When I wrote this article on how to Brainstorm Short Film Ideas way back in 2015, I had no idea that this would become one of the top pages on our website. I think it shows how the film industry is changing. it alsodemonstrates how short film content is storming back into vogue. enjoy
– Elliot Grove, London, January 2018
There are three things different in the film industry from when I started Raindance Film Festival in 1992. But nothing has changed really. Great ideas and great stories are what it is all about. Brainstorm short film ideas and your carer will prosper.
in the early 90’s every film was shot on expensive celluloid. Now it’s all shot on digital. Back then (remember that John Major was still Prime Minister and Princess Diana was alive) films were distributed in cinemas and on heavily regulated broadcast television. Now internet distribution rules supreme. When I started Raindance I bought expensive newspaper and magazine ads. Now it’s all web adverts.
Everyone is screaming for content today: visual content. The other fact is that people’s attention spans are dropping meaning that short films get the kinds of eyeballs that feature filmmakers dream about.
An understanding of short film idea generation is almost a carte blanche to become known as a filmmaker of short films with the kind of pedigree associated with Oscar™ nominated feature filmmakers. What is more, your short films can be seen by a huge number of people. That’s why we are about to launch a very special short film competition with ShortList Magazine.
Here are the tips I have collected while working with filmmakers I meet at Raindance:
1. Seat of the pants to seat of the chair
I learned this one from Michael Hague. His Writing Screenplays That Sell was the book that got me interested in writing. A little bit every day is better than a bank holiday weekend blowout. A bit every day becomes a habit. I’ve found that a few minutes every day on my current creative project reaps more rewards than when I have to go like smoke towards a deadline.
2. Write it down
Do you remember the last time a great idea for something popped into your head? Was it when you were walking to the tube or bus stop? Or hoovering up dust bunnies? If so, it’s because you were most likely in Alpha State – those sweet daydream moments you slip into while you are doing something mechanical or familiar.
Do you remember what happens if you don’t immediately write those great thoughts down? Don’t they vanish into thin air? Make a habit of shoving a notebook in your pocket so the next time you have a great idea you can simply write it down.
3. Write about yourself
Have you ever been in a situation where you sit and remark to yourself that ‘this could’ve been a movie?’ Sometimes our own lives are as interesting and entertaining as the movies. Make sure you write them down.
4. Bad granddad jokes
I was once in Sweden when a Norwegian filmmaker asked me to watch his short – in Norwegian. Of course, when it was over he asked me how it was. I told him it was beautifully shot but I had no idea what it was about because I don’t speak Norwegian. He then translated the movie and it was sweet, tender and very funny. It was, he explained, based on a joke his granddad had told him.
Maybe those bad granddad jokes will inspire you too. The beauty of these jokes is they have a setup ie:
Have you ever had a …
Then a story arc: Let me tell you about a friend of mine…
And a punchline at the end.
These can make great storytelling hooks.
5. Opposites attract
Why not take an iconic story and flip the characters around. Instead of the beautiful princess kissing the frog, why not make it the handsome prince? Another flip on this would be to take a well-known movie and reverse the characters. In Witness for example, rather than having Harrison Ford going to the Amish community as he is pursued by the Mafia, why not make it the story of the 12-year-old boy who travels to Philadelphia and is corrupted by the Mafia.
6. Reverse budgeting
Robert Rodriguez did this with great style when he made El Mariachi – his famous first film. He made a list of all the stuff he could get cheap, the actors he knew and the locations he could get for free and then he cooked up the story based on the fact that his actor had a dog and could play the guitar.
7. Confinement stories
Create two characters and put them in a location they can’t leave and see what happens.
8. Look it up, then make it up
Research is a great way to find ideas. Make a list of your favourite theories or ideas and research them. I’m sure that some great ideas will pop up.
Here are some great research tools
9. The ‘What if…?’
I use this tool a lot. I take a simple everyday thing, like the keyboard I write this on, and add the ‘what if ?’ and see what happens. So I could say something about my keyboard like this:
What if the newest and deadliest virus is transported on the internet and what if you can get it by connecting to the intent with your keyboard?
10. Watch movies to brainstorm short film ideas
Watching other peoples shorts is a sure fire way to get inspired. Watch great short films and then see if you can use their ideas and approaches to come up with your own ideas.
Here are 10 x 15-second shorts our community made for Nokia to demonstrate the fact that their phones could take video.
