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by Noam Kroll
One of the most common approaches to feature film development today involves writing a feature length screenplayand then shooting a short film based around it. The idea behind this approach is that the short film will act as a proof of concept and essentially show potential collaborators what the director/producer team is able to do stylistically, even on a small scale.
Although many filmmakers seem to understand the importance of adapting their feature length material into a short, many of them aren’t able to actually execute on it in an effective way. The reason being that features and shorts are in some ways completely different art forms, and an idea that works well as a feature doesn’t always work as well as a short film… Or vice versa.
Throughout this post, I’m going to explore a few tips for improving your ability to translate your feature material into short form content.
1. Tell a small story within the greater story.
The optimal length for most short films is 10 minutes, which means you have very little time to tell a complex story or explore a lot of character detail. The number one mistake that filmmakers make when it comes to adapting their material, is trying to cram way too much information into a ten minute short. Having just developed a feature length screenplay idea, many filmmakers feel very close to their material and it’s hard for them to leave out important moments, characters, or ideas from the short version of their story. But the reality is that you need to lose 90% of your feature in order to make an effective short.
Rather than thinking of how you can trim down your 110 page script into 10 pages, think about one of the small stories that you can tell within the larger story at play. Maybe you want to tackle the catalyst moment from the first act, or show the first time that two characters meet. You might even want to shoot a short prequel that would take place before the first scene of the film. As long as the slice of the story that you are telling can be executed in ten pages or less, you’re headed in the right direction. But the second that it feels like you are forcing a bigger story onto the page, it’s time to rethink your idea.
2. Focus on character.