An unproduced feature script has a .3 percent chance of being made in Hollywood. Short film ideas, on the other hand, can be made for significantly less money, increasing their chances of being produced.
But writing contained short films takes a very specific skill set. With a limited production and narrative scope, knowing how to write a short film starts with carefully curating your ideas.
We also include a helpful downloadable brainstorming cheat-sheet.
Let’s dive into 30 ways to brainstorm short film ideas you can actually produce.
Short Film Ideas
1. Start with the ending first
This doesn’t seem like a how to write a short film tip, so much as a screenwriting lesson in general.
However, brainstorming short film ideas that have their endings baked in up front, will make your shooting script that much leaner. It’ll allow you to only focus on the scenes and sequences needed to achieve your desired ending.
Even if you want to flesh out certain parts later, having a barebones skeleton is great when a producer brings up budget.
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StudioBinder has you covered - check out a sample script below:
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SHORT FILM BRAINSTORM IDEA
2. Think about the medium of film
The best short films (and films in general) always take advantage of the medium.
If you can find a way to write a short film that is deeply dependent on editing techniques, clever sound design, film grammar, and storytelling then you will have something to take to festivals and elsewhere that pleases the viewers.
It will also show producers that you can think visually, and create an experience that works well for film as opposed to a novel or even short story.
When you watch a film like Christopher Nolan's Following, you are entertained by a story that could work as a short story or even a novel, but it's effective as a film because you can track things very easily while still being fooled.
SHORT STORY IDEAS
3. Look in your own backyard
Whether you’re writing short films, a television pilot, or a feature film, you should always write what you know.
But this is even more applicable when it comes to tempering short film ideas, as you can shoot where you live, work, or if you’re a PA, both.
These are film locations that are easily accessible and cheap to use — or, better yet, free. In either case, you’ll need to use a film location form template to fully secure your location.
You’re probably closer than you think to a unique location full of narrative possibilities.
Look to 2014 Sundance Film Festival selection, Dig, as inspiration for your own short film ideas. Shot entirely in the director’s backyard, it’s a great example of how starting with an easy to access location can yield something truly original.
4. Set your short film on a college campus
Into dystopian sci-fi? Lots of college campuses built in the mid-twentieth century feature cool, brutalist design — ideal short film ideas for college students who want big-budget looks in small-budget packages.
Just make sure you use our location tech scouting checklist so you don’t forget any signatures.
5. Research deserted places
How about horror? Yes, there are creepy forests and cemeteries all over the country, but there are also abandoned hospitals, warehouses, and zoos. Ask around, make friends in the community, and research permit costs as you brainstorm movie ideas.
This will require some reverse-engineering as you begin to construct short film ideas around physical spaces. But the payoff could be surprisingly fun.
To reach out to a location scout for more short film ideas like this, go to ProductionBeast, search “Location Scouts,” and immediately you’ll find profiles you can message for advice.
Good Movie Ideas
6. Start with the prop
One of the last steps of writing a short film is creating a script breakdown that details all the props, costumes, and crew needed to make your production come to life. It’s the foundation for your budget, and not a bad place to start when brainstorming short film ideas.
By creating a list of props, characters, and stunts to start, you automatically make your short film script that much more producible.
You can make a script breakdown using our free script breakdown template, or just plug your script into StudioBinder, where you can tag and enter elements that will auto-generate into lists for you.
You can see an example of a script breakdown below:
A script breakdown will actually help you build a better idea, because it will help you think about the production side of the equation. You will think more about sound design, the amount of extras, costumes, and more.
SHORT MOVIE IDEAS
7. Write about a day in the life
Take a look inside you, or, more specifically, take a look behind you — at what you did yesterday.
Did you meet someone? Did something happen at work? Was it actually totally boring?
Writing short films is all about economy. There might not be enough for a feature in your day at the coffee shop, but it could be a vehicle for some charming short film topics.
MOVIE IDEAS TO MAKE
8. Write about character flaws
When coming up with your short film ideas, think about characters flaws for your protagonist. This can immediately make your short film interesting.
For example, just look at Miles from Sideways who completely embodies pessimism. In mostly every scene from Sideways, you’ll see Miles frustrated with life which is also extremely entertaining to watch.
What if you want to make your main character extremely selfish? Look no further than Mark Zuckerberg from The Social Network. How about a character that doesn’t believe in himself? Take a look at Rocky Balboa or even Luke Skywalker.
How about a character that is power-hungry? Just look at Walter White from Breaking Bad.
If you want to make a good short film, make your lead character more interesting with character flaws.
Right off the bat, this will make your main character more interesting, especially as a short film.
SILENT FILM IDEAS
9. Find an old family story
And going even farther back, there’s often rich material for short film ideas in your parents’ or grandparents’ histories.
Think about what makes you sit up and pay attention. Or, conversely, what disturbs you or prompts you to ask difficult questions. To quote mythologist and accidental screenplay guru Joseph Campbell: “Where you stumble, there lies your treasure.”
Once you hit on something that resonates personally, test to see if it’s an actual story or just a vignette.
