(Note from Screenwriting Staffing Founder, Jacob N. Stuart) I am VERY biased when it comes to short films. And many people debate me on my love affair with them. Why? Because I’m 100% for them. Short scripts can be credited to my own personal success and Screenwriting Staffing’s.
Less than 2 year’s after college I started my mission to secure a literary agent. No one would read my features since I didn’t have any previous feature films “produced”. “Produced”, I thought? Sure, I didn’t have any features produced. but I have had OVER a half a dozen shorts produced to screen. So I began to exploit my thesis film that I wrote and produced in college. The film won a few awards, had some TV time, aired in a few theaters across the country… etc…etc… So instead of pitching myself as some “newer” writer, I pitched myself as an experienced short script writer – with writing awards – who was now looking to sell my feature work. The long and short of it, my agent told me to mail her a DVD of my thesis short film before representing me. The rest is history.
Short scripts keep me inspired. They are great to tackle when the thought of creating a 90 minute movie eludes me. They have added writing credit to my IMDb and resume. Short scripts have paid my rent before. They have fostered relationships with industry pros that I’m still banking on today. While “short”, successful short scripts have put me in the limelight, and while small, automatically adds proof and authenticity to my screenwriting testimony and resume.
So that’s why I caught up with Screenwriting Staffing member, Anthony Cawood.
Anthony is an award winning screenwriter from the UK with 2 FEATURES optioned and over 30 SHORT scripts produced, optioned and/or purchased, including 8 filmed. Outside of his screenwriting career, he’s a published SHORT story writer and movie reviewer. Links to his films and details of his SHORT scripts can be found at www.anthonycawood.co.uk!
SCREENWRITING STAFFING: Short scripts are the little brother of the feature script, so there are many similarities. But what are some things that make them different (other than page count), and what challenges can they create?
ANTHONY CAWOOD: I think Short scripts are a great way for screenwriters to practice their craft and get used to writing in screenplay format, it’s easier to learn on a 10 page short than a 100 page feature – quicker too. I also think that the central idea or concept has to be really strong for a short as there is less time to develop characters – that’s less, not no time though.
SCREENWRITING STAFFING: Film schools and mentors usually encourage young directors to direct/shoot a short film as a calling card for exposure and future work. Can this be said for writers wanting to write a short too?
ANTHONY CAWOOD: Yes, I definitely think so, and you could be the one supplying those young directors with their scripts and creating relationships that last well beyond that first project, and of course who knows where the next Spielberg will emerge from.
SCREENWRITING STAFFING: There isn’t a ton of money in short scripts. So having an agent or entertainment attorney work out a contract for you may cost you money in the long run. So what advice can you give to writers when negotiating payment, credit, and re-writes regarding short scripts and sales?
ANTHONY CAWOOD: My controversial advice here is… don’t use them unless you already have them. I ‘sell’ approx. half of my short scripts, and when I say ‘sell’ I mean there is some up front payment involved. The other 50% I always ask for a % of any back end profits, just in case the film makes any. In all cases contracts, or informal agreements, have been what I and the producer/director have negotiated and agreed between ourselves… so far this has worked just fine, though I don’t advise this approach for features!
SCREENWRITING STAFFING: If a writer submits their short to a “short script” competition, what should they look for and expect from the contest? Which ones do you recommend?
ANTHONY CAWOOD: I think if you are looking to enter script competitions then you should start by working out what you want to get out of it. The normal reasons are, so you can say ‘I’m an award winning screenwriter’, to win cash or other prizes, or to get industry exposure.The latter is unlikely for shorts but the first two are definitely achievable if you invest the time in researching and entering competitions that fit your script. I use MovieBytes, InkTip, FilmFreeway and Withoutabox to find comps and then the competitions own website to do the research, look out for ones like Reel Writers which give feedback as part of the entry – always good to get feedback.
SCREENWRITING STAFFING: Should a screenwriter ONLY give their script away if there is payment involved? Is having the film produced and receiving credit payment enough?
ANTHONY CAWOOD: It’d be great to be paid for every short I write, but I don’t think that’s realistic given the financial constraints usually involved. Though as I said above, I make sure that there is a financial element on the back end in all my ‘sales’ and no film maker has ever refused this. So no, I think you should look at each case and judge them on the likelihood of your script getting filmed.
SCREENWRITING STAFFING: Is there a market for selling short scripts? If so, who do you find looking for them the most… film students, actors, young producers, studios? Where is the best place to find industry professionals looking for short scripts?
ANTHONY CAWOOD: There’s a short script market if you put the effort in to find it. I’ve optioned/sold fifteen short scripts in a little over a year, so yes definitely a market out there and I’ve written a series of articles on this subject which can be seen at http://www.anthonycawood.co.uk/articles which will hopefully help other writers connect with film makers.
But in terms of where I sell mine, there are four main resources that have proved successful so far. SimplyScripts, Inktip, Stage 32 and the ProduceMyScript sub on Reddit – those are all places where I’ve listed my scripts and had people contact me. There’s also resources like Screenwriting Staffing, Stage 32, ISA and Craigslist where people advertise for screenwriters and scripts, I keep a constant eye on those too (again see my articles).
SCREENWRITING STAFFING: Do you write shorts for larger budgets or do you try to keep the location, character, and page count to a minimal? And why?
ANTHONY CAWOOD: I tend not to think of budget until I’ve finished as I feel it inhibits the creative juices, I also think that most scripts can be tweaked to accommodate smaller budgets if you think it through and be flexible. Character and page count are a lot more organic for me and they tend to fit the story rather than the other way round. Most of my shorts are relatively low budget, but occasionally that’s not the case. For example my recent short, Graft, takes place in a hospital, has a scene in an operating theatre and would require quite a lot of SFX work… so may never get made as a short, but that’s okay as I have plans to expand it into a feature.
SCREENWRITING STAFFING: Your web-site has a wide range of short scripts for sale. Your shorts have been produced, won awards, and optioned. Why write shorts over features?
ANTHONY CAWOOD: There’ a few reasons really. The first is that when I used to write fiction, it was always short stories, so when I decided to try writing scripts 18 months ago, this seemed a logical first step. The second reason I touched on above, I just figured it was an easier way to practice and get formatting and screenplay style down. The last reason is the most simple… I have loads of ideas for shorts! Having said all that, I sold a short script last year that a producer intends to turn into a feature, and I’ve just signed contracts to write a low budget horror feature for a producer who’s taken one of my short scripts – so short scripts can definitely lead to bigger things. I’m also just starting the second draft of my very first feature, hope to have that done and ‘out there’ in March.