way. Write this section as if you were writing the last verse before the chorus; this is the part leading to the chorus, and the highest notes are reached in this verse. This is the highlight of the script.

Act 2

Create an argument that calls for immediate attention. You could use dramatic irony, manipulate the viewers` emotions by shifting the focus on what they want know at that time, and provide them something of less relevance. This creates a mystery that allows them to connect the dots and get carried away while the plot thickens, guaranteed to explode in the next scene. The focus must be on a specific character, but shy away from getting monotonous and over expressive. Give the viewer half the picture in dots, but even better, give them pressure to connect the dots within a limited time period. This is a great way to test the audience’s responses when working under pressure.


The climax! This will be like the chorus, the main highlight. Several parts of this act will be marketed as the trailer, as if it is not written with great intensity. This gives the audience a sense of revelation, in which the build-up will lead to an explosive climax, followed by the resolution.

Take the following example. A sneaky teenager stands at a high point with a camera, trying to take one good shoot without missing the focus or being noticed, he tries to do it in one attempt whilst pressed for time, and fearing being discovered. He must take this one shot of a beautiful girl across the window with precision and make sure his actions do not come across as blatant, even if the girl catches up on his intentions. This is how the relationship of the writer and the audience should be, especially in the last act. If you are adventurous, you can re-arrange the script from beginning to end.

The resolution leading to the conclusion must leave a lasting impression. This is the part that makes the film a unified whole with a single, focused theme. In a nutshell, every single line, whether a line of dialogue, or a line of visual description, must focus solely on keeping the audience hooked from start to finish, with these effective tools of storytelling in mind. Lastly, do not forget to keep it short. The more compact your script is, the better you become at mastering the art of short film scriptwriting.


    One thought on “In a nutshell: Writing the compelling short film

  1. NtombekhayaOZ

    This is very useful… Amazing

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