Short Film Ideas: 46 Ways to Brainstorm
Short films (also called “short”) when compared to feature films are relatively simpler to make. They can be made for a lot less money because the production unit and narrative range is narrow.
Short films without dialogue (also called “silent short films”) appeal more to the audience than shorts with dialogues (also called “Talky shorts”). To attract an audience, your short film’s duration should be somewhere between 5 to 20 minutes. 2- minute short films (called micro-shorts) are a great way to start off for your first film because they test brevity (how briefly you can narrate your story!)
46 Ways to brainstorm for your short film script:
Let’s look at some ways to brainstorm for your short film script:
- Keep it short and simple!
Keep your ideas brief and simple, more so, if it is your short film. Do not attempt to cram a feature film script into a short film, and do not create a complex plot. Pay more attention to your story, characters and plot. Also, opt for a simple one- genre storyline. Ideally short films have 2 or 3 characters and not more than 2 locations.
This is a good way to come up with ideas for your script. List all the props you can get/ have, and this automatically makes your scrip easy to produce. This is essential because this is the starting point of your budget and a good place to start. Your short film can be centered around a prop too! For instance, you can write about your favourite gadget or on a pencil you used.
- Watch and break down other shorts:
Watching other famous short films is another great way to get your creative juices flowing! While watching a film, mute the sound and break down each scene shot-by-shot and study the way the story has been narrated and why it became famous. There’s nothing wrong in borrowing ideas from other short films to make your own.
- Flesh out a scene from a feature film:
Find a scene in a feature film that has a lot of conflict and can stand separately. You can work with it and make it a short film.
Here’s an interesting story: When Damien Chazelle, director of Whiplash, came up with a feature film script about jazz drumming, it was rejected. Instead of giving up, he got a very intense scene from the script and made it into a short. This gathered a lot of interest from critics, and eventually got funding to be made into a feature film!
- Work with a budget but in reverse:
Formulating a budget is very essential when working on your short film. Work backwards- find a cheap place to shoot, find crew, actors and write a story based on whatever you could gather. Robert Rodriguez made El Mariachi, his famous film using reverse budgeting- he found places he could shoot for free.
- Real life events:
Take the newspaper, and find some news that interests you. You can create a short film from real-world situations too! It could be financial affairs or a political issue, and form ideas around it. Look for news that has to be explained in detail, and form a plot. The idea would be original, and therefore gather an audience.
- Form a routine:
Forming a routine and working at a time where you can think without any disturbance is a good way to get inspired to write a short film idea. Usually, the best time to create these ideas is either in the morning or at night. Working in the morning is a good idea because your mind is fresh.
- Medium of film:
Many good short films take advantage of the medium. A good way to make your film stand out in film festivals is to write your story in such a way that it is heavily dependent on aspects like film editing techniques and strong storytelling. While on one end, at festivals like Sundance, it appeals to viewers, it shows film-makers that you can think visually and that you can make an experience that works in favour of films.
- Find affordable locations:
Finding locations that are affordable, or better still free, will greatly help save money when filming! You can ask around- your friend probably owns a café or someone in your family could give you some room to shoot in their backyard… getting a clear picture of your location can help you get ideas.
- College campus:
If you’re into dystopian sci-fi, you can look at old college campuses built in the 20th Century. They have cool and brutalistic designs, which gives film-making students the look of a high-budget film with an affordable budget.
- Deserted places:
If you’re into horror films, look for deserted places around your neighbourhood, or your city. Think of abandoned forests, cemeteries, hospitals, zoos, warehouses and houses. Research location permit costs while working on your idea, and ask people you know how to go about getting a permit to shoot in the location you choose.
- A day in your life:
Thin of a particular day in your life – did you get to work as planned? Did you discover something new? Did you meet someone? Did anything interesting happen? Form ideas based on pointers like these.
- Character faults:
When brainstorming for ideas, think of flaws for your main character (protagonist). This can automatically make your story interesting. You can make your character self-centered or power-hungry or frustrated with life.
- Use storyboards:
If you have an idea for a short film sequence in your head, you can create a storyboard. Creating a storyboard gives you a visual representation of what you want and shows your team what exactly you want to see in the end. It helps you create a film that is more producible. You can either draw it by hand or you can use a storyboard software. You can find free storyboard software here.
- Work with old headlines:
If you think that you want to make something unique, you can look through old news archives and get ideas for your short film. Since this is a short film, limit your search to a particular place or topic. The shorter your story is, the easier it will be for you to write a great screenplay!
- Listen to conversations:
Another brilliant way to gather ideas for your script is by going to a public place like a restaurant or a park and listening to people’s conversations. Sometimes, an interesting conversation can turn out to be an idea for your story!
- Life events:
The easiest way to brainstorm for ideas is by gathering events from your own life. Think of any wedding, birthday or funeral and create an idea around something interesting that happened there.
- Read a lot!
Another way to brainstorm for ideas is by reading. Take out that book you’ve always wanted to read, pick out one or two interesting chapters and try to make a short film script out of it. You can also read blogs and get ideas for your script! Reading will also help you build on your literary skills, and help you build a coherent script, thereby making you a good screenwriter.
- List resources you have:
A very practical way to brainstorm short film ideas is by making a list of props and locations- especially if you are making a short film entirely on your own without external source of funding. That way, you can build your ideas around what resources you have at hand.
- Use a moodboard:
A moodboard is a visual tool that helps you communicate concepts and ideas. Most normally, it is used to visualize a script, but you can use this tool to brainstorm ideas too! Put together images that inspire you, and ideas will come to you. You can find a free moodboard template here.
