5 Tips on Adapting Your Feature or Pilot into a Short Proof-of-Concept

By: Laura Huie

As an emerging writer, crafting a story for the screen often means turning big narratives into bite-sized, powerful shorts. But making your feature or pilot into a standalone short can be a bit tricky. How do you shrink it without losing what makes it great? We’ve got your back!

Think of a proof-of-concept like this: it’s your chance to show a glimpse of the big, amazing world you’ve created. When you’re pitching a project to producers or studios, they need more than just words on a page to get excited. A proper short film will showcase your vision and serve as a sneak peek into your story’s potential.

In this article, we’ll share five super useful tips to help you turn your feature or TV pilot into a cohesive proof-of-concept that shows off your unique talents.

Tip #1: Trim the Excess, Retain the Essence

For a short film, it’s important to streamline your narrative to encapsulate the core essence of your larger tale. Focus on the heart of the story—identify its pivotal moments, central themes, and main characters. Consider what drives your feature or pilot and distill it into a compelling, standalone arc that resonates even within a shorter timeframe.

First off, pinpoint the “wow” moments—the parts that make your story truly special. It could be a jaw-dropping scene, a deep emotional moment, or a mind-bending twist. These are your golden nuggets, the heart of your tale.

Then, figure out what makes your story tick. What’s it really about? Love conquering all? Facing fears? Finding yourself in a crazy world? That’s your main theme, the big idea that ties everything together.

Next up, your characters. Who’s driving your story forward? Highlight the main folks who make things happen. What do they want? What’s standing in their way? These are the engines that keep your tale moving. (More on characters in Tip #2.)

Now, here’s the fun part—putting it all together. Take those sparkling moments, that big theme, and those awesome characters, and weave them into a compact, powerhouse arc. It’s like making a mini-movie within your movie. This smaller version should capture the spirit of your larger story, giving folks a taste of its awesomeness even in a shorter time frame.

Remember, it’s not about cramming everything in; it’s about cherry-picking the juiciest bits that make your story shine. Keep those in focus, and you’ll have a captivating proof-of-concept that leaves viewers hungry for more.

Tip #2: Keep Essential Characters Only

Think of your short film as a cozy party—you’ve got limited seats, and you want every guest to shine. In the world of shorts, less is often more when it comes to characters.

Start by identifying your MVPs—the Most Valuable Players in your story. These are the characters who are essential to driving your narrative forward. They’re not just hanging around; they’re actively pushing the story, making things happen, and captivating the audience.

Don’t overcrowd your short with characters who aren’t pulling their weight. Introduce only the key characters your story can’t do without. This doesn’t mean you can’t have extras or minor characters, but make sure they’re there for a reason. Each character should serve a purpose, contributing significantly to the story’s progression or adding depth to the main characters.

By streamlining your cast, you give each character the chance to shine, creating a more focused and engaging story. Remember, in the world of short films, every character earns their spot—make sure it counts.

Tip #3: Identify Your Jumping-Off Point

In a short film, the inciting incident—or the tipping point that shakes up your characters’ world—has to happen pretty quickly. However, choosing a solid jumping-off point based on your feature or pilot script can be difficult.

Start by asking yourself, “What’s the most crucial moment that sets the roller coaster in motion?” It might not be the exact same scene or incident from your longer script—it’s about capturing the essence of that pivotal moment and condensing it into a rapid-fire opening.

This might mean reimagining or tweaking that tipping point to fit the shorter timeframe. Don’t worry, it’s not about losing the essence; it’s about making your proof-of-concept snappier and more potent for the shorter format.

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Tip #4: Reimagine Your Structure

For structure, start by identifying the key moments that define your story—the highs, the lows, and everything in between. Don’t be afraid to use the tried-and-true three-act structure to help plot out your short film.

On the other hand, this could also be an opportunity to experiment with non-linear narratives, unique perspectives, or even unconventional structures. Bend the rules and craft something that not only fits the short format but also stands out as a unique and captivating piece of art.

And remember, in the world of short films, visuals are your best friend. Use them to your advantage! Instead of lengthy explanations, show it in action. And speaking of words—keep your dialogue crisp and concise. Shorts thrive on punchy dialogue that hits hard and resonates long after the credits roll. Every line should be a gem, carrying weight and pushing the story ahead.

Tip #5: Craft a Satisfying Conclusion

Endings—those final moments that linger long after the curtains close. Now, here’s the trick: short films need closure. Even in genres where mystery is vital, giving your audience a sense of resolution is key. But don’t worry, closure doesn’t mean tying every little knot.

Aim for an ending that feels complete in its own right. It doesn’t have to answer every question, but it should offer a satisfying peek into the characters’ lives or the story’s resolution. Think of it as a moment of culmination—a turning point or a transformation that leaves the audience intrigued.

Remember, the key to a great conclusion in a short film is balancing closure with the promise of something more. It’s that delicate balance between tying loose ends and leaving room for imagination—a finale that feels complete but also says, “There’s more to this story.”

Keep Writing!

Crafting a captivating screenplay is a blend of creativity, technique, and perseverance. Whether you’re drawing inspiration from your passions, collaborating with others, or experimenting with structure, remember that your unique voice is what will set your screenplay apart. With dedication and a commitment to growth, you’re on your way to developing a screenplay that resonates with audiences and leaves a lasting impact on the world of storytelling.

Submit to our 2024 Spring Season Short Film Fund

Turn your calling card script into an attention-grabbing short film with our $15,000 cash production grant! As much as we love to read scripts, too many excellent shorts never progress beyond the written word, which is why we established the Shore Scripts Short Film Fund to help take those compelling stories off the page and onto the screen. As a new writer, getting a script produced is a transformative career milestone that can lead to new opportunities and help you pitch your stories to producers, managers, and agents. 

This season we’ll be funding one short film with a $15,000 cash production grant. We will also be awarding a $1,000 cash 2nd Place Prize. Both winners will connect with Oscar-nominated producer Maria Gracia Turgeon for development, production, and career guidance. The Grand Prize Winner will also be awarded a free camera rental package from ARRI Rental in any country they operate, and a film festival strategy package with Tribeca programmer and Academy member Kimberley Browning. The Top 15 Finalists will be given the opportunity to have their scripts circulated to select members of our Directors and Industry Rosters. Click here to submit to our Short Film Fund!

Laura Huie is an experienced writer and editor involved in comedy-drama screenwriting, fiction editing, and full-time marketing copy. Laura is also a freelance article writer for Shore Scripts and has worked with Script Pipeline on their live Symposium series. She is one-half of screenwriting duo, Bloom & Huie. Together, they have written multiple television series as well as a feature-length film. Their mission is to write honest and witty female stories wrapped up in unbelievable worlds. 

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