Looking for some killer short film ideas so you can make a killer short film that gets you a killer job doing what you love?
To understand what makes for some good short films ideas you really need to make sense of some of the theory behind shorts. Otherwise, you’re not going to have a strong handle on whether whatever it is you choose to do has any real form or function and, thus, advantage over other films being showcased.
Basically, you need to master the formula for what makes a short great before you spend all your time and energy making one!
Best Things For A Short Film Idea?
When I was first starting my film career out I made a bunch of shorts. Most were AWFUL! These curd-burglars sucked because I tried to tell a feature length story in a 3 minute short. WTF?
A short film is a slice of life. It’s a moment. The best shorts play off a single emotion, usually humor.
Humor grabs people. It demands our attention. Plus it can play internationally. If you were living under a rock let me gently remind you…the whole world is online!
So make your short VISUAL and FUNNY. You can ignore this advice and attempt to tell a poetic or dramatic story, but I’m telling you from experience, AND as an audience member to make me laugh.
Think of great jokes. That’s all a short film is. It’s 1-3 minutes. Nice and simple. If you want to expand it beyond 3 minutes then I strongly suggest you master telling a story under 3 minutes first. Again, I bit off more than I could chew on my first few films and A) they didn’t get finished or B) they were a storytelling disaster because I didn’t grasp the basics first.
Other Ways Shorts Are Different…
Beyond humor, let’s talk about the philosophy of short films…
Shorts, are slices of life. They’re about a character with a problem. That’s the basis of great short… One character with one problem.
Your audience needs to relate to that character. They need to see themselves in that character. Take for example the Pixar short ‘For The Birds’. The main character is an awkward bird. He’s the outsider. We all feel like the outsider. We all dream of being something more than what we are. That’s why you’re a filmmaker right? You have DREAMS!
Since shorts are, well, short, you only have so much time to establish your character, your world and your situation. A feature film can take up to 25 minutes to establish all that. But in a rad short film you’ve got less than 30 seconds. BAM! The minute the film starts the audience should ‘get’ who the main character is and what he’s trying to accomplish.
Take the dorky bird in ‘For The Birds’. He looks over and sees all the other birds (who all look alike and very different from him- this makes it crystal clear to the audience that he’s the outsider) on the telephone line. He wants to join them.
Notice how all that info is set up in visuals? No talking, no explaining. Simple, eloquent images that show the audience who the main character is and what he or she wants.
How Can You Discover Some Great Short Film Ideas Of Your Own?
In my Short Film Success Workshop I go over shorts in great detail (I talk about them for hours and hours and hours…). But since this is a short article let me give you a quick tip.
Yep. Walk around and jot down notes. Watch people from life and see what funny little problems they encounter. List out everyday things. Like tying your shoes.
A person tying their shoes is very mundane. But what if that person had to tie their shoes while running on a treadmill? Or had to tie them while running a race in the Olympics? How fun would that be to tell!
Short film ideas should come from life. They should take a mundane (relatable, everyday situation) and take it to the extreme.
In ‘For The Birds’, the film ends with a funny punchline. They take the situation to the extreme. This not only delighted audiences, it also got them an Oscar. The Oscar was won because it was a well told short film idea. And guess what? Anyone, including YOU, can tell a great short story.
So start paying attention to life and I promise you’ll find inspiration that will help you figure out the most killer, awesome, stupendous short film around.
One More Example…
Chris Renaud & Mike Thurmeier’s No Time For Nuts (2006, USA)
Let’s examine Blue Skies short ‘No Time for Nuts’.
We witness Scrat (silly little guy…) on his unparalleled quest for a single acorn and the ridiculous lengths at which he’ll go to achieve such, all while traveling through time. Blue Sky had made several Scrat shorts, so everyone was pretty much aware that Scrat’s goal was to get his beloved acorn. This allowed the filmmakers to add some sci-fi and take Scrat through time (again, they took a mundane situation (a squirrel gathering nuts) and made it extreme.)
WARNING: This short is a 7 minute short. I’m begging you to keep your shorts under 3 minutes! But you should see what the next step is after you make a 1-3 minute short.
Though the 7 min segment is probably a minute and a half to two minutes too long, we’re presented with a highly entertaining farce that plays out very well as it alters between perceived success and untimely failure. The story keeps reversing (he has the nuts…he loses the nuts) and ends in a big punchline. See, it’s just like I told you before. Mundane situation everyone can relate to, twists and turns where the character tries to accomplish his/her goals, and then ironic ending.
What’s irony? That’s where the character gets what they want BUT that causes a whole bunch of different problems.
Hopefully this article has helped you have a better understanding of how to generate some solid short film ideas of your own.