An unproduced feature script has a .3 percent chance of being made in Nollywood. Short film ideas, on the other hand, can be made for significantly less money, increasing their chances of being produced.
But writing contained short films takes a very specific skill set. With a limited production and narrative scope, knowing how to write a short film starts with carefully curating your ideas.
That said, let’s dive into some ways to brainstorm short film ideas you can actually produce.
Browse Random Articles Online
This one is easy, but extremely effective. Just go online, for instance,Wikipedia, and click “Random Article” on the left sidebar.
Just like it sounds, you’ll be scanning from one article to another learning about everything from (not so well known) major events, to famous figures in history.
Sometimes just browsing Wikipedia is all it takes to come up with a short film idea.
Look In Your Own Backyard
Whether you’re writing short films, a television pilot, or a feature film, you should always write what you know.
But this is even more applicable when it comes to tempering short film ideas, as you can shoot where you live, work, or if you’re a PA, both.
These are film locations that are easily accessible and cheap to use or, better yet, free. In either case, you’ll need to use a film location form template to fully secure your location.
You’re probably closer than you think to a unique location full of narrative possibilities.
Look to 2014 Sundance Film Festival selection, Dig, as inspiration for your own short film ideas. Shot entirely in the director’s backyard, it’s a great example of how starting with an easy to access location can yield something truly original.
Research Deserted Places
How about horror?
Yes, there are creepy forests and cemeteries all over the country, but there are also abandoned hospitals, warehouses, and zoos. Ask around, make friends in the community, and research permit costs as you brainstorm movie ideas.
This will require some reverse-engineering as you begin to construct short film ideas around physical spaces. But the payoff could be surprisingly fun.
Write About A Day in Your Life
Take a look inside you, or, more specifically, take a look behind you at what you did yesterday.
Did you meet someone? Did something happen at work? Was it actually totally boring?
Writing short films is all about economy. There might not be enough for a feature in your day at the coffee shop, but it could be a vehicle for some charming short film topics.
Brainstorm movie ideas around life events
Weddings, funerals, anniversaries, birthdays; these are all dramatic events by their natures and have the added benefit of being limited in scope.
Choose a central character who’s experiencing one of these events and you might be on your way to some perfect short movie ideas.
Take a look at Mo Abudu’s ‘The Wedding Party‘ for instance, it centers around a typical African wedding ceremonies and the events around it.
Find an old family story
And going even farther back, there’s often rich material for short film ideas in your parents’ or grandparents’ histories.
Think about what makes you sit up and pay attention. Or, conversely, what disturbs you or prompts you to ask difficult questions. According to mythologist and accidental screenplay guru Joseph Campbell: “Where you stumble, there lies your treasure.”
Once you hit on something that resonates personally, test to see if it’s an actual story or just a vignette.
Pick a genre, then twist it
As you brainstorm movie concepts, keep in mind that short film ideas need a strong hook or clever twist to stand out. And twists can cost production anything.
By twist, I don’t necessarily mean a surprise ending (like Fight Club or Shutter Island). I mean an idea that’s born of combining two classic film genres and subverting the expectations of both.
For instance, you can take a drama about infidelity and elevate it with an inexpensive sci-fi angle.
There are a limited number of genres, of course, but there’s a huge variety of approaches to each, especially if you mix and match them. Starting with a specific category can focus you by filtering everything through the same lens. A thriller gives you the opportunity to use intrigue and suspense; a romantic comedy sets the stage for the inevitable meet-cute.
You get the idea!
Write the perfect character flaw
When coming up with your short film ideas, think about characters flaws for your protagonist. This can immediately make your short film interesting.
What if you want to make your main character extremely selfish? Look no further than Mark Zuckerberg from The Social Network. How about a character that doesn’t believe in himself? Take a look at Rocky Balboa or even Luke Skywalker.
How about a character that is power-hungry? Just look at Walter White from Breaking Bad.
If you want to make a good short film, make your lead character more interesting with character flaws.
Right off the bat, this will make your main character more interesting, especially as a short film.
Listen to the voices
When was the last time you were in a cafe and overheard a line too good to be true?
Except, of course, it was true. Stay glued to your notebook and write down those perfect snatches of dialogue. Then generate some character descriptions and see if they lead you to funny short film ideas.
Oscar winner Kenneth Lonergan is particularly gifted at catching these accurate snippets of dialogue, especially when it comes to writing exposition in film.