Screenplay Script Writing & Short Film Anatomy: Free Martin

By: Laura Huie

 

Shore Scripts created the anatomy articles in response to repeated requests to share scripts that placed in 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 for 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 and gain valuable insights on how to write a script for a short film.

 

Writing a short film is a fantastic calling card to show your unique writing style and voice to agents, managers, and other executives. A well-crafted short script can help you find writing jobs, be accepted into fellowships, or gain representation. It can even serve as a proof-of-concept for a larger feature film.

 

Today, we’re looking at free martin by Scott Thompson (he/him) & Hayes Hart-Thompson (they/them), the grand-prize winners of our 2023 Fall Short Film Fund.

 

Premise

 

free martin is a poignant short film set in Maine, focusing on queer love and acceptance. 14-year-old Paige fears her fifth-generation dairy farmer father’s reaction when he potentially learns about her girlfriend, Alyson. However, she discovers her father might be more accepting than expected. Paige’s connection to a family cow named Martin — based on the term “Freemartin,” a female, barren cow — serves as a powerful metaphor for themes of queer identity and womanhood.


The importance of a short film’s premise cannot be overstated. A strong core concept not only grabs the audience’s attention from the start but also keeps them engaged throughout the brief runtime. Unlike a feature-length film, where there’s more room for elaboration and exploration, writing a short script demands a tightly woven premise that can be effectively conveyed in a condensed format. Because of this, when writing a short film, filmmakers must carefully consider whether their premise is compelling enough to sustain interest but also result in a well-rounded, full narrative that doesn’t land flat.

 

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Hook

 

Understanding how to write a short film script with a compelling hook is essential, as it immediately captures the audience’s attention and sets the tone for the rest of the story, crucial for creating impactful storytelling that resonates with viewers. It not only entices viewers to keep watching but also establishes the central conflict or theme concisely. This initial intrigue can lead to a deeper investment in the characters and their journey, driving the audience’s emotional connection to the narrative.

 

For instance, the opening of free martin adeptly establishes the rural Maine setting, along with the main characters of Paige, Fred, and Alyson, while also introducing a subtle conflict centered on Paige’s fear of her father discovering her relationship. Despite Fred not posing a tangible threat, Paige’s apprehension and a relatable impulse to flee keep the audience very much engaged in the story.


Characters

 

In free martin, both Paige and Alyson emerge as compelling and realistic characters, each with distinct personalities that are effectively conveyed through dialogue and actions. Alyson’s humor and patience provide a refreshing counterbalance to Paige’s occasionally irrational behavior, showcasing a dynamic interplay between the two.

 

While Alyson steadfastly supports Paige, she also allows her girlfriend the space to navigate her own challenges. The film cleverly raises the question of whether Paige will ultimately overcome her obstacles independently, as circumstances intervene to prevent her from boarding a train at the conclusion.

 

Also, each of the character’s introductory descriptions reveals distinctive qualities of their personalities (see on page above)—Short script writing relies significantly on expressing characters’ traits concisely, especially with limited running time, which allows for impactful storytelling in a short film.

 

Dialogue

 

Similar to the characters’ descriptions, each character has their own distinct voice. Paige’s aggravation and anxiety contrasted with Alyson’s lightheartedness creates an engaging dialogue between the two throughout the short.

 

One notable dialogue scene occurs during breakfast after Fred potentially discovers Paige and Alyson’s romantic relationship. Tension mounts as Paige navigates her father’s cryptic references to “Martin the cow,” wondering if they’re connected to his suspicions.

Pacing/Structure

 

Nailing pacing and structure in a short film is crucial to keep the audience hooked and ensure the story flows smoothly. Again, every moment counts, so they have to pack a punch and move things along at just the right pace. Good structure helps guide you through the story, from the setup to the big climax and resolution. Without these elements, a short film might lose viewers’ interest or leave them scratching their heads.

 

For example, free martin has excellent pacing and a solid structure that keeps the reader interested throughout. In this short, we get all of the exposition and main source of conflict quickly which helps the story move into the next act. The second act is full of great dialogue exchanges in which we get to know Paige and Alyson’s relationship more intimately, and the resolution comes when Fred finds them at the train station, leading to Paige discovering her parents’ acceptance of her relationship.

 

Final Thoughts

 

Overall, free martin has a compelling plot, realistic characters, and a moving theme of queer love and acceptance that will certainly resonate with audiences. When defining the story, Scott describes it as “Mirroring both of us as a father and a child, mirroring our own hopes and fears of both having raised a queer child from my point of view and having navigated the difficult waters of finding one’s true self from Hayes’ point of view.”

 

Currently, the father/child co-writing duo is in pre-production and also intends to co-direct. The short film is a proof-of-concept for a feature, two egg, which previously garnered interest, including an opportunity to be optioned. Scott and Hayes chose to decline the opportunity to maintain their roles as co-directors because, as Scott explains, “This isn’t about making money as it is about making something we really care about.”

 

free martin is a lovely, heartwarming example of the importance of writing stories we are passionate about, as well as the potential that results from the adage, write what you know.

 

“[free martin] takes on sensitive topics while using comedy to disarm the absurdities of senseless judgment. As queer childhood is being politicized more and more, we believe now is the time to tackle this important subject in our stories. We hope to bring this issue into focus by exploring both the fears of feeling unwanted in your home and the joy of young queer love.” — Hayes on the themes of “Free Martin”

 

Check out their work on Instagram: @freemartin.short @twoegg.film

 

 

Scott Thompson (he/him): As a screenwriter, Scott has worked for companies in LA, Montreal, Germany, Helsinki, New York, and Boston. He adapted the novel, ADELE, by Peter Ronnov-Jensen (optioned 3x), and was hired to write a TV pilot for Academy Award-winning actor Morgan Freeman. His adaptation of the memoir “Black Dog of Fate”, by Pulitzer Prize winner Peter Balakian, was nominated for Hollywood’s annual Black List.

 

Hayes Scott-Thompson (they/them): Hayes is a Boston-based documentary filmmaker, educator, and public health specialist. During their time at Boston University’s School of Film and Television, they created a number of documentaries about the refugee experience and issues of forced displacement. Their documentary, THE GARDEN, follows displaced children in Rishikesh, India as they go through the process of healing their trauma through community. This film received a number of awards, including a screening at the International Human Rights Film Festival. They continue their efforts in exploring the stories of refugees with their work in education and their nonprofit, The Stateless Collective (www.thestatelesscollective.org).

 

Your Turn

 

Hopefully, this breakdown of a winning short script will encourage you to continue writing the best draft possible. As much as we love to read scripts, too many excellent shorts never progress beyond the written word, which is why we established the Short Film Fund — to help take those compelling stories off the page and onto the screen. We will help finance and produce two short films in 2024.

 

Previous winners have gone on to gain representation, sold screenplays, and been staffed on Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, & BBC shows as a direct result of winning and producing their shorts with us.

 

Learn more about our Short Film Fund here!

 


Laura Huie is a 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 the 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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