The International Writers Magazine: Screenwriting
101: Conflict and Short film: Notes
notes on Conflict and the Ten Minute Film
film is about a character who wants to achieve something and ends
up succeeding, or failing, but definitely changed by the experience
For a short film to work you need to get into the story fast. Start
it later in the story.
Example: If someone is being stalked, it is only necessary to show a
dark street, a shadow and the protagonists fear. (Real or unreal)
No need to reveal everything or explain everything or show how they
2: A short film is about conflict. (I guess all films are about conflict)
IE: Why does someone want to go home in a hurry? There is a problem
that goal is your objective. The conflict arises out of the character
unable to get home because of tube strike, bomb on the line, bus breakdown,
car breakdown, whatever, but the story comes from your characters frustration.
Think: Planes Trains and Automobiles Steven Martin. The dialogue
in the film pushes the story forward; the characterisation comes from
the bonding between two very different characters stuck
in a situation together.
3: Conflict: Psychological
A character is sent to kill a child by someone and cant do it.
He knows that if he doesnt do it the King, Prince, Mafia boss
will kill him. He attempts to make the child disappear to make it appear
he has killed him producing a pigs heart to prove it. Will
the Boss, or King believe him. (Many Fairytales uses this device)
4: Conflict: Rivals
Marriage, relationships, brother and sister, son and father, boss and
worker, teacher and student. Who is right, who is wrong? A ten minute
film about doing lines for teacher can be funny or tragic depending
on the outcome.
In short films try not to go for the twist ending. Your audience is
often quite sophisticated and will second-guess the end. Concentrate
on the visual aspect and dialogue. Is it real? Is it real enough? Irony
We can accept any premise, if you supply the logic. Voyage through someones
blood vessels for example, time travel, nuclear war, but the best stories
go to some lengths to make it logical. This does not mean many special
effects. Merely the set up from the beginning needs to be thoroughly
If time travel, how do make us believe it? See Sleeper, Woody
Allen wakes up 200 years in the future and everything they tell us now
about what is bad for us turns out to be good. Tobacco for example.
In Minority Report, we know it is the future because of all the
technology, but it still looks familiar. Better to view Bladerunner
that envisioned a totally new future.
*A ten-minute film could
explore the future simply by examining the conscience of a robot told
to kill a chicken. (It might be thinking 'I am programmed not to kill'
and this will cause inner conflict).
Rule ONE: Show
only what is absolutely necessary to telling the story.
Avoid inner thoughts, Always remember it is a visual medium.
What is the difference between protagonist and antagonist? Do you know?
In your story if you find yourself rooting for the wrong character perhaps
you need a rethink on character.
Every script is about learning something. Think, what has your character
or characters learned from their experience? Has the antagonist also
learned something? Developing an interesting enemy gives
balance to the hero (protoganist.) But don't overcook it and leave the
'hero' looking bland.
How are we supposed to feel about our characters? Are they thieves?
Nice thieves or Natural Born Killers? Think hard about what it is that
you are doing. Would YOU want to see this film? Would you pay to see
it? Have you made the script strong enough so we like the
characters enough to want them to succeed. No matter if they are on
the wrong side of the law. (Oceans Eleven, Heist, Confidence,
Grosse Point Blank.)
If an explosive has been placed inside someones body and will
explode unless they do whatever they are told to do...dont forget
to show us how it was put there. More importantly, demonstrate your
power in a subtle way (See Phone Booth or Speed)
In a short movie, it is enough that the character believes this, even
if it isnt true.
Perhaps you are made to do unnatural acts or rob someone or kill someone
if faced with this dilemma. You dont even have to show it. It
could be filmed as an interrogation or trial where the character simply
believed they were in danger and acted accordingly. No matter the incredulity
of the interrogators.
Think Jonestown massacre when everyone took poison so they could ride
the comet. How do you get into that kind of psychological state? A story
about someone who didnt swallow, yet saw everyone around him die
is a subject for a film.
character and structure down and the dialogue and visuals will surely
Draw a diagram of your plot. Does it have three acts, two? More than
three? How many? Are you sure? Does it have a beginning middle and end?
Are you able to describe the story in 25 words? If not you may have
Balance is everything. A short film needs to start fast, you have two
minutes to hook us, leaving seven for the main story and, at least one
minute for the impact ending. (It can be that we have three minutes
opening, five main and two for the end but its your call. Watch
some ten minute movies, watch one minute commercials. How are they able
to cram so much into one minute? (Think Guinness Swimmer ad)
How do I know a ten minute story when I see one?
Its as simple as boy meets girl, girl plays hard to get,
boy tries again but despairs, girl finally relents only to discover
her sister has grabbed him first. (25 words) Thats a ten
minute movie. (It can also be a 90 minute movie)
Character Driven films to watch out for:
Garden State - Dir Zach Braff - starring Zach and Natalie Portman-
We Dont Live Here Anymore Dir John Curran starring Mark
Ruffalo Naomi Watts
Girl on a Bridge (French) Vanessa Paradise
Delicatessan - (French) Caro Jeunet
State and Main David Mamet
The Cooler Dir Wayne Kramer -
© Sam North 23.09.04
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Notes © Sam North at Hackwriters.com 2004
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