Here are 28 brilliant shorts you can watch in the time it takes to eat lunch
Can you find something here that inspires you? Can you get some ideas that you can bend, blend and mix into something else?
11. My day
Don’t we each wake up, get ready and leave for work? Do you arrive as planned? Or leave as planned? What are the types of incidents that could change your normal day or your life? People would find this interesting.
12. Read the newspaper
The newspaper is full of incidents which can make it into the ‘truth is stranger than fiction’ category. Often these news snippets can be combined and interchanged to come up with refreshingly original ideas.
When Roger Corman, the King of Independent Cinema visited Raindance in 1996, he would show up at my office with the morning newspapers. He tore keywords out of the headlines and scrambled them up on my desk until he saw what would make a good headline for a movie. When he saw one he liked he would handwrite the title out and fax it to his graphics honcho in LA. A few hours later artwork would appear on my fax which he’d take and show local British distributors. If enough people liked it, he’d go back to LA, find a screenwriter to write the script represented by the poster and make the film.
It was such an exercise he conducted in 1955 that spawned his feature The Fast And The Furious from which an entire franchise was born.
13. National or religious holidays
In a short film, you don’t have time to set up the scene. The advantage of using an iconic moment like Christmas, the Christening, weddings and funerals are everyone knows exactly where you are. You can use this tool to kick off just about any story idea and add in a twist that takes it out of the ordinary and clichéd.
Keep It Simple Stupid. Especially on your first few shorts. Attempting the complex and complicated is a great goal. But if you set a goal like that and fail it could destroy your confidence. Remember too that some of the world’s best ideas are the simplest.
15. Spoof and parody
Making fun of people or entertainment icons is another way you can come up with ideas. What is core, is your parody film is generally free from libel and defamation actions from politicians, business leaders or celebrities that you are taking the mickey out of. If you think you are walking near the legal line please consult an entertainment lawyer.
16. Local legends
Rory O’Donnell, our film course director gave me this and the next tip. He has sometimes made short films documentary style about the local legend. And local legends don’t need to be international giants. They can be known in their own community, no matter how small, as the guy or gal who can do something well.
17. Press random article on Wikipedia
Rory also writes and shoots short films regularly. Sometimes he pushes ‘Random Article’ on Wikipedia to see if anything useful or inspiring pops up.
18.Brainstorm short film ideas by newsjacking
This is one of my favourite ploys to create clickbait and interest in something I am doing. There is no reason why you can’t do this too.
For example A year before Donald Trump became president I wrote Donald Trump’s 6 Brave Lessons for Independent filmmakers
Can you think of a trending topic that would inspire you?
19. Office Pranks
Do you remember the last time your office mates pulled a fast one on you? Maybe this is a situation that you can recreate as a short film. Here are 10 classic office pranks that never age. Why not restage one of these and film it as a short film.
Now a word about writer’s block.
When you are jammed remember that there is no such thing as lack of talent. I want to explode the talent myth.
When you are jammed it is solely down to your confidence. Or lack of it. How do you build confidence? Stop moaning. Stop hanging around feeling sorry for yourself. Just do it.
Did I miss anything? Leave it in the comments box below, or ping me an email email@example.com
Making a short film is the rite of passage for many new filmmakers. If you have never made a short film, now is the time.
Not only are there a gazillion film festivals that offer a short movie program, but with websites like YouTube, you have the ability to reach a global audience.
This is better than the old days. Back then, making a short film meant that your work would get projected in theaters before the feature presentation.
But that trend ended. The short film was replaced by trailers and advertisements.
In the decades that followed, there wasn’t much of a market for short films. It was almost impossible to make money with a short film. As a result, finding investors to back a short was super challenging.
While I can’t say that the economics of short movie making has improved dramatically, the emergence of crowdfunding, festivals and internet based video platforms offers hope.
But regardless, you’re a filmmaker. And making a short film is a great training ground for getting your feature made, seen and sold.
How To Make A Short Film
Here is a quick video outlining my tips for making a short film:
Many people in Hollywood bounce around for years pretending to do work, when all they are really doing is pretending. Many of these people call themselves producers, yet they have no screen credits and have frankly failed to do anything!
Don’t do that.
If you haven’t yet made a short, my suggestion is to get started!
For your first few movies, don’t spent time worrying about lighting or special effects. Just learn how to utilize your limited resources and make something cool out of nothing.
