Short scripts for short films

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The first step for many aspiring filmmakers is to make a short film. A good short will show people what you can do. Demonstrate your style, your eye for detail and if you can get a handle on working with actors and a crew . So where to begin? You can write a script! Wait a minute though how do you write a script?

Don't worry though this is much easier than it sounds even if you have haven't written anything since you were down the back of English class in school. The first question is what exactly is a movie script or screenplay?

A screenplay is a story told using dialogue and images either pictures or video footage or both. To write a script you have to think visually about everything. Unlike a novel where the writer can just tell you whats going on inside the main characters head - a script has to show it. Either through the characters actions or through the dialogue they have with other characters. Which brings us to an important point in script writing show don't tell. In other words use actions not words where you can.

If you take any number of films at your local cinema you will find find striking similarities in terms of story structure. A film typically follows the journey of a character as they try to get something they need. It can be anything; love, happiness, escape, money or safety. The main character has a goal or desire to accomplish something and the film is the story of how they go about getting it or not getting it!

The story has a beginning, middle and an ending. Simple! To make the story more interesting we need to inject some conflict. A villain or obstacle arrives to make the characters journey more difficult. Otherwise their story is going to be pretty straightforward and boring. Just look at all the great shows on TV of the last few years - they thrive on conflict. The more conflict the better it gets! Think Breaking bad, the Wire the Sopranos  the more conflict the better it gets!

I want to focus on a short script for a short film. Short films can be anything from 2 minutes right up to 30 minutes long. For our purpose here I am going to talk about a 10 minute short film. Each page of the your script should be equivalent to about 1 minute of screen time. So for our 10 minute short film we will have to come up with a 10 page script.

So lets get started! In the beginning of your story you set the scene, introduce the characters and we find out what it is they need or desire and set them on their merry way to find it. In the middle part you introduce the conflict, villains and other speed bumps on their road to their success. In the final part our hero tackles the obstacles, nearly fails but emerges victorious to save the day rescue the princess or what ever! Or maybe he fails spectacularly but at least there is a resolution of the conflict and an end to their journey

Ok so now you have an idea or how to go about writing a screenplay what does a screenplay actually look like? Well it looks a little strange - there are a few weird formatting rules about headings, indentation and it has to be all written using the font - courier? Really? Anyway I wont go into all of this you can find many many websites that explain the rules. You can learn the rules and then type it up on Word or whatever text editor is on your computer. I like to use a program called celtx - its free to download and is a script writing program designed to do all the formatting for you - perfect!

Now in a 10 minute short film you are going to find it tough to have 5 or 6 characters or villains fighting it out so keep it simple. One character with one desire who achieves one resolution should be plenty.

Now you know how to do it go and find a great idea and get cracking on that script!


Soundtracking across the universe

For the past two weeks I have been hard at work editing 2 student films that I shot during a recent workshop. The films address the issue of bullying and to give the films emotional impact I need a soundtrack. It has to be music which is appropriate to the tone of the films. It must be dramatic, with good production qualities, no background hiss and It has to an instrumental piece - I don't want any song vocals clashing with my dialogue. Now where can I find this elusive musical composition?

The most important question is do I have a budget for a soundtrack? If a budget is available there are many subscription based stock music websites vying for your cash. Some are huge and some have just a handful of tracks and the production quality varies wildly. Last year I used gettys audio library for a project. Their tracks are well produced but the archive is a sprawling labyrinth and it's quite a slog using their search engine to locate a piece of music that matches your soundtrack needs. Of course then you have to fork out quite a bit of cash to use the tracks.

If you have no budget then don't worry there are options available. YouTube have recently launched a collection of copyright free tracks some of which are quite good! I will be using two of them in aforementioned anti-bullying films. You can find the library here if you want to take a look. The library has been organized using a number of search terms such as mood, duration and instrument. There isn't a huge selection of songs yet but there is enough to cover most genres of film. Its free so there are no copyright issues and it is a really useful tool.

You can have a listen to one of the songs that I used as a theme in the bullying films. It was available free of charge on the YouTube audio library.

If you already own or are lucky enough to be able to afford an Apple Mac then you will probably all ready have garage band software. Garage band has a built in library of ready made tracks with a good range of genres spanning from horror themes to action to 70s cop music. All tracks have good production qualities and there is also a library of useful sound effects and background noises like traffic, machinery hums, applause, punches, kicks and gunshots. All this music is copyright free and can be used in your videos just as long as you don't try to claim ownership of the music.

If you know your way around garage band you can also create a custom sound track using the built in library of loops. It takes a little time to learn the software but it's not difficult and is a worthwhile skill for any video producer. You can tailor custom tracks that match the exact duration and tone of your video. I have composed simple musical scores to accompany some of my own videos in the past. Anything you create is copyright free which means you can use it on your videos and on any websites without worry.

Here a couple of videos that featuring a custom soundtrack that I created using Garage band software. These tracks are probably not going to win any awards. However they are functional, appropriate to the tone of the videos and most importantly they are copyright free.

Another excellent source of soundtrack material are audio platforms such as soundcloud and bandcamp. There are thousands of undiscovered and emerging band and artists. You may find a song that is perfect for your soundtrack. Just remember these tracks are copyrighted and a lot of time, money and hard work went into their production. Email the Artist and explain what you want to use the track for and they may well be willing to let you borrow the song to use on your video in exchange for a credit or for a small fee. Or they may not. Musicians can be temperamental!

If you put a lot of hard work into creating your video and you hope to post it to YouTube or Vimeo you may be tempted to put a well recognized piece of copyrighted music as a soundtrack. This will instantly give your video a recognizable boost but it might also lead to your video being banned in several countries for copyright infringement. It also means you won't be able to take the credit for your own work.

If you really love your film make sure you own every part of it including the music!

The Hobbit in IMAX 60 fps

Last weekend I finally went to the IMAX in Cineworld to check out the Hobbit part II. As we sat in the theater with our funky IMAX 3D glasses and a giant bucket of popcorn a notice flashed up on screen: The hobbit will be running at 60fps(Frames per second)? OK I thought. I saw the Hobbit last year and didn't notice anything particularly special. The movie starts and suddenly I am transported in the narrow streets of the village of Bree! It is like I am there walking through the pouring rain in the muddy streets. The effect is incredible and hyper realistic. It is immediately apparent that 60 fps is amazing!

The film is incredibly smooth. As an editor and filmmaker I am used to seeing a juddering effect as people run onscreen or as the camera moves. Sometimes I despair as I look at my lovely footage juddering along despite being filmed in High Definition at 50 fps on a Steadicam! However I have never had a single person come back with the finished footage to complain about juddering in fact most people don't seem to notice. Once you study footage carefully and re watch it over and over again as you do while editing you really start to notice. Then I find I get judder on the brain and suddenly everything looks juddery. Especially CGI heavy movies and TV shows.

Though the 60fps effect is unusual and uncomfortable for some viewers I think its a very natural look. It feels closer to looking through the human eye as opposed to the view through the lens of camera. At times It's almost like being there in the flesh walking through the village and into the prancing pony!

Now where can I get one of those cameras!