The Short Screenplay Format
Short film scripts are not always a format that most people are familiar with. Though short scripts follow many of the principles of feature scripts, they are fundamentally different because their story structure does not allow for the same development. What you do find in short scripts is that they take on only the most important elements of a film story and simplifies what it ends up expanding on in general. Here is a look at what are common to most short film scripts and tips for yours.
Short Film Structure
The traditional format for feature screenplays is the three act structure, which is vaguely interpreted as the beginning, middle, and end. A lot of theorists around screenwriting have had different ideas about what these three acts include, but usually the first act establishes the main characters and the problem, the second includes the main development and rising action, and the final act will put in the climax and conclusion of the film. The climax may also unite the second and third acts so that they draw together, but there are not firm rules for any of these.
Short film scripts, and short films as the product of them, may or may not apply the three act structure. If it does then the first act will usually only take a couple pages rather than the eighteen to thirty that you get in most feature scripts. Likewise, the third act will also be much shorter.
Short film scripts are also able to slip into a two act structure without as much criticism where the problem is established and the conclusion comes as a direct result of it, and the regular action is not described as a steady location in the center. Here you may lack the ability for your characters to make as many choices and engage in side stories, but you will see an event take place clearly. For a short film screenplay this can be just perfect.
Limits are going to be incredibly tight on the short film script, and this includes making the limits applied to feature screenwriting tighter as well as applying new ones. There should only be one main character in a short film script and this should be relatively clear. In a feature screenplay you have more time to develop different characters, play them back and forth, and allow them to emerge as the dominant one. In a short film script people really only have a few minutes to be able to identify who they are following, why, and what the problem is.
Likewise, the problem should be pretty well identifiable right from the start. A short film will require you to establish what the issue is, which is where the characters are taken out of their normal pattern of behavior, and then lead you to resolve it. This does not have to be insultingly obvious, but it has to have a practical nature because you do not have the time to establish more esoteric motivations.
The number of characters overall should end up being limited in a short film script as a whole. This can mean that you only have a few characters and then under ten speaking roles, though there is not an iron clad restriction that would be set to this. You should also have a relatively clear correlation between scenes, where one scene leads into another. These scenes should establish that something happened and that there is a need to move into the following scene. This is always important, but you do not need direct correlations in feature screenplays since you can go back to it later on.
Many of the screenplay conventions are going to exist for short film scripts as well. You are still going to have to develop characters so that they are complete and interesting. Dialogue is still meant to be appropriate and is supposed to be based in conflict and the real details of each character. The screenplay format is also going to remain standard since the film production techniques are going to be the same for a short film even though there is not a feature format. Screenwriting software like Celtx or Final Draft are going to continue to be useful, and can help you bridge your short film script into the pre-production process.