Unlike the feature film screenplay, the short script isn’t used to attract a producer or a large audience. It’s used as a promotional tool for a screenwriter and/or director, usually a director, to showcase talent.
The short film showcases a screenwriter and/or director’s talent.
Aspiring directors or even those looking to move into a different genre, will pick a short script they can shoot that captures their individual style, preferred or a new genre they’d like to explore. The short script should be between 10-30 pages in length. Shorter is better and can be in any genre.
With this said, short scripts need to be given special consideration. First, directors/screenwriters looking to showcase their talent are usually doing so on a shoestring budget and either don’t have the funds normally seen in a feature film or would prefer not to spend substantial funds on a project that’s just going to be used for promotional purposes. Therefore, it’s strongly recommended the writer treat the project like a low-budget feature; limit locations, limit cast, no SPFX, no costumes, no period pieces, no fires/explosions, no car chases, no stunts, no animals, no kids, etc.
Secondly, the short script needs to stand out from the crowd. Most likely, the short screenplay will be produced to go to film festivals and be shown as part of a director’s reel. There are thousands such submissions to each film festival yearly. So, the short needs to grab the viewer and be something the viewer will remember long after leaving the theater.
How does a writer grab the viewer? Just like in a feature film start with a unique concept. Next, end with a HUGE TWIST. Make it shocking and memorable. This applies to all genres. The audience should be so stunned by the twist that they’re talking ’bout it – and hyping it – and the news begins to spread about the director and/or screenwriter’s work. It could also mean a deal for a larger project, like a feature film, for the director and the screenwriter.
Why should the screenwriter care ’bout writing a short to promote a director? Isn’t the writer’s goal to sell a feature-length screenplay? Well, if the director gets a feature film deal to expand the short into a major motion picture, guess who gets to write the feature? You! Plus, the screenwriter gets the credit for the short and potentially the feature. It’s a win/win situation that could jumpstart the screenwriter’s career and help the screenwriter bypass all the parties in town that have snubbed their nose at reading the writer’s work in the past.
Are there drawbacks? Yes. Don’t expect the short to sell for very much and don’t nitpick at the price. Selling a short is really ’bout going for the credit and being part of a film festival showcase rather than the money. But it could turn into a financial bonanza if the director’s offered a deal.
So, what does the writer charge for the short? That’s negotiable with the director, but most range between $200 -$2,000 or even just the credit. The credit on a short is the most important part. And make sure the sale contract states a few things; 1) writer gets IMDB credit 2) writer gets a copy of the short 3) writer gets a feature film ‘Literary Deal Memorandum’ should the project be picked up for development as a feature film.
Extra tidbit: Some writers condense an existing feature screenplay down to a short. This is fine, but make sure the contract states that the short is ‘based on the feature film (add title)’ and type that on the cover page of the short.
It’ll be easier to market a short to an aspiring director than an established director, but an aspiring filmmaker is the perfect target market to get the short made.
Remember, the key is writing a short with a shocking and memorable twist that builds hype for the project and showcases talent.