When you are facing difficulties coming up with ideas, it helps to write randomly without thinking of anything in particular. Writing “morning pages” really helps get inspiration for your short film script, according to author Julia Cameron. The main idea of the activity is to be consistent with the routine, which will help you come up with potential ideas for your short film script.
- Random article on Wikipedia:
Clicking “Random article” on Wikipedia can spark ideas for your short film script too. Articles that feature on “Random article” can range anywhere from Space phenomena to a famous music band! Select a topic that inspires you to create a short film script.
- Watch the old classic films:
Another simple way to brainstorm for short film ideas is by watching the old classic films and summing them up in roughly 10 minutes. Find a scene which moved you and work with it to explore its full potential and see what pans out!
- Work backwards:
You can also brainstorm ideas when you are clear with the ending of your story. Start with the end first and then work towards the beginning. This will help you shoot scenes which you really require, saving precious time!
- Use a short film generator:
You can try using a Mad-Libs style randomizer online which will help you build on your ideas! You can find a few useful elements for your story with this tool.
- Work on ideas with a twist:
Pick a genre you like and create a twist. A twist need not necessarily be a surprise ending. It can also be combining two genres to produce something interesting. For example, if you are working with thrillers, it gives you a chance to mix suspense and horror.
- Fish out of water:
Visualize a character in its normal environment and put them in a totally different one. This can lead to infinite comical scenarios! This technique of brainstorming has proven to be successful in short and feature films.
- Use other mediums:
Get ideas for your movie script by looking in other mediums of entertainment- books, music, stage plays, or an interesting piece of art that is easy to get short film ideas out of. Another great place to look for inspiration is poetry because they give way for a lot of creativity.
- Write an arc before writing your short film:
Create a beat sheet with a clear emotional arc. An arc is how the story develops, and a beat sheet is an outline used to map out a story. For example, in a tragic movie, the protagonist is portrayed to be happy, but in the end, ends up losing everything.
If this is your first short film, try to make your story with less twists and turns. By understanding where you want your story to go, you can remove ideas that can hike your budget.
- Decipher the audio from a scene of a film you like:
Look for a film you have not watched- either on Netflix or YouTube. Play a scene with limited dialogue and write what you hear without looking at the screen. This exercise will bring out a lot of ideas for your short film script!
- Office pranks:
Office pranks are another way to make your short film idea sell. Think about a time someone pulled a prank on you, and try to put that into a short film script!
- Go crazy with your creativity!
Let your imagination run wild for this brainstorming exercise! Take a regular and boring character and put them in an extreme situation, which can lead to hilarious consequences. An apt example of this is Daniel from Mrs Doubtfire, who dresses up as a nanny so that he can spend time with his children.
Here’s a clipping:
- Write a logline:
A logline is a one-line description for your film. This should take care of most of the problems encountered during the brainstorming exercise. Create a logline and run it by your close circle. There’s no harm trying out a few before you zero in on one idea, since it is just a sentence!
- Come up with a story with a moral:
Another great way to make your short film idea stand out is by creating a story which has a lesson behind it. An example worth mentioning here is Pixar’s short film, Piper which is about a baby hungry sandpiper bird who learns to overcome her fear of water to get food.
- Check out the news:
Current news events are also great ideas to make a short film with. Focus on one person or one incident. Draft an outline of the situation and then delve into details. Don’t make it entirely fact-oriented, you can invent a little bit, or else you might end up dealing with copyright issues. You can also delve into really bizarre events that were captured by the media.
- “What if…?”
Play the “What if..?” game by creating a scenario which is not very easy to predict. Type something random on your keyboard and just type “What if” before that and see what crops up. What if AI bots took over the Earth?
- Think about your theme:
The theme is the underlying idea of your story. The key to developing a good story for your short film is by exploring your theme. For example, your story could be about a handicapped person being able to win an athletic competition- so the theme for your film would be “getting through obstacles”.
- Write your ideas down:
Inspiration can strike anywhere- whether you are out with your friends or at work! Make sure you have a small notebook or a small piece of paper and a pen and write them down.
- Become a researcher:
Researching is a great way to get ideas for your short film. Do research on topics that interest you and make up a story from there!
- Collaborate with professionals:
Collaborate with freelancers and analyze what they like to shoot. It will be a lot less expensive if your crew is working on your film for free. Finding crew is very simple- you can search for people on Facebook too! Ask around and you’ll also find groups that gather people for production jobs.
- Confine characters to one place:
Another interesting method to brainstorm is by creating characters and confining them in one place without a way to escape. You can build on this idea and see what happens. A classic example of this type of movie is The Shining, directed by Stanley Kubrick, based on the book of the same name written by Stephen King.
You can use this tool to kickstart any story and add a twist. The plus point of using Christmas or Thanksgiving in your short film idea is everyone can relate with it.
- Lyrics of songs:
Pick a song you like, and study its lyrics. Often, music lyrics narrate a story, so this could be another way for you to get ideas for your short film!
- Look at historical events:
Another way to get ideas for your short film script is by doing research on historical events. You can fictionalize the story too! You can base your story on an incident on the World wars too.
- Write a dream journal:
Keeping a dream journal can spark ideas too! This activity is best done in the morning- write what happened in your dreams. You never know when a good idea for your short film script can crop up!
- Let ideas come to you:
Take a break from using your electronic gadgets and let ideas come to you. Take a walk, get some fresh air and pay attention to what is happening around your locality. Anything can help you come up with an idea- it could be a person walking their dog or kids playing a game of football in the playground!
Pro-tip: Conflict is important!
Almost all short film stories written are packed with conflict as it is crucial and makes up the short film completely. It is important to note that twists in the storyline are what would make your short film stand out.
The methods given above will help you come up with a great short film idea!