How to create unique short film ideas (that no one else is making)

Creatives, you all know the struggle. You develop an idea, or two, and then worry it’s been done before. You don’t know how to retell it in a new, unique way, and start wondering if it’s worth making it if it’s been so many times before.

So let’s start from scratch, and look head-on at idea generation.

Because inspiration is great, but a strategy is better.

Generating unique ideas

We’re going to work backwards here, but stick with me. Instead of looking at story or character first for our idea, we’re going to pick our genre and theme first.

And this is where it’s all about you.

What genre of films do you want to make? Are you strictly drama like me? Or is comedy your thing? 

Do some soul searching if you have to, and decide what genre you want to commit to. 

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Got your genre? Start thinking about some themes.

The great thing about themes is that you can tell them from multiple different perspectives (and genres).

So if your theme is getting a new job, you could either make it full of consequences, tension and anxiety for your protagonist. But you could also tell the same story in a comedy film and make the new job challenging in a funny way.

Themes are personal, too. What news stories do you read that make you sad, angry or happy? What sparks a personal response from you? 

You don’t have to choose something as your theme because it’s popular. Even if no one is talking about your theme, idgaf. Seriously, I don’t give a fuck. 

Make your film around a theme that matters to you. It’s one of the most important things for your film – you have to care about it. 

Use the everyday

This applies to all films (yes, even dystopian dramas with an alien as the protagonist). 

Everyday moments add colour and authenticity to films, both of which are vital. 

They’re also incredibly useful narrative tools to move your story along, provide info about a character or hook the audience in and make them care (even in a 5 minute short).

Start collecting everyday moments. The easiest way to do it is to write them down in the Notes app on your phone, or go old school with pen and paper. 

Don’t skip the preparation

I know, it’s tempting as hell to jump straight to FinalDraft as soon as you have an idea. But doing that is a surefire way to get to page 3, get stuck and give up 99% of the time. 

Which is why I go all out on prep work, and I spend 75% of the time with my clients on prep work before we move on to making their film. 

The 3 vital things your film needs

It’s true that prep work can be frustrating when all you really want to do is write the script and move closer to getting it to the big screen. 

So I’ve broken down the prep into three parts.

The best part?

You can do all three in one afternoon.

(But that involves zero distractions and several cups of tea)

Full-fat ideas

These ideas aren’t just a sentence in your notebook. These ideas are fully developed, pitch-ready ideas.

Yeah, I did just say that in the M&S voice. If you read that in the M&S voice, you’re not the only one.

A full-fat idea has e.v.e.r.y.t.h.i.n.g mapped out. Logline, format, structure, it all has to be decided.

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Having this idea breakdown means you can pitch the idea without a script (hello lightning-fast development time) PLUS when you come to writing, it’s literally like joining the dots. Bye bye staring at a blank screen.

You can also develop multiple full-fat ideas and leave them on your slate for as long as you want. When you’re ready, go back to your idea breakdown and you’ll have everything you need to get started. 

If you can’t tell yet, I’m all about making film life easier.

Character profiling

There are so many ways of character profiling, and so you do you on this one. But it pays to have any kind of character profile before you get to the script. 

A classic case of writer’s block is often caused by writing something that’s untrue to your character, and your brain is saying, ‘hold up, that’s not right’.

So know your character before pen goes to paper.

The lazy girl’s way of profiling is to identify their desire, fatal flaw and complexity (what they think they want vs what they need). Sometimes that’s the only deep character profiling I do, and it’s enough. 

Beat sheet (and repeat)

I use the beat sheet template by Blake Snyder, and I’ve reworked it slightly for shorts in the workbook I use to create all my films. 

This is the framework for your film and doing this before you start your script will change the game.

Writing becomes faster, easier and more manageable with a well-constructed beat sheet done and dusted.

It also helps you stay true to your message, without getting lost in dialogue or scene structure. You’re never going to be staring at your blank FinalDraft doc wondering wtf to write ever again.

Once your beat sheet is done, you can jump straight into writing, or go back to your slate and develop your next killer idea. 

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