• This week’s assignment is to write a script for a very short movie (up to five pages long).
  • Imagine it as a complete short film. Make sure it has a clear beginning, middle and end. Remember that the elements of any story are the setup; the inciting incident; the complications; the climax; and the resolution.
  • NOTE: If you’d like feedback on your script before class, send it to Nils at:
  • We will also workshop the scripts in class. If they’re longer than 5 pages we’ll workshop the first five pages.
  • If you have Celtx or other screenplay formatting software, feel free to use it. If not, just left-justify it.
  • Here’s an example of a VERY short script, a “minute movie” because it’s just one page (or minute) long.

Not sure where to start?

  • People can be radically different when it comes to writing.
  • Some are PANTSERS (“flying by the seat of their pants”). They just start writing, feeling their way as they go. Their first draft may be terrible, but it doesn’t matter. They know they’ll fix it in a later draft.
  • Other are PLANNERS (also known as plotters). They plan things out in detail. Some start with a formal outline; others with a list of characters; others with a scenario they’d like to explore.
  • Lots of writers are HYBRIDS, doing some pantsing and some plotting.
  • It honestly matter where you start, as long as you end up with a finished screenplay.
  • When I “pants” a screenplay, I don’t worry about who the characters are or what the script is about. I just start writing, treating it like an improv exercise in acting.
  • One version of “pantsing” is to write a random scene heading and random line of action… then just keep writing. (We sometimes do this exercise in class.) Stories tend to materialize without conscious thought if we do this. Of course they may need a lot of rewriting to make sense.
  • For example – here are some random scene headings and lines of action –

George reaches for flashlight, shines it into the darkness.

Door opens. Mr. Paulson enters, wearing only his glasses and slippers.

  • You would then just keep writing, and see where the story went. Just write action and dialogue as usual. Or you might get some fun ideas of where the story might be going, jot them down, then resume writing the screenplay.
  • If I’m doing “extreme pantsing,” I might start with a line of dialogue, which could be totally random then start writing without thinking at all of where I’m going. To write this way, start a timer and write anything that pops into your mind. Write a conversation. Let the words tell the story. You can add the action later. For example, I just set the timer for five minutes and wrote this:

  • i.e., random and silly. I have no idea who the characters are or where the story is going. I just let it materialize, like am improv exercise. One person would say something — the other character would reply. 
  • Exercises like this can be fun, but it takes a lot of work to turn them into finished short screenplays. I’d need to go back, find out who the characters are, why they’re having this conversation, where the story is going, and build more elements of story around it to make it actually work as a screenplay.  (The above later turned into an actual short movie, though it was about a father and his adult daughters, not a man and his wife.)
  • Alternatively, you could start from a list of random variables and start brainstorming from them. For example: “Character: Jim or Judy Raymond, realtor. Prop: Halloween candy. Genre: Romance. Line of dialogue: “Put it in the tub, honey.”
  • (This is similar to creating a script for a 48 hour movie.) Here’s another example: 

SIMON – Computer programmer.
ROWENA – Runs a flower shop
Location: Crawlspace
Prop: Stationary bike
Line of dialogue: “I want this one.”

In this case, you might start by free associating. Jot down associations as they occur to you. This is what I came up with. I started by writing a short treatment, not part of the screenplay, just notes for myself:

TREATMENT: Simon’s new in town. Young. Ambitious. Looking for a house. Loves craftsman houses. Rowenah finds one, meets him there. 

ROWENA guides SIMON through house, showing him rooms. They emerge into living room, an elegant room with a view of the sound.

So what do you think?

Is there a crawlspace?


A crawlspace. C-r-a-w-l…

I know what a crawlspace is. Um, I think there’s one.
There’s usually one in this kind of house.

I’d like to see it, if I could.

She leads him to basement.

She finds a lightswitch. Room brightens. She pokes around, find a brick wall where the crawlspace should be. There’s an old wooden door in it, and a padlock.

It’s locked.

I have a key. I have all the keys.

She finds key, opens it, revealing a cramped, grimey space: dirt floor, spider webs, a sheet of filthy plastic covering the soil.

It’s great. I love it!

If you love this house, you’ll love the next one on the list. It’s —

I want this one. I need it. Get the paperwork. I want it now, Rowena.

It’s a million dollar house, Simon. I’m assuming you have financing.

I’ll pay cash.

The above scene was part planning, part pantsing. I planned some elements… Simon’s rich, he’s eccentric… but then let the characters develop as the story moved along. Again, it’s just a start, obviously not a finished screenplay.

Before doing the assignment…

  • Before writing your short script, it can be helpful to watch some short films, to get an idea of the rhythms of short films and how the parts relate.
  • The films below are ones that I wrote and directed. Some were done for 48 Hour Film Project competitions; others for film festivals. 
  • Watch at least two of them to give you an idea of how short films can come together. 
  • In watching the first movie (“I Love Her”), notice the sections of the story (such as the last half minute or so) that are told with images rather than words.
  • NOTE: These movies have profanity. If that bothers you, feel free to skip this part of the assignment. My films are on fantasy/SF themes, but yours can be any genre you want.