Reading Patrick Nash’s book on writing scripts for short films came as a welcome follow-up to my fun weekend at the Guerilla Filmmaker’s Masterclass.
Nash’s comments in the book supported what I’d learnt through Chris – notably how the biggest causes of failure in short films are:
And Nash should know – he’s a Page Awards winner and has worked on short film selection panels and juries with the Foyle Film Festival. Sitting through hours of entries has given him a wealth of experience in what works and what doesn’t.
My first observation about this book was that it’s a guide that benefits feature screenwriters as well as short film writers and directors. The chapters which cover the craft of writing a script are broad in this sense because, indeed, the same rules apply.
There are, however, plenty of nuggets of wisdom throughout these chapters regarding short films. Whilst story and structure conventions can apply to short films, they will apply within the constrictions of the form. For example, there’ll be a hook but it needs to happen much faster. There’s less development time, so often a “moment in time” or a specific character issue is focussed on.
Short scripts are lean
All fat, story and dialogue-wise, needs to be trimmed away. Nash gives plenty of advice and encouragement about this in the structure and dialogue sections, and there’s welcome warnings against clichés, stereotypes and copycat movies as well.
Research is key
Not only for believable characters and for the benefit of fresh and original ideas but for sourcing reputable competitions and film festivals too. Nash emphasises how the small print should be read – something that is so often overlooked, but is essential to avoid option issues or misleading prizes.
Nash backs up his advice with book/film recommendations and quotes from other screenwriting and film-making professionals. I noted down several of these, including:
“Give the audience what they want but not the way they expect” (William Goldman)
There was also great advice from Juanita Wilson (who also shared her award-winning short film script and an interview within the book) that you should take all of the dialogue out of your script, examine whether the scene/story still makes sense without it, and if it does: leave it out!
Other chapters spotlight interesting information including a brief history of short film in the opening; an examination of why “story is king”; some excellent examples of how to come up with interesting ideas and three case studies as well. Case studies include award-winning scripts and an analysis of what makes them work.
I would definitely recommend this book for short script writers, all film-making professionals (don’t, whatever you do, rush into production without nailing an excellent script first!) and feature writers, too.
It really is a very thorough look at all aspects of being a writer of short scripts; detailed craft tips, motivational advice (ideas), how to think like a producer/director (economising and being aware of budget) and how to work your way up to being a professional writer of both short scripts and feature scripts (mastering original story-telling, eliciting emotion, writing pitch documents and how to approach a rewrite).
You can buy Short Films: Writing The Screenplay (Creative Essentials) here!
Do you have a book on screenwriting that you would like me to review? Don’t hesitate to get in touch!