Making a short film is a perfect gateway into the film industry, providing real-life practical experience in every aspect of filmmaking, but coming up with ideas for your short film isn’t always easy. Luckily, we’ve compiled a few of our favorite methods for coming up with ideas for your first project.
When you’re just starting out, there are a handful of different things you may be up. Especially if you’re learning how to make a short film by yourself.
But while restrictions on time and locations, cast and crew, budget, and technical know-how are a challenge – they also encourage creativity. Let’s get started.
How to brainstorm short film ideas
From there it’s time to brainstorm ideas. Think about what excites you about the films you watch. What is it about them that keeps you watching?
Making a list of keywords relating to genre, situation or moods is a great start. Techniques like “Brainwriting” can take this further in a group, with participants expanding each item.
Elliot Grove, the founder of Raindance independent film festival, suggests one of the best ways to brainstorm short film ideas is to write little and often. Jot down or voice memo your short film ideas to remember them, revisit and then build these ideas later on.
Short film ideas
When coming up with your short film idea, you can use the fact that it’s a “short” as an exciting limit to your idea. This will help you tell your story as short and sweet as possible, which can be really important for the audience.
When you’re looking at how short a story can be, look no further than adverts! These short snippets into another world are one of the shortest ways to tell a story and hook the viewer.
A great example of this technique would be Ridley Scott’s “1984” Apple Macintosh commercial which manages to fit a whole story into a minute-long sequence – now, that takes some skill!
What to film
Other short-form film formats worth exploring:
- Movie Trailers – If your story idea feels more feature-length, make it a short film by only making the trailer. Write just enough to describe a bigger movie, while having fun with the “hype” presentation style.
- Cartoons – The classic Looney Tunes shorts told charming stories with iconic characters. Animation, real or rendered, is a superb approach for short films you might want to consider.
- Video Art – Often more concerned with visuals over any narrative, video is a growing force in contemporary art.
Song lyrics are always telling a story. Creating a narrative music video around a song or using music in place of a narrative can be a great way of making a short statement.
In fact, acclaimed movie director David Fincher started out making pop promos for leading artists like Madonna. While using commercial music is off limits due to copyright, there are other ways!
- Local Artists – Offer to create a music video for a local unsigned singer or band. Not only is the licensing issue ok, but it could also provide on and off screen collaboration.
- Royalty-free Music – Investigate royalty-free music published online. Either make a 3-4 minute video for a composition or find inspiring music for your short film’s soundtrack.
- Tone Deaf – Could you portray the message of a popular hit song without actually playing the music at all?
Use artwork to inspire your short film ideas
Using a piece of art to spark your idea is a great starting point. You might think of a piece of art as a single frame within a story and then build a short film around it.
Hollywood feature films are rich with art references. The movie Girl with a Pearl Earring (2003) tells artist Johannes Vermeer’s story via his famous painting of the same name.
Using a piece of art as your starting point also has the benefit of giving you some helpful limitations to the story – putting the ‘short’ into short film as it were.
- Edward Hopper’s Room In New York (1932) is an example of an old painting to build a story around. Think about who these people are, what they’re doing, and how they got there. The same goes for many paintings and conceptual art – there’s a whole world of untapped short stories out there!
Where to find short film ideas online
If art isn’t your thing, then there are other places to look:
- News headlines – John Lennon jumbled up news headlines to write Beatle’s classic “A Day In the Life” and the same idea could help you form the plot of a short film.
- Wiki at random – Leave it to chance and click Random article on Wikipedia to find a starting point. We got “Bahadurpur” a village in India, so bring on some Bollywood!
- Reddit Ideas – Basically the perfect resource for suggested stories, Writing Prompts is a Reddit thread. Take a situational sentence, expand on it for your short film and make sure to credit the source!
- Plot Generator – This site generates a customized short story based on various suggestions you can enter or fill randomly.
- Story Dice – This app for iOS and Android rolls up to 10 virtual dice to pick plot icons at random across multiple categories.
Improvise as you go
An alternative approach is to let the software lead your ideas. HitFilm Express offers a complete toolbox here across video editing and post-production.
Packed with VFX features that can be extended with affordable add-ons, the incredible scope of technical possibilities suggest ideas in themselves:
- Specialized effects – Warping footage, adding glitches or applying temporal tools could make for a time-bending visual experience ideal for science fiction stories.
- 3D model import and compositing – The ability to integrate and blend animation into scenes extends your short film beyond the camera lens.
- Green Screening – Your short films aren’t confined to real locations. Transplant your shots against any background with powerful keying and extraction options.
- Text & Titling – Go silent and add subtitles instead, then add a professional credits sequence to name check collaborators or sources of inspiration.
Silent short film ideas
The silent approach can be traced back to the Lumière brothers or experimental surrealist shorts like Un Chien Andalou (1929). Where director Luis Buñuel and artist Salvador Dali made a bizarre, unsettling film using early cinema tricks – the same could apply today.
The Blended Life is a 2019 short student film by Nikhilesh Bansod. More conventional in style but still dialog silent, it uses contemporary CG and 3D compositing to blur the line between VFX and reality. Less than 2 minutes long, it’s a concise example of how a showcase of video skills can produce an engaging narrative.
Watch other short films to help inspire your ideas
Discussing ideas is all part of good brainstorming. Floating concepts by other likeminded people and gauging their reactions is all part of the process.
The short film format is an exciting statement in itself, and the limits on the form make for limitless creativity – Just do it!