Short Film Gear
For around two-thousand dollars, you can buy a camera that produces cinematic results. And if you can’t afford to grab a professional camera, then just utilize any camera you can get your hands on.
(Yes, this includes camera phones.)
Again, making something is better than making nothing.
In the event you cannot yet afford your own equipment, then find someone who already has gear and make friends.
Short Film Ideas
You next step is to get an idea for a short.
I suggest you focus on a story you can tell in three minutes or less.
When I was managing a film program, I noticed a lot of first-time filmmakers created dramatic stories that focused on suicide or some guy staring into a mirror and talking, or some chick shaving her head while reminiscing about apples and spiders.
These movies sucked, but they were good practice.
Your initial movies will probably suck too.
Don’t worry about it.
Give yourself permission to suck. Here is an example of a bad short film:
Yeah. It is MY second short film and I don’t know what I was thinking.
But it was good practice. I learned a lot.
Keep in mind, I included this short film example this to provide encouragement. Odds are good you can do better than this poo. I challenge you to get started and do something better!
Just remember, the more you practice, the better you get.
And if you’re making a short film, but find yourself really low on short film ideas, then the next best thing is to create a music video… Which is essentially a short movie too.
The other things you can do is watch other short films. A while back, I stopped by the Haig Manoogian Screenings of the best short films.
The films represented the best of the best of the NYU film school and were presented by former NYU alumni Eli Roth.
Shot in film (not HDSLR video), all of the movies looked expensive and awesome. But at the same time, guess what?
…Every film was serious and dramatic.
By now, I think this is the reality of making a short film – It seems like most student filmmakers create serious and dramatic movies.
I don’t know why this happens.
So in response to a short film festival market saturated with drama, my ongoing to suggestion for making a short film is this:
“When making a short film, DO NOT do drama!”
Okay… If you think you have something dramatic you just HAVE to share, by all means, make your movie!
Case in point, I thought the best movie of the night was Little Horses.
Skillfully directed by Levi Abrino, this movie has a ton of heart. Here is an excerpt:
While my review of Levi’s short film is slightly biased (I have been a fan of Levi’s work for years), the laughter of the audience was evidence that Levi’s movie offered a nice break from all the drama.
So anyway… Go Levi!
Keep in mind that your short film will probably end up on YouTube.
So if you can be funny and get Internet viewers to share your movie with other people who will then share your movie with other people, you will have achieved a great thing.
In addition to all the points mentioned thus far – Your audience is your business. Growing your own audience is up to you. And the process starts with making a short film, getting your movie online and exposing your work to the world.
5 Tips For New Filmmakers
After making a few short films, you may find yourself getting bored. This is actually a good sign, because it shows you’re growing. When this happens, begin to come up with more complex short film ideas and then write a well crafted screenplay.
- In the event you have not yet made a short movie, write one or two page scripts and then produce your story on a borrowed camcorder.
- Edit the footage on a friend’s computer.
- Upload the footage to video sites like YouTube. Test audience reaction. Is it good or bad? Learn from it. Then make another video… Then another… Then another.
- Once you feel confident with short storytelling, move on to bigger and bigger projects.
- Keep pushing yourself. Keep refining and learning!
The short movie marathon exercise described above will provide you with a fundamental understanding of how to shoot scenes for minimal cost and still make them interesting.
Making a short film will help you save time and money when you create your feature, while providing you with endurance, experience and the confidence to make movies with greater efficiency.
When you upload your work for the world to watch, audience feedback will reveal areas needing improvement. Even though you’re working with non-professional equipment and talent, if you can learn to make great movies with a small camera, you can make them with a big camera.
Theoretically, if you make one or two three-minute movies like this every weekend for six months, you will have the equivalent experience of making a feature.
Then later, when the feature filmmaker in you is ready, the feature will reveal itself.
101 Short Film Ideas
Sometimes making a short film and coming up with short film ideas can be a pain in the butt. So I put together an action guide specifically designed to help you find short film ideas. Titled 101 Short Film Ideas. In addition to providing short movie ideas, this action guide also contains some extra bonuses! The system is designed to help you overcome any creative blocks. If you are looking for short film ideas, go here.
Filed Under: filmmakingTagged With: Film, FILMMAKING, make short films, Making A Short Film, movie, script, short films, youtube