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The Short Script & Why It Matters

By Randal Stevens · August 25, 2010

"I've finished a short script for University, and my professor loves it.  The only problem is that I still don't have an ending.  I know you're supposed to start a script with an ending in mind, but since it's a short I felt like I could bypass this rule.  Do I need to start over??" 

– Valerie Huddleston / Canterbury, United Kingdom
 
Technically you are supposed to start a script with an ending in mind, but technically The Last Airbender is the most racist and hackneyed film since Birth of a Nation and it will soon have made over $200 million worldwide.  There are exceptions to every rule.  
 
Short films operate outside of the bounds of feature films so you have a little bit of leeway when it comes to how tightly you have to cleave to structure, story, character, etc.  However, that doesn't mean that shorts are structureless.  Far from it.  Like any form of media, there's a right way and a wrong way to do things.  
 
Recently I've been preaching a lot for writers to read what others have done in order to receive guidance for their own writing.  When it comes to your inquiry, I concede to someone who knows much more about the topic of short films than I do.  Hop on over to Amazon and pick up the book How Note to Make a Short Film: Secrets From a Sundance Programmer by Roberta Marie Monroe.  You can find a new copy for less than $9 and even without having read it, I can guarantee that they knowledge it contains will be invaluable to you.  
 
Monroe, as the title entails, worked as a programmer for the short film selection at the Sundance Film Festival for 5 years.  On top of that, her short film "Happy Birthday" has won awards at multiple film festivals.  Needless to say, she knows her stuff and she writes about her vast experience in order to help a lost lobsterback such as yourself.  
 
Most immediately though, I'd say not to worry too much about it.  In the meantime, just stick with whatever ending you have because you don't have to stick with it.  An idea might strike you out of nowhere from a source you might not expect.  Nobody liked the ending to After Hours when it went into production in 1984, not even writer Joseph Minion.  All throughout production, Scorsese was stressing about how to wrap up what was an otherwise great script.  Finally, before it came time to shoot, it was British director Michael Powell – at that point married to Scorsese's editor, Thelma Schoonmaker – who made a simple suggestion: "Why doesn't he just end up back at work?"  Suddenly, the film had an ending that everybody loved from a source nobody expected.  It's called serendipity, I believe and it's much more satisfying than sitting through that shitty film of the same name.