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Stanley Yang
July 20, 2020

30 Best Ways to Brainstorm Short Film Ideas

Short films are fun, quick to shoot and they can be useful in launching your career and sharpening your craft. You can grab a handful of friends or a few cast and crew members you have worked with in the past, take a weekend, and create a captivating short film to enter into short film festivals, share on social media, or morph into something greater.

We’ve compiled a list of 30 quick tips you can use to brainstorm short film ideas right now and get those creative juices flowing!

30 Ideas For Beginners To Brainstorm Short Film Stories

1. Use a Location You Have Access To

One of the first things you need to consider when brainstorming an idea for a film you want to write and produce is the budget. Use your budget as a form of inspiration instead of a limitation.

Renting space and/or driving all of your props and actors six hours out of town is going to drastically increase your budget and time.

Take the space you have access to- your home, your friend’s home, maybe you know someone with a doctor’s office you can borrow after hours. Find a space you can film in, then come up with ideas from there.

2. Check Instagram For Locations Near You

You can see the most photographed locations on Instagram near your location. Other people have found them visually intriguing. What can you do there? What could happen in that space? Checking Instagram for locations can save you time on location scouting, as well as, offer inspiration for a story.

3. Talk To A Child You Know

Children are creative people willing to have a conversation with you. Talk to your own child, or your friend’s child, and brainstorm ideas with them. Kids between the ages of seven and twelve are most likely to get excited about the project and will be able to follow a storyline with you.

4. Write a Sentence With Predictive Text

The internet is full of fun memes where you write two words and then let predictive text fill in the rest of the sentence. Do this for yourself, and use that as a starting point to generate short film ideas.

5. Put a Character In An Unusual Location For Them

Start by creating a character. Are they uppity? Put them in a grimy bar, or out alone in the desert. What are they doing there? They’re uncomfortable and trying to navigate foreign terrain. That gives you a big place to start with their story.

6. An Amazing Ending

Start with an ending. This is a brainstorming strategy popular with many scriptwriters. Come up with an ending, then work your way back to figure out how your characters got to that point.

7. Take Something From Your Feature Script

Have you written some feature films? Pull a simple idea from a scene in one of your other scripts and turn it into a short piece on its own. You can either elaborate on a scene from your feature or you can write something new that would be complementary to your film and, perhaps, intriguing, to help you get funding for your feature.

8. Find a Prop At a Thrift Store

Thrift stores are full of strange things at cheap prices. Pick up one or two oddities and build a short script around it. Could the prop tell you something about your main character? Could it be the reason your characters are living an unusual day? Could it be haunted, come to life, or have an unusual backstory? Does it mean something special to your main character?

9. Sit in a Coffee Shop

Don’t be creepy, but observe people. Watching people in public is almost like a short film by itself. You don’t know any of their backstories, you just catch a five-minute glimpse into their life. You can make all kinds of inferences to make an intriguing story.

10. Start With A Flaw

Many writers begin their short film ideas with their main character. Characters need a flaw. They’re a great thing to build stories around. If your character is pretentious, how does this interfere with their everyday life? Does it make ordering coffee a nightmare for their barista?

11. Get On Pinterest

Build a mood board on Pinterest for the feel you want your story to have. Set a ten-minute timer and start writing out film ideas while your Pinterest board is on the screen.

12. Choose a Genre Element

Do you love horror stories? Are you a big fan of the werewolf? Take the obsession with the moon, or the werewolf’s very first change, and wrap your story around this.

13. Go To A Museum

Museums are full of interesting ideas artists have thrown around already. Grab a notepad, walk around, and see what inspires you. Stare at a painting and ask yourself what would be happening if this was a moving picture.

14. Play The Florida Man Game

There’s a relatively new social media game where you type “Florida Man” and your birthday into a search engine and see what comes up. There is plenty of wild inspiration to come from the recent doings of “Florida Man”, or even from the idea of Florida Man being a viral sensation in itself.