SHORT FILM IDEAS VS. VIGNETTE IDEAS
A vignette is a funny, curious, or even harrowing experience that lacks dramatic tension. A story involves stakes, goals, and forward movement.
There’s usually a central character who wants something and encounters obstacles to that want. It’s not rocket science, and after awhile it becomes easier to recognize the true potential of real-life events for writing short films.
5 Minute Short Film Ideas
10. Visualize your short film ideas a storyboard
Have a great idea for short film sequence in your head? Maybe you shouldn’t ask yourself how to write a short film, but rather how to create a storyboard instead.
Creating a storyboard and building your short film ideas around one sequence can yield not only a great script, but something producible, as you can show your team of creatives exactly what you’re thinking.
You can either do this by hand, or use storyboard software that’ll do the heavy-lifting for you.
Learn how to make a storyboard with StudioBinder
Funny Short Film Ideas
11. Create a moodboard
A mood board is basically a collage of visual references for a creative project.
It is used to communicate the “look and feel” of your project by showing visual inspirations. It is most commonly used to visualize a script, but you can use them to brainstorm too.
Use a mood board to make a collage of things that inspire you. Maybe you love turtles. Or perhaps there’s an album cover that inspires you. Find a free mood board template and insert items that inspire you. Good ideas will follow.
Good Short Films
12. Pick a genre, then twist it
As you brainstorm movie concepts, keep in mind that short film ideas need a strong hook or clever twist to stand out. And twists can cost production anything.
By twist, I don’t necessarily mean a surprise ending (like Fight Club or Shutter Island). I mean an idea that’s born of combining two classic film genres and subverting the expectations of both.
There are a limited number of genres, of course, but there’s a huge variety of approaches to each — especially if you mix and match them. Starting with a specific category can focus you by filtering everything through the same lens. A thriller gives you the opportunity to use intrigue and suspense; a romantic comedy sets the stage for the inevitable meet-cute.
You get the idea!
SHORT FILM IDEAS FOR BEGINNERS
13. Use irony to brainstorm movie ideas
Play the “what if” game when writing short films and see what happens when you add a character who seems out of place. Or an unpredictable event that throws a wrench in the gears of your story world.
Irony is key here.
It’s the difference between short film ideas people remember and ones they forget the second the movie’s over.
SHORT FILM STORIES
14. Get inspired by other mediums
Books, songs, photography, live performance — art is built on the shoulders of previous art — and writing short films is no exception.
Try visiting a gallery or museum and see if any of the paintings spark short film ideas.
You might discover that the most abstract images provoke the clearest sense of what you want to write in your screenplay.
Poems are great places to find material for shorts; they tend to be brief, and they leave plenty of room for creative interpretation as you brainstorm movie concepts.
15. Find the essence of classic films
Quentin Tarantino is a master of uncovering lost cinematic treasure and using it as currency for his own scripts.
This should be the easiest homework for short film ideas ever: Watch some classic movies and reduce them to their essence.
Is there a core principle of that film noir or that Hollywood musical that you could adapt to a ten-minute telling? Or maybe there’s a single moment in that three-hour historical drama that grabbed you, but it wasn’t explored to its potential.
DON'T WORRY ABOUT BEING ORIGINAL (WITH A CAPITAL "O")
New short film ideas are all about putting fresh spins on old ideas. There are only so many plots, after all, but no one else will create the exact same story formula you will.
Short Horror Film Ideas
16. Be a news hound
Current events might not be pleasant, but they do tend to be rife with drama and tension. There are many ways to portray war, injustice, and political strife without hitting the nail too squarely on the head.
Again, narrow your focus to one specific person or one incident. Find the universal theme in the choice someone made, or didn’t make, and draft an outline based on that very simple situation.
And don’t let the facts hang you up — the more you invent, the less you’ll have to worry about life rights or copyright issues.
BEST SHORT FILMS
17. Rework an old headline
If today’s news is too overwhelming, do a quick Google search for the headlines of yesteryear.
Limit your investigation to a particular subject or region. The easier it is to contain short film ideas within the limits of space and clock time (a minute, an hour, a day), the easier it’ll be for you to write a compelling screenplay.
WRITING SHORT FILMS
18. Listen to the voices
When was the last time you were in a cafe and overheard a line too good to be true?
Except, of course, it was true. Stay glued to your notebook and write down those perfect snatches of dialogue. Then generate some character descriptions and see if they lead you to funny short film ideas.
Oscar winner Kenneth Lonergan is particularly gifted at catching these accurate snippets of dialogue, especially when it comes to writing exposition in film.
HOW TO WRITE A SHORT FILM
19. Freewriting to find short film ideas
Sometimes if you’re stumped, it helps just to write. Writing longhand, “Stream of consciousness” style pages will give you unpredictable results. It is a way of capturing ideas that you didn’t know you had.
Author Julia Cameron calls these “Morning Pages” because she recommends writing three pages every morning. The idea here is consistency. The more you do it, the more ideas will come and the better they’ll be.
HOW TO MAKE A SHORT MOVIE
20. Start writing short films, arc first
Sometimes the form itself can lead to interesting short film ideas. Create a beat sheet with a clear emotional arc.
A tragedy will begin with the hero in a state of happiness or grace and end with an epic fall where he or she loses everything. A classic comedy will reverse this dynamic. Then there’s everything in between — but try focusing on a single trajectory with limited twists and turns.
By knowing where your story has to go, you can then strip away story beats that could inflate your budget. Keep your money organized and accounted for with a budget template.
SHORT FILM IDEAS FOR STUDENTS
21. Brainstorm movie ideas around life events
Weddings, funerals, anniversaries, birthdays — these are all dramatic events by nature with the added benefit of being limited in scope.
Choose a central character who’s experiencing one of these events and you might be on your way to some perfect short movie ideas.
SHORT FILM SCRIPT IDEAS
22. Transcribe the audio from a film you haven't seen
Thinking outside the box is crucial for catching ideas. Writing something, anything, is better than a blank page.
So, find a film you haven’t watched yet on Netflix or YouTube and find a scene with limited dialogue. Turn away from the TV and write down what you hear. Here's a great clip to practice with.
Transcribing the sounds can unlock great ideas. At very least it will get you thinking about scene actions and writing them down. For fun, compare what you wrote with the actual scene. It will probably be pretty different but that's OK — what you described might be better!
SHORT STORY IDEA LIST
23. Put yourself in the 1st AD's shoes
This relates to the points about using physical places as inspiration to brainstorm movie concepts.
See how much high-pressure drama you can squeeze out of two or three people trying to escape a contained space (e.g., bathroom, cellar).
Many 5-minute short film ideas have been triggered by these sorts of forced crisis situations — and they tend to make for inventive editing and cinematography techniques.
Read up on script breakdowns, so you can budget how much your script would cost.
HOW TO WRITE A SHORT FILM
24. Brainstorm movie ideas around life events
Writing short films can be daunting, but a simple algorithm can help shake things up and delete your inner critic.
Try a Mad Libs-style randomizer online to see what comes up. It’s a bit like spinning a roulette wheel, but you might find a useful element or two in the suggestions. It’s the glue you put between ideas that makes your work stand out.
HOW TO MAKE A SHORT FILM
25. Go way overboard
The beauty about coming up with new ideas is that you are only limited by your imagination. Try this exercise when you brainstorm movie ideas: take a regular, boring character and image the most extreme situation they might find themselves in.
An example of this would be Daniel from Mrs. Doubtfire who starts wearing a nanny’s outfit so that he can spend time with his children, which he otherwise would not have.
HOW TO WRITE A SCRIPT FOR A SHORT FILM
26. Ideate with a shot list builder
Just like storyboards, shot lists are easy ways to visualize your project before you type a single word. Thinking of camera set-ups before you’ve written anything may feel counter-intuitive.
However, you’ll know exactly what you need to accomplish. And what rentals you should pursue. Start sketching out your ideas with this storyboard template.
For example, maybe you just watched an Alejandro González Inarritu film and you noticed really unique camera angles. Why not recreate it?
In StudioBinder, you can easily generate a shot list without having an existing screenplay. Create a new shot list, add shots, and group them however you like. It’ll give your screenplay direction and make finding a DP a breeze with job sites like ProductionBeast.
HOW TO COME UP WITH STORY IDEAS
27. Write a logline first
This seems like a no-brainer for writing short films, or any type of film, but having a great logline can fix most of the problems.
Try making a logline and running it by your inner circle. Because it’s only a sentence, it’s easy to try out a bunch without much hard labor.
SHORT VIDEO IDEAS
28. Fish out of water story
This short film technique has been proven to work for many successful short films and feature films.
For this type of story, take a person out of their normal environment and put them in a radically different one. Their interactions with this new environment create endless comedic opportunities. This example from Elf could function as a short film on its own.
SHORT FILM TOPICS
29. Analyze a film character
Sometimes the best short film ideas are the simplest ones that focus on characters instead of extravagant scenarios.
Just take a look at Pixar's Storytelling Formula which focuses primarily on building compelling characters instead of overly-complicated sequences. Or maybe even developing the most compelling antagonist.
SHORT FILM PROMPTS
30. Stop writing short film ideas and get out there
And connect with production freelancers to see what they’d like to shoot, light, sound mix, and color correct.
You can cut your budget in half, if your crew is working on your short film movie for free. The best way to attract high-quality talent is by creating a project that would be perfect in your crew’s respective reels.
As your list of things to incorporate (an underwater sequence, Steampunk costumes, etc.) increases, your screenplay will be begin to take shape.
Finding crew like this is as easy as searching on Facebook or using dedicated job boards like ProductionBeast where you can immediately connect with film crew.
Best short films
If you're looking for more inspiration to help you brainstorm movie ideas, why not watch some examples of the best ever? Then you'll be to build your own short films that will win awards and get the attention of producers and executives. We have a list of short films in each genre so there is something for everyone.
30 Ways to Brainstorm Short Film Ideas
Download the print-friendly short film ideas checklist for FREE.