Writing for the 48

Last year’s thoughts on writing for the 48.

This year I was the head writer for Jenni’s Angels. I have come to realise that as a team, we take a couple of things much more seriously than some other teams. When my friends in another team told me that they had the script finished by 9.30 on Friday I knew that we are much more obsessive pedantic than that. I guess it stems from the way our team always want to try to write the Best Script Possible, because that will lead to the Best Short Movie possible and then hopefully, the Best Result Possible in the competition. (Results on this obviously, vary.)

As you can imagine from that last sentence, it’s quite a lot of pressure. You have the pressure to present the best possible script, plus the time constraints, plus you have to basically write to a prescription: you have to ensure your script fits the genre, and ideally is a clever twist on said genre. You have to include a character, a line and a prop again in the cleverest possible way, you have to write something that the actors you have available can pull off and that won’t be impossible for your team to film. You also have to ensure that you are telling a complete story with a beginning, middle and end and that it’s shorter than 7 minutes.

That’s a lot of boundaries. It makes for hard work.

On the other hand, it’s also a lot of fun. Sophie, Amphigori and I settled down in my spare room with blankies, cushions, snacks, tea and a couple of laptops and we had a blast.

Here are my rules for making sure your script is Best Script Possible:

Keep it short!

Well, duh, right? But this is something that as a team we’ve really struggled with. You have to write a short film, not a feature length story crammed into 6 minutes. The best trick for doing this is to start the story as late as possible. Our sports movie was about a hero who had made it through 7 rounds of tough fights, and was surprised in the final round. We started the movie when he went into the arena for the final round.

Cut the fat.

Just like writing a short story, you have to get rid of every scene, line and word that isn’t in some way moving the plot forward. If you can condense three lines into one, do it. You might have a whole interchange which is cool but not moving the story forward – cut it. Choose your words carefully to pack more meaning into them. Two things to bear in mind: make room for jokes if you’re making a comedy and make sure your story also has air/space/time to breathe. It’s no good having a movie that moves so quickly your audience feels stressed watching it.

Be clever.

Twist your genre, do something unexpected with the character you’re given, use the prop in a way that makes sense to the story.

Don’t be precious.

If your team is like mine and you’re still writing script at one in the morning, tensions can run high and egos can show themselves. Bear in mind that this isn’t about you. This is about your team. If you love love love a line but it’s not gelling then get rid of it. Even if it’s your favourite line in the whole damn movie. Remember that if the director has a problem with some line or story point, it’s your job to make a better alternative, not to throw your toys and demand that your script is perfection. It’s not. Of course it’s not, you wrote it in a couple of hours!

Consider the strengths and weaknesses of your actors.

Obviously you’re not going to give a five minute aria to someone who can’t sing. Have your actors got experience with physical fighting? Do they have comic timing? Can they connect emotionally with the audience and pull on the heartstrings to really rope people in?

And the number one absolute most important tip? Have fun!

Like I said above, it’s really easy to let the pressure get to you. You have to keep in mind that your team wants to do this because it’s fun. Have fun writing the script, but also bear in mind that it has to be something that they can film without too much trouble and within the time frame.

Wow. This got long. Not sure if it’s any use to anyone, but there you have it. Jenni’s guide to writing a 48 hour film.


5 thoughts on “Writing for the 48

  1. Love it. Sensible advice. I’d love to put my hand up for the writing team one year, but then I do like just being on set for the rest of the time which is more difficult if you are sleep dep’d.
    Also want to do another 48 hour film again. NOW. Darn waiting a whole year…

  2. Jenni – this is great advice for writing short films, especially under the pressure of the 48!

    Regan – don’t understimate the fun of being on set sleep deprived πŸ™‚

  3. Nice advice Jenni. Finally I know why I’ve never had that aria I’ve always craved.

    For the record though, I could totally do it. It wouldn’t be good… but it would be comedy gold. πŸ˜€

    Also, Debbie should talk like Yoda more often.

  4. Haha I so want to copy & paste the “Don’t be Precious” brief to one of my workmates who is not coping well with me rewriting an article he put together… Actually the keep it short, cut the fat & consider the actors um er audience are all good advice that I should send to him too!

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