Script Development: Short Film #5

Title: Lingered       Page length: 9 pages
Tag Line: Staying is her reason to leave.
Synopsis: A college student is plagued with the responsibility of caring for her sister after a failed suicide attempt. Together, they must learn to live again.

ORIGINAL CONCEPT

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Lingered is a special film for the Sharpen Experiment because it is the official halfway mark of our journey to making 10 short films. We really wanted to cap off the first half of our films with a story that would set the bar for the 5 films to come. So, we decided to tell a story about suicide and the effects it has on loved ones.

SCREENPLAY DEVELOPMENT

When I began plotting Lingered, I was worried about writing a cliché melodrama. I worried about it so much that I eventually fell into what I called the ‘Script Pits’ (otherwise known as writers block). For the first time, I contemplated quitting, it actually got that bad. But, as a writer, finishing a script isn’t something I necessarily want to do, it’s something I have to do. So, I decided to change my approach to how I plot and organize a script in hopes to overcome writer’s block.

After doing some research, I discovered the notecard method. I had heard of writers doing this before, but it wasn’t until I watched this video that I had a better grasp on how helpful this method could be. So, I bought a packet of notecards and went to work.

NOTECARD PROCESS

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I divided my note carding process into 6 steps. They are as follows:

1. Length of Script

Before I started writing, I determined how many minutes I wanted the short film to be. I decided on no longer than 15 minutes. That meant, I wanted my script to be no more than 11 pages. Based on this number, I estimated having 10 notecards or less for the entire script. By establishing this from the beginning, it kept me ‘tamed’ when developing plot.

2. Beats

The first notecards I wrote out were the opening image, closing image, theme, catalyst, and the all is lost moment. (You can learn about theses specific beats in the book Save the Cat!)

Since this is a short film, I found it important to focus on having distinctive beats with a coherent story line. By note carding these 5 beats first, that gave me the 5 most important scenes and moments of the script.

3. Filler Scenes

For lack of a better word, filler scenes are simply everything that happens in between the beat scenes. Since I knew that I only wanted an 11 page script, the filler scenes had to be absolutely necessary for the story and they had to flow perfectly between beats. The filler scenes were where I began to have fun and really craft the story and characters.

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4. Order

Once all the scenes were written on notecards, I put them in order. This is where I was able to focus on flow. For example, I didn’t want three scenes in a row all located in: INT. KITCHEN – DAY. The order of the scenes play such a huge part of telling a story. And, with Lingered being entirely inside an apartment, the flow was vital to the story.

5. Cut and Combine

When I finished, I had 16 notecards. However, because I previously decided in step 1 to only have about 10 cards, I knew I had to cut and combine scenes. This was one of the most important steps because it allowed me to keep only what was necessary for the story.

6. Repeat 3 – 5

Just as we don’t settle on our scripts first draft, we shouldn’t settle on the first draft of our note card outline.  I went through an entire pack of 150 notecards before I settled on my final 9 cards.  From there, I started the actual draft.

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FINAL DRAFT

I assumed that since I spent so much time and effort note carding, the script would come easy. However, nothing can fully prepare a writer for the direction the characters will lead them. I found that even though I had a solid outline, the story still changed.

Instead of sticking firm to my notecards, I allowed the story to manufacture into the direction the characters were taking me. By the time I got a decent draft, probably on draft 7, I realized my story was very different then what I originally note carded. However, the story was strong. Without taking the time to notecard the scenes, I never would have gotten to the strong draft.

Overall, I had 11 drafts of the script before I rendered it complete. I’m also happy to say that Lingered exceeded all our expectations and ended up setting the bar for the next 5 films like I had hoped.

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