In this video we cover how to quickly build a story for a  for a 48hour film project, where you finish making a short film within 48hours, as time is at the essence you don’t want to be stuck thinking of a story to script for too long and not have enough time to finish your 48hour short film.

We won’t cover methods of cheating like having scripts ahead of time and slightly altering them for the requirements. There are also teams who improvise the entire film, but often result in an incoherent story. But we focus more on really building a story for the script with a quick method. As I notice that a lot of teams struggle with finding a story and having to think 3-4 hours before they even start writing a script.

One of the requirements we can start with is that the short film will be between 4 to 7 minutes. And a general guideline is your script should be at least 4-7 pages, as when you use the proper screenplay format each page should take about 1 minute of screen time.

At the start of the 48hours each team will draw two genres and there are a total of 30 genres. And it needs to be prominent that your movie fits with the requirement of one of the genres to qualify.

Next to the genres there are also several required elements that are needed to add in the short film, which is a name, a certain character, a prop and a dialogue. These will be the same for all teams, but they change it at each contest.

Here is an example of what they had at the last 48hours contest I joined in the Netherlands.

Name is Robbie vander Vaart, character of a repeat criminal offender, Prop of a trophy and the dialogue of: I did not see that coming.

Am gonna use the requirements to explain how to tackle finding a story for a script. And the genre we were given was a thriller / suspense and multigenerational.

A thriller genre is that it conveys the mood of suspense, surprise, anticipation and anxiety. Mainly the feeling of something unpredictable and unknowing what will happen.

A multigenerational is a movie showing the gap dividing generation or how different generations work together. For example Karate Kid is a multi generational movie showing friendship between the young Daniel and the old Mr.Miyagi.

From here we have the elements to write an interesting story. But do not fall into the trap of making a cliche story, because an easy story using these elements would be a criminal stealing a literal trophy, then getting caught or arrested, with the criminal saying he did not see that coming.

My advice is to be creative with each of the elements as there are individual awards, for best use of Character, best use of prop, best use of line and of course best writing. So if you want to win any of these, you need to be very creative in finding something they would not expect and wow the judges. 

So I am going to show you a process to quickly get a unique story using the given element and look outside of the box. What I use is a mind map with all the elements needed. From here we look if we could reinterpret the elements in a different way, like for example a trophy can be an award of a success or a souvenir of an achievement.

The difference can be a trophy from a contest, while a serial killer collects organs as trophies. This already opens a wider range to think about than just a literal trophy.

Then there are trophy wife and trophy boyfriends, but these might not qualify as a prop, if it’s portrayed by an actor, but a mannequin as a trophy wife or boyfriend would work.

By expanding to more elements, we can find more interesting combinations of linking them together. Of course there could be infinite stories, but at least avoid the most basic one.

What also is interesting is to flip things around making a negative to a positive and vice versa. So a repeat criminal offender is a negative stereotype, most people will only think of him as a thief or a bad person, but what if we flip it and make him a good person for doing crimes. For example Robinhood is a repeat criminal offender, he steals from the rich, but he gives it to the poor. Expanding the character to be either good or bad.

Also we can flip the dialogue on this occasion, as you could sarcastically say I didn’t see that coming, instead of literal use and there are more ways you could use the dialogue in a different way.

Then of course what you have to keep in mind is budget restraints, the limited amount of actors you have and locations you could use.

Now having shown you how to look out of the box, we can start looking at everything and set up a new box of elements we want to use in our script.

First of all choosing between the two Genres of Thriller or Multi Generational movie, my preference would be thriller as the genre is less predictable and likely to make some more interesting dark scenes.

Then we choose the character of the repeat criminal offender to be a good or a bad person. I would go for good as it is uncommon and could have an interesting effect.

For the prop instead of what others might do is stealing the trophy, why not flip this around and have the trophy given to the criminal for his criminal deeds.

So just from that we have a synopsis to work from. As this is Thrilling story of a criminal trying to do good, but was awarded a trophy for his criminal deeds?

It sounds kinda weird, but let’s just run with it. As the weird will lead to a unique story.

The main important part is the character of being a criminal that does something good, something that comes to mind is an undercover cop trying to capture a criminal boss. This works well for a suspenseful story, especially being wired and trying to hide it.

Then having the prop being a reward, because it would be interesting if there be a criminal of the month award. Even though this might make a funny scene instead of suspense, we can still make the story suspenseful until we get to the trophy.

For example the undercover cop aka criminal is brought to a secret location, then trying to hide that he got a hidden mic, then meeting the boss, but boss hinting he knows what the criminal has done in a threatening manner, which is a red herring as if he knows he is a snitch for the audience, but the final reveal is that he saw him doing a good job and giving him a trophy, that the criminal organisation was on brink of collapse until he joined and helped building it to what it has become.

Then the line “ I did not see that coming” is spoken by the cop who has been listening to their conversation.

Now we have made a full coherent story from that odd synopsis, but also it’s very different from the first story, yet also fills up all the requirements. However this method might not alway result in a totally unique story every time, but at least be further away from the easiest one.

This whole process would not require more than an hour and then we just need to convert over to a script of 4 to 7 pages. Within a few hours be able to have the script done and enable start planning the production or either start filming at night or have a good night rest before filming the next day.

So this is my process and hope this would help you to script your next 48 hour film project screenplay.

How to write a 48 hour film project screenplay

About The Author
- Awarded Cinematographer , Photographer and Graphic Designer.

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