Coming up with an original and compelling short film idea is one of the most challenging parts of the process. It’s also one of the most important. If you don’t get the concept right, no matter how well you do everything else, you still won’t wind up with a great movie in the end.

I recommend that you begin by ‘scratching’ — appropriating things you like from successful short films, short stories, podcasts, radio plays, you name it. Notice that I’m NOT mentioning feature films or TV shows — why? Because you’re most likely going to appreciate what everyone else appreciates, which will make your short film less original in the end. The second reason is that from a storytelling perspective, features and TV are bad models for short film — the stories they tell are way too complex and involved.

Short film thrives on minimal story — in fact, in many cases, the best short films have almost no story at all.

Hellion - (Official 2012 Sundance Film Festival) from Kat Candler on Vimeo.


As for writing, anyone who knows anything about the subject will tell you this — it’s a process, not an event. Writing is a habit you must form for as long as you intend to be a writer; a habit of walking over to a keyboard and setting words down on screen.

That habit can be as fun (or as horrifying) as you make it. But unless you get into the habit, you won’t get out with a script.

Once you have a draft of your idea, be generous with praise and appreciation for those who take the time to give you feedback. Everybody likes writing original scripts, but almost nobody likes reading them. Listen patiently to the comments you receive and write everything down. Then walk away from the whole thing for a week and do something else. I know, you’re in a hurry to be the next Francis Ford Coppola, but distance will help you make better choices.

So how do you know when you’re finished? 

Simple — you need to be thinking to yourself, wow, there’s no way I can allow this script NOT to become a movie. It’s just that good.

Once you feel that way, it’s time to assemble your team and move on to pre-production, which we’ll learn all about in our next blog.