Anatomy of a Great Short Script: The Commitment

By: Laura Huie

Shore Scripts created the anatomy articles in response to repeated requests to share successful scripts from our contests so that other emerging screenwriters could learn from their examples. Placing in a screenplay contest can create value for a writer’s IP and so meeting this request presented a challenge. How do you share what needs to stay private – at least for a while?

Deconstructing what made our Judges and readers select a script for placement, rather than publishing the script in its entirety, was a way to meet this challenge. And, we think, it is even more, useful to writers considering entering our contests. We thank our former Winners and Finalists for sharing their scripts with us and allowing us to share our evaluations with a wider community. Read on to find out what, for us, makes a great short film script.

When writing a short film, it’s important to keep your main character’s arc and the structure of your story front and center. The best short films revolve around a protagonist that must deal with a clear goal or challenge. Whether your story centers on their internal or external conflict—or a little bit of both—it’s integral to have a solid structure to guide your plot.

THE COMMITMENT by Rachel Benaissa is a short dramatic comedy that was placed as a Top 5 Finalist in the Spring season of the 2022 Short Film Fund. THE COMMITMENT focuses on a wife and mother grappling with postpartum depression. Although the main subject matter is dark, Rachel balances this with heart and humor to take a different spin on this uniquely female experience that other women can certainly relate to.

Creating that sense of immediate engagement and empathy is essential in a short film script and is the first area in which THE COMMITMENT excels.

THE HOOK

With any story, the opening scene must grab the reader’s attention. In THE COMMITMENT, the hook is strong, funny, and intriguing. There’s a sense of surprise and dark humor as Madeline and the dog across the street stare at each other understanding. Then, there’s a gut punch of real emotion when she reveals that she feels numb inside while she and her husband are having sex.

Rachel also cleverly mirrors this opening scene at the end, neatly bookending the story and providing a satisfying setup and payoff for the reader and audience alike.

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CHARACTER

This story in particular offers a sharp glimpse into the protagonist, Madeleine’s, internal conflict and guilt, as well as her slightly odd and humorous coping mechanisms, such as attending strangers’ funerals to finally be able to relieve her “emotional constipation.” Madeleine can be seen as an unlikeable character—but through her dialogue and actions, we end up sympathizing with her attitude. Madeleine does and says whatever she wants, which is refreshing and often humorous.

THE COMMITMENT has a well-written protagonist, and the reader can understand who this woman is and empathize with her within 20 or so pages. Essentially, a good sense of character and their overall emotional arc is critical to a compelling short script.

CONFLICT & CONCLUSION

Conflict is a vital part of any story, especially in a short script where there’s such little real estate to play with. The conflict needs to be easily definable, whether it be internal or external. Some short scripts tie their story arcs with a neat bow while others leave the ending to interpretation. But don’t be mistaken, leaving an end up to interpretation does not mean the ending lacks a sense of completion.

It’s clear from Madeline’s dialogue and actions that she is dealing with the complexities of postpartum depression. Through her interactions, we see Madeline’s outlook change ever so slightly, leading up to her real emotional catharsis with her husband.

In THE COMMITMENT, the script ends with a brief flash-forward which offers a hopeful glimpse into Madeleine’s future. And although it’s wryly bittersweet with her “17 years to go” comment, we have a feeling that she’s going to be alright.

BUDGET

In regards to most technical production aspects of writing a short film script, budget is a factor to consider when writing and submitting to contests. A contest wants the best script possible to win and that can depend on other factors besides the story. For instance, an SFX-heavy script with tons of locations or characters can still absolutely win, but it may mean that it needs to secure additional funding if the cash prize isn’t going to cover everything.

THE COMMITMENT takes place over only a few locations with a limited number of actors and no special FX—which is economical for a smaller budget. Essentially, there are no huge expenses other than using a child/infant actor, and this makes the film feel achievable to go into production.

FORMATTING

The Short Film Fund is looking for scripts that are ready to go into pre-production, so a professional presentation and industry-standard formatting are a must. The script must do its job as a tool to take a project from the script to the screen. Professional layout, short scene headings, short character names, and no large blocks of text on the page all instantly create a positive impression.

When a script competes, small errors can make the difference between a first prize and a second prize, so always make sure your script is as polished as possible.

A SUCCESSFUL SHORT

Overall, THE COMMITMENT is a character-centric story that deals with real, heartbreaking emotions with lightness and originality.

Most screenwriters set out to write a producible script that will be seen and loved by audiences. The Short Film Fund offers an opportunity to make that goal a reality. When entering a contest, screenwriters should carefully consider whether their goals align with the contest’s opportunities. The basic tenets of what makes a good script hasn’t changed for some considerable time; a tight, engaging story that is relatable and producible on the budget available.

We hope this breakdown of a winning script will encourage you to keep writing and write the best draft you can.

Rachel Benaissa is a French actress and writer, based in London. Rachel’s writing is female-focused, often blending drama with dark humor and finding comedy in the absurdity and challenges of everyday life. Rachel’s television feature for a US network channel is currently filming in Florida and she is developing her short film THE COMMITMENT following its placing as a Top 5 Finalist in the 2022 Shore Scripts Film Fund.

Check out our other Screenwriting Articles & Screenplay Downloads for more free resources on how to write unique, compelling stories.


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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