15. Watch Short Documentaries

Check YouTube or Google for short documentaries that catch your interest. You’ll find real-life events with characters from history or living today that provide plenty of inspiration for your next short film script.

16. Take a Road Trip

Repetitive tasks give your mind space to come up with creative ideas. That’s why you’ll often hear of writers who became unstuck while doing the dishes or taking a shower. Driving out in open space gives your mind time to wander and come up with something new.

17. Take a Joke One Step Further

Do you have a joke you tell often? For some funny short film ideas, write down ways that joke could be taken one step further. What if, instead of walking into the bar, they rolled in on rollerskates?

18. Check The Calendar

Holidays are ripe with events. Events are a great place to come up with a story idea. The day already has some structure to it. This gives you ground to have things go wrong. You can choose a popular holiday, like Valentine’s Day, or find something a little less known and do some research to find events for.

19. Research Your Local History

Who built your local library? How did it come to be funded? Your local history is ripe with story ideas you can use to inspire your scriptwriting. Real-life events are often wilder than anything you’ll come up with starting from zero.

20. Break Down The Elements of Short Films

The best film school or screenwriting course you’ll ever have are those days where you break down stories for yourself. Watch a ton of short films and take notes. Break down the elements you see there. Create a story structure, then build your story out from there.

21. Brainstorm With Friends

Get your friends together and brainstorm together! Make it a fun round table evening. Many of the most successful scriptwriters do this regularly when they write for TV or co-write scripts. Start asking each other, “What if?” and see where the evening goes.

22. Set a Timer And Free Write

Set a timer for twenty minutes, open your favorite screenwriting software, and write down everything you think of. The only rule is that you can’t stop writing. See what you have in the end.

23. A Day In Your First Job

Write about a day in the life at your very first job. How did you feel? What was the job? Was it embarrassing or were you excited? How old were you? What kind of people did you work with?

24. Simplify One Of Your Feature Ideas

You’ve probably considered writing for film and TV during your screenwriting career at some point. Take one of your ideas and pull one or two elements from it. From there, you may be able to break out ideas for several short films.

25. Perspective

You can create a creative short film by taking the perspective of an object like an umbrella, a balloon, an animal, fly on the wall, etc.

26. Read The News

Like your local history, the news is full of real-life events wild enough to give you plenty of story ideas. Local news tends to have heartwarming stories that you could make a low budget/no budget short film out of, in contrast to, mainstream media current events.

27. Use What You Love

What do you love about films? Do you have a favorite filming technique? An area you really shine? Or a hobby you have become talented in? Can you write a story that highlights this?

28. Graduations, Birthdays, And Other Major Life Events

Instead of trying to write a story about a whole wedding, which would be better for a feature film or TV series, take one element from a day with a major life event. Take the scene where someone is getting themselves to their graduation, and their car breaks down. Or have them take a moment alone, away from their wedding. Why? What are they doing? Or go dark and grab a snapshot of a funeral, but make it a comedy.

29. Start With Your Budget

This is a popular method for brainstorming short film ideas. Start with your budget. What can you buy? What can you do with the money you have? Now you have some locations, ideas of how many actors, and some props. Write a script idea from there.

30. Ask “What If?” And “Then What?”

These are the classic connecting questions for any stories. What if this happened? And then what would happen next? Follow a cause and effect strategy to your “what if” question.

What To Do Next

R.L Stein, the creator of Goosebumps, would take a moment to sit down and brainstorm story ideas and he would use every single one of them - even if he wasn’t so sure about the idea in the first place. He figured, “It came to mind, it’s workable.” Additionally, famous artists we have all heard of have, in comparison, a handful of artwork that is actually well known compared to how much they actually created.

The key to making successful content or art or films is to keep on creating. You might write more scripts than you will actually film and produce. That’s good! Create content. Keep making things. Over time, you’ll get better at- not only coming up with short film ideas but noticing the ones you ought to chase.

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