script writing tips



O.K. – so how did you get on with the exercise? Did you do it? Yes? No?

Well, if you did – well done! You’re on the way!

If you didn’t, well… … go back and complete it. Really. Please. Unless you want to be a signed-up member of The School Of Bad Screenwriting.

Coming up with a film title is one of those activities that is either really simple and easy-to-do – or one that results in blood slowly seeping out of the pores in your forehead.

What genre is my short film?

One way to address this exercise is through genre and asking yourself: What genre is my short film?

So, what do we mean by “genre”? Public, school and university libraries are crammed with shelves of books which try to answer this question. For ease of reference, we’ll call it “a category”. And films, like other artistic endeavours, can be divided into categories.

Music has many different categories. Jazz, R&B, blues, punk, rock n’ roll are all different types of music. There’s also fusion: where different music categories are mixed and merged.

And then, there’s Ja Rule. Who just produces noise. And Noise Annoys. Just ask The Buzzcocks.

Films also have different categories. Sci-fi, indie, horror are some of the different categories of films. Different genres create different moods, feelings and expectations. If a film’s a rom-com, we expect to see and get feelings of romance and comedy. If it’s horror – we expect to be scared. And if it’s an Anthony Perkins film, we expect him to break down and start blubbering (er, how many Psycho films were there in the end?) You get the idea.

Here’s a short guide to genre (this list is not intended to be exhaustive):



Action Adventure          To be excited, breathless; action comes on the screen thick and fast; leaves us on the edge of our seats
Historical To follow a particular individual and/or historical event – often with the benefit of hindsight – that may reveal something about how we live in the present
Science-fiction (sc-fi) To see scene of wonder and awe; to view (often) a future that may be utopian or dystopian
Thriller                 To be surprised; to work out whodunit? And, sometimes more importantly, why?
War Scenes of conflict, violence and/or torture – particularly in the heat of armed battle


Get people interested in your short film

Your film title can be an important sales tool to get people interested in your short. One of the best titles I’ve come across in recent years was The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada. When I heard this, I was immediately intrigued: “Three Burials?” What – was he killed three times? But surely, you can only be killed once – can’t you? Was it graverobbers digging him up three times? And so on.

So, if you’re stuck on your title, think: What genre is my short film? What are the expectations of the genre? What feelings, moods do I want to communicate in my film?  Will I satisfy these expectations in my film?


The first time I went to Cannes, I took part in a pitching contest. This is where you put your entrance fee of 5 Euros into an ice bucket (this is Cannes after all, dahling), pitch (i.e. present, perform) your logline in front of an audience and a panel of judges from within the industry decide whose pitch was best. And the winner walks away with all the money: yes, that often in excess of 200 Euros. Not bad for less than two minutes work on stage.

I had the winning idea. Set in the freezing Kazakh mountains, it was a tale about a widow goat herder who, in the snow, stumbles across a left-for-dead African-American. Against the wishes of her tribe, she nurses him back to health and slowly falls in love with him – only to discover that he’s behind the move to destroy the ancient grazing grounds for her tribe’s goats and sheep. It was called ‘Magda’.

See the problem? ‘Magda’, as a title, could be about anything: from rom-com to sci-fi to horror. It tells my audience little about the genre, doesn’t create a mood or feeling about anything (really) and I’m not sure what interest it really generates.

Guess what?

I didn’t get placed. Came nowheresville. However, one of my best friends and writing colleagues, Penny, came second. That’s right – out of over 60 pitches from around the world in Cannes, my best friend, Penny came second. (More about this tale in Script Doctor #9.)

The title of her pitch: a romantic comedy entitled Toy Boyz. Geddit? The title says it all, doesn’t it? Less than a year later, Penny had her film optioned. All on account of a damned good film title.

And me? I rewrote the first 10 pages of ‘Magda’, changed the title to ‘The Goatherder’ and in May 2011, it came second and received an “Honourable Mention” in an international monthly screenwriting competition.


Thanks for reading our review of ENTER why not submit your short film

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Forever’s Not So Long By by garrettmurray