Screenwriting : A Quick Question About Shorts. by Shara Maude

Shara Maude

A Quick Question About Shorts.

I have been hearing a lot about short films lately. But I'm wondering, how long is just right for a short film. If I write something like twenty-five to thirty pages, is that too long? What's too long and what would be considered too short? Just wondering. Thanks a lot!!

Tamim Almousa

I think the sweet spot is 8 pages. But... a short can be as long as 40 pages, I think. So long as its tight, 25 won't feel too long.

Diandra Anne Mamo

Shara Maude I was recently wondering that myself, as well as the amount of time a short film can take. I think it makes sense for it to be 25 pages. As well as what the story itself calls for. Thanks for bringing this up.

Willem Lodewijk Elzenga

20 pages (minutes) is considered student academy format. all below shortfilm. above 25 is more likely to be considered a TV-movie.

Shara Maude

Ah, okay.So what about shorter. I read something last night, from an article that I cannot remember, that 20-25 is a little long for festivals. Then again, you have to be able to tell a complete story. 20-25 sounds about right though.

Willem Lodewijk Elzenga

I made a shortfilm that was distributed to many festivals, sold to broadcasters and got even picked up by universal. its 5 minute, best advice I can give. have look: https://youtu.be/NKNxNr8PSUE

Shara Maude

Okay, thanks for that! I'll have to check it out after work. Looks like an interesting film!

Sam Borowski

Oscar defines a short as 40 minutes and under. However, most shorts - especially the Oscar-Qualified ones - like in that 15-minute to 25-minute range. I prefer longer shorts myself - that tell a full story in enough time - but by longer, I think 25 minutes (with credits - so that would really be 23 pages or so) is perfect. Just keep it under 30 pages, if you can. The closer to 23, the better. Film Festivals love to program great shorts that are 25 minutes and under. And, if you pull off a 19-minute short that tells a GREAT STORY ... well, you just may hit Oscar GOLD! ;) GOD BLESS and STAY FRESH! <3

Shara Maude

Thanks, Sam!!

Beth Fox Heisinger

Great comments above and totally agree... however, around 10 minutes or much less (2-to-5 minutes) is also a great length too. There is much preference out there for short shorts. Lol! I'm producing a short that is 5 pages myself. ;) Best to you!

Doug Nelson

(All I do now is shorts.) First off - shorts is where you cut your filmmaker teeth and I use 'em as a teaching tool. When it comes to length/run time; we all know the Academy's definition of <40 min run time but there is no uniform standard when it comes to festivals. (I've been a screener/judge/director at film festivals.) Many/most festivals invite the filmmaker to attend the screening of his/her film and to take questions from the audience after the screening - preferred but not always possible. Screening periods are usually broken into time blocks - usually two hours. The goal is to screen as many films as possible during each time block and allow for Q & A. Under ideal conditions - allowing 15 minutes per film - 8 films can be screened in each block. That's the basis of saying the most appropriate length is in the 10 - 12 min category. Those much longer tend to shut out the shorter films - bad for ticket sales. There are some excellent 30 - 40 min shorts out there, but they tend (notice; I said 'tend') to be shown during the evening blocks. FL films are a better fit for the larger, more prestigious (read more expensive) festivals.

The Academy does award OSCARS in the short live action & animation categories. Unfortunately, few American filmmakers see fit to produce worthy shorts - see Curfew. The Phone Call was/is one of my favorites - but it's from the UK.

Pat Savage

Beth Fox Heisinger has it right less than 10 minutes and about 2 to 5. I love short shorts too lol

Shara Maude

Thanks everybody!! You've more than answered my question!

Jorge J Prieto

Shorts are great way to get your story out there, because they're economical, so 10 to 20 minutes, not a lot of dialogue, characters, limited locations, last but most importantly, an engaging story w/a beginning, middle and great ending. My humble opinion. Good luck.

Danny Manus

Yea, i disagree with Sam. Just because a short can be under 40 mins doesnt mean it should be 25. Perfect length is usually 7-13 pages, which will be 8-15 minutes with credits. Longer than 15 mins, execs lose interest and festivals have a hard time programming it. doesnt mean it CANT be longer or shorter. But you asked for the sweet spot, and the sweet spot is 7-12 mins.

Matthew J. Kaplan

Many festivals now have multiple categories: shorts and short-shorts (or super-shorts). As a writer, I'm not sure how many people will be interested in producing, or even reading, your short. So, if you are filming it yourself, I recommend something 10 minutes or under - less expensive and more manageable. But ultimately I believe that you should write the story you want to write, no matter how long or short.

Sam Borowski

Danny, my friend Shawn made a short and it was 19 minutes - WON the OSCAR in 2013! It was Curfew ... to this day the BEST SHORT I'VE EVER SEEN! The execs apparently didn't lose interest as he later turned it into a feature called Before I Disappear that won SXSW and was distributed theatrically by IFC Films. The most recent live-action winner this year was The Silent Child, which was 20 minutes. So, again, I don't agree with you and history doesn't either, actually. The live-action short Stutterer was 12 minutes and that won the Oscar in 2016, so I give you that, though that seems to be the exception. Mindenki - aka Sing - by Kristof Deak and Anna Udvardy won the Oscar in 2017 and that came in at 25 minutes. Heck, the 2002 Oscar-Winning short The Accountant by Ray McKinnon and Lisa Blount and starring McKinnon and Walton Goggins came in at a whopping 35 minutes. Even my own short, The Mandala Maker, which qualified in 2010 was 34. And, we won our share of Festivals. Now, while I would suggest making it 25 or under for programming sake - I agree you will reach a lot more Festivals - I disagree with you about the sweet spot being 7-12 minutes. History disagrees, as well. And, most short are longer than that and they get programmed. I do agree, it's easier to get it programmed at that length, but it doesn't make it a better film. In addition, the numbers disagree with you. GOD BLESS and STAY FRESH! ;)

Doug Nelson

Danny - Yeah with a run time in the 10 - 12 min range is the easiest to program in the typical festival resulting in more eyes on it.

But Sam, I have to agree with you too. When you get into OSCAR bait, I think those few minutes more seems to make all the difference in final story polish. But remember too that those few festivals that qualify as OSCAR qualifiers are in the top tier I haven't seen 'Before I Disappear' yet... so I'll have to hunt it up.

Danny Manus

Yes, Sam, you're right. If you're looking to create an OSCAR-worthy short, 20 minutes is fine. But 99.9% of the people on this site making shorts, are just trying to get something made themself or create their first short film, or are trying to use it as a calling card or a promotion for the feature version. And in those cases, it is best to be short and sweet (or short and totally fucked up).

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