Now that you’ve studied the teen film genre, it’s time to make one of your own.
As a student filmmaker, you have the location and actors already sorted out. Because this is probably one of your first films, try to keep it simple. Have no more than three characters and one location. Your finished film should be approximately two minutes in length. You’ll be making the film at school, so think realistically!
STEP 1: DEVELOP AN IDEA
Imagine a short scene that involves these two characters. It might be a jock shaking down a nerd for lunch money. It could be a stereotypical geek trying to be cool. Think about the stereotypes commonly used in teen comedies and the actors available to appear in your short film. Again, keep it simple. Stick to a single location and a couple of characters.
Great stories start with great characters. If you don’t have a three dimensional character grappling with a worthwhile problem then you don’t have a story! Most films have both external and internal conflict.
External conflict is between a character and an outside force. In The Bourne Identity, Jason Bourne is pursued by assassins. In The Dark Knight, Batman struggles against an anarchic supervillain called The Joker. In Iron Man 3, Iron Man fights a ruthless terrorist called The Mandarin. These are all conflicts are all external, something outside the character that they have to struggle against. Stories also need internal conflict. In The Bourne Identity, Jason Bourne struggles with amnesia to rediscover who he is. In The Dark Knight, Bruce Wayne wants to give up the mantle of Batman so he can be with Rachel Dawes. In Iron Man 3, Tony Stark must overcome post traumatic stress disorder before he can stop The Mandarin.
Screenwriters use a range of brainstorming tools to start thinking about character.
The Johari Window is a psychological tool that was developed in the 1950s. It is argued that people act and behave within these quadrants. The Jahari Window is a good tool for developing a three dimensional character who have clear motivations and inner conflict.
When you are describing your character, choose from the list of the following adjectives as a starting point: able, ambivert, accepting, adaptable, bold, calm, caring, cheerful, clever, congenial, complex, confident, dependable, dignified, energetic, extrovert, friendly, giving, happy, helpful, idealistic, independent, ingenious, intelligent, introvert, kind, knowledgeable, logical, loving, mature, modest, nervous, observant, optimistic, organized, patient, powerful, proud, aggressive, reflective, relaxed, religious, responsive, searching, self-assertive, self-conscious, sensible, sentimental, shy, silly, smart, spontaneous, sympathetic, tense, trustworthy, warm, wise.
Step 2: Write a treatment
Once you have thought about your character, you can start to think about story. Screenwriters often talk about a three act structure. This is a simplified version of the three act structure that you might use to plan your short film.
Act 1. In the opening act of the narrative, you need to establish your character for the audience and establish them in a way that shows the audience how they, and others, perceive them. This might be achieved through dialogue or by showing the audience something about the character. At the end of the first act, the character will encounter some kind of problem during which they discover something unknown about themselves.
Act 2. In Act 2, the character tries to deal with the discovery that they’ve made about themselves and the problems it might cause in their life. They try to sort out these problems but things probably won’t work out the way that they expect. Change is never easy and your character doesn’t get what they want immediately.
Act 3. At the end of the narrative, the story has to be resolved and tied up neatly. By the end of the story, the character has normally changed or learnt something about themselves.
STEP 3: WRITE A SCREENPLAY
Once you’ve come up with an idea, write the screenplay using Celtx. Screenplays are written in a particular format. This is to ensure that they are easy to read when you’re on set making the film. There is an excellent guide to screenplay formatting at the Oscars website.
Make sure that your screenplay is formatted appropriately, particularly:
• Scene heading. The scene heading is the line that appears at the beginning of a scene. It will usually look something like this: INT. CLASSROOM – MORNING. In a scene heading, INT is used to designate an internal location, EXT is used for an outside location. It is also customary to identify the time of day.
• Action. Action refers to what is happening on the screen. You cannot include any other information in this section of your screenplay. Character Name. Before a character speaks, the character’s name appears in the centre of the page.
• Dialogue. Dialogue is indented further than the action and appears beneath the character’s name. The following is an example of a student screenplay which features all of the formatting listed above. Using the drop down menu at the top of a Celtx document, you can easily format your screenplay.
Step 4: CREATE A SHOTLIST
A shot list is simply that – a list of all of the shots in your film. When you have completed your screenplay, a shot list is a great way to imagine how it will look on the screen. You simply make a list of all the shots in your film from beginning to end.
It’s useful to have the following columns: scene number, shot number, duration, shot size, location and description. Completing your shot list in a spreadsheet is a great idea because after you have printed a chronological list of the shots in your film, you can sort the rows by location. This is particularly useful if you’re shooting in a number of different places. When you’re shooting your film, it’s a great idea to print another copy of your shot list so you can cross each shot off after it’s completed. There’s nothing more frustrating and time consuming to organise additional shoots to pick up material you missed the first time around. A shot list is a surefire way to avoid this.
This Google Docs shot list template allows you to choose shot size and duration from drop down menus. Clicking on the ‘Share’ button allows multiple people to collaborate on the same shot list at once.