How To's | Screenplay Doctor | Screenwriting

Ask the Screenplay Doctor: To Write or Not Write … a Short Screenplay

1 Jun , 2012  

Written by Susan Kouguell | Posted by:

Screenplay expert Susan Kouguell shares her short film successes and gives you tips for trying your own! E-mail screenwriter@newenglandfilm.com to have your screenwriting question answered in an upcoming issue.

I am a huge proponent of writing short screenplays, particularly if your future goals are to direct and/or produce feature-length films. Writing short films gives writers the opportunity to hone in on their skills by conveying an attention-grabbing story in just a few minutes. A short film also offers the chance to actually get a film made, as its length, financial and logistical constraints are minimized.

I began my filmmaking career by writing and collaborating on six short films — and this experience was invaluable. On a creative level, it taught me how to hone in my writing skills by conveying a compelling narrative (even though these films were categorized as experimental narratives) in 20 minutes or less. I learned how to craft each word of dialogue (or text) for a viewing audience and not just for the page. Visual storytelling, music cues, genre, and more, were all vital elements that I grew more confident in with each film.

The result of my six-year experience, collaborating on six short films was significant; the second short film was acquired for the permanent film collection at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, all six films were acquired for the archives at MoMA, the sixth film was included in the Whitney Museum of American Art Biennial, and the films won many competitions and were screened in over 100 international film festivals.

These shorts were also my “calling card” into the film industry. My hands-on experience led me to work with director Louis Malle on the documentary And the Pursuit of Happiness, various positions at Paramount Pictures, a story analyst, story editor, and ghost writer for Harvey Weinstein at (the original) Miramax Films, as well as for other studios and production companies. In addition, it provided me the insight to consult on scripts and films since 1990 through my company Su-City Pictures East, LLC. The other interesting result of making these short films was that I realized I was more interested in writing than directing and that I had a solid strength at producing, but my greatest passion was (and is) writing.

Writing and/or writing and directing a short film can open doors to the film industry. You can use it as your calling card in several ways: 1) as a writing sample to submit to agents and managers; 2) to enter into competitions that are seeking short screenplays and/or short films; 3) to collaborate with aspiring directors and producers; 4) to continue to craft your writing and/or writing and directing skills.

Top 10 Tips for Writing a Short Screenplay

  1. Always keep in mind that one page of your script generally equals one minute of film.
  2. Grab the audience’s attention while staying true to your story and characters.
  3. Know what your story is about and tell it without unnecessary complications.
  4. Create identifiable and empathetic characters.
  5. Clearly convey your settings, style and the mood of the film.
  6. Establish a consistent and understandable genre.
  7. Use visual storytelling to help convey your narrative.
  8. Write dialogue that is distinct to each character.
  9. Deliver a plausible and satisfying ending.
  10. Know your intended audience.

Susan Kouguell’s new book SAVVY CHARACTERS SELL SCREENPLAYS! A comprehensive guide to crafting winning characters with film analyses and screenwriting exercises is available at a discount price of $1.00 off by clicking on www.createspace.com/3558862 and using DISCOUNT CODE: G22GAZPD. To read an excerpt go to: https://www.createspace.com/Preview/1089452. Susan is also the author of The Savvy Screenwriter: How to Sell Your Screenplay (and Yourself) Without Selling Out! (St. Martin’s Griffin) and is an award-winning screenwriter and filmmaker. Susan teaches screenwriting and film at Tufts University, and is chairperson of Su-City Pictures East, LLC, a motion picture consulting company founded in 1990 where she works with over 1,000 writers, filmmakers, and film executives worldwide. ( www.su-city-pictures.com; su-city-pictures.blogspot.com). Follow Susan at Su-City Pictures, LLC Facebook fan page and SKouguell Twitter page to receive more Savvy Tips.


Susan Kouguell’s new book SAVVY CHARACTERS SELL SCREENPLAYS! A comprehensive guide to crafting winning characters with film analyses and screenwriting exercises is available at a discount price of $1.00 off by clicking on www.createspace.com/3558862 and using DISCOUNT CODE: G22GAZPD. To read an excerpt go to: https://www.createspace.com/Preview/1089452. Susan is also the author of The Savvy Screenwriter: How to Sell Your Screenplay (and Yourself) Without Selling Out! (St. Martin’s Griffin) and is an award-winning screenwriter and filmmaker. Susan teaches screenwriting and film at Tufts University, and is chairperson of Su-City Pictures East, LLC, a motion picture consulting company founded in 1990 where she works with over 1,000 writers, filmmakers, and film executives worldwide. ( www.su-city-pictures.com; su-city-pictures.blogspot.com). Follow Susan at Su-City Pictures, LLC Facebook fan page and SKouguell Twitter page to receive more Savvy Tips.