The Starting Point – Short Screenplay Writing by Toni Cunningham

Why short screenplays?

This is a question I asked myself when I was putting together my workshop description for Writing Workshops Detroit.  Why not “writing strong female characters” or “writing well-rounded minority characters”. While the answer is pretty clear for me, keep an eye out, as those are two additional topics that I would love to tackle. In the meantime, I can not underplay the importance of short screenplays in my journey.

Shorts are at the crux of how I learned to write screenplays. When you sit down to outline a 90-page feature, there are specific rules you need to follow. Plot points, page breaks, timeline beats – and all of those things can be overwhelming if it is your first time trying to structure a story. Shorts allow you to hit the main aspects of storytelling and perfect them before moving on to something a bit more challenging, like a feature or a pilot.

In How to Get to The End: A Short Screenwriting Seminar, the aim is to remove all of the outlying obstacles from your path and just concentrate on the story. By providing three prompts, it forces you to narrow in on the specifics very early on while brainstorming. Beyond that, a 5-page short does not allow for a lot of superfluous detail and description. It depends on you to quickly and skillfully get to the point. You will find that you are self-editing as you go, making cuts that might be painful, but in the end, necessary. Your story will thank you.

If you are a filmmaker or an aspiring filmmaker, a short can be your best calling card. Think about that when brainstorming or outlining. Keep a budget in mind. Maybe your short takes place in one location, with fewer than 3 characters. Or perhaps, you are more concerned with being known for your writing alone. In that case, create a world worthy of a Peter Jackson budget and throw caution to the wind. Either way, know what you want to do before your fingers ever hit the keyboard.

Obviously, a 3-hour seminar is not a ton of time to write a short. However, it is just enough time to get your first draft written. Don’t worry if you are over on pages or if you are unable to finish. Just know that you have dedicated this time to be create something out of nothing and be proud of what you have accomplished.

Feedback is one of the most important things a screenwriter can receive. And if your goal is to work through Hollywood, you better believe you will get a ton of it. With that in mind, I will encourage students to share their stories with the rest of the class via email for everyone to read on their own time and give notes. You are not required to do this, but it is an option. Everyone who sends me their short at the end of the workshop will receive full coverage on it within 2 weeks.

I can’t wait to get started! Hope to see you there. .