2 Crucial Writing Tips for Adapting Short Films into Features at Film School

By Robert Chomiak

Film Production School

One of your shorts would make an excellent feature. You’re convinced of it.

But the task of writing a full-length screenplay can be daunting—which is ironic, because as a screenwriting instructor at the InFocus Film School, I have encountered film school students with feature-sized ideas that needed paring down in order to make an effective short.

Now one must unlearn this skill of simplifying and instead expand one’s thinking to match a feature film’s vision and scope.

Adapting a short has launched several careers. David F. Sandberg with the horror film “Lights Out,” Neill Blomkamp with the sci-fi doc “Alive in Joburg” (District 9), and Wes Anderson with the crime comedy “Bottle Rocket.”

These three writer-directors came up with creative solutions that can serve as lessons for a filmmaker, like yourself, who wants to follow in their footsteps.

#1: Film School Teaches that An Entirely New Obstacle Must Often be Invented

“Bottle Rocket” had enough material to form most of Act 1 for the feature Bottle Rocket. Had Anderson and company stuