Ideas for Short Films by Amateurs

By Kimberly Bunker
Learning to make short films is a challenge.

Learning to make short films is a challenge. Whether you are formally studying the art of filmmaking and all the theory and technique behind it or are simply pursuing it as a hobby, it can be difficult to come up with story ideas. Here are some prompts for beginning filmmakers, designed to bring out your own originality and hone your skill.

Silent Films

Making a silent film is great practice for your directing, acting, and editing abilities. Since there is no dialogue, you need to rely on body language, actions, camera shots, and even scenery to convey the story.

Sketch out the basics of a silent film (if you need plot ideas, see Section 5.) How would you develop the plot? How would you show emotion and conflict? How would you shoot it? Would you include textual dialogue in between scenes?

Music Videos

Music videos don't have to have full bands playing onstage or back-up dancers in sequined costumes. Actually, they don't even need to tell a story. Some music videos only strive to provide interesting visuals to accompany the song. Pick a song you like -- one that conjures strong images for you, and film a video for it. Something to consider: is there a plot separate from the song in your video? Or do the lyrics inform the characters' actions?

Mood Pieces

Short films do not always have to tell a story. Like poems, sometimes their main purpose is to convey an atmosphere or mood. Think about a certain mood you would like to create. Suspense, playfulness, peace, joy, fear -- any mood you can think of will do. Use dialogue, objects, scenery, effects, music, anything you have at your disposal to take your audience to a place. Like music videos, mood pieces need not tell a whole story.

Remake

Think of a film or TV show that you think you could shoot or act out better, or with a twist. Whether it's a sitcom or an epic movie, pick a scene, and map out how you would do it differently. Would you change the script? Would you cast different types of actors for different roles? Would it end the same? Would you do it shot-for-shot? Think about what works and what does not work in the original scene. Try to fix those things in your remake.

Story Prompts

One great way to get the creative juices flowing is to use story prompts. Here are some bare-bones plot ideas:

  1. A man is walking down the sidewalk carrying a bouquet of flowers. Suddenly he stops, looks around, and starts running the other way.

  2. A student is studying in the library when two others approach her and offer her an unmarked envelope. Confused, she takes it, and after they leave, she opens it.

  3. Sit in a public place for half an hour, just watching and listening to what goes on around you. Pick a random instance, or one that strikes you -- the couple talking over coffee, the boy walking dogs, the runners. What is going on in their heads? Where do you think they're going? Why are they here now?

Expand on one of these. Where is the man running to? What's in the envelope? These prompts can go in almost any direction; they can be made into any type of film. And the beauty of filmmaking is, as with any art form, there is no right or wrong. So go with your gut, do what you enjoy, and don't be afraid of failing. Every short film you make is practice for the next.

About the Author

Kimberly Bunker graduated from the University of Notre Dame with a Bachelor of Arts in English and music. Her short stories have appeared in the "Pure Francis" and "Storychord" literary journals. Bunker has also contributed to online publications, covering topics such as writing and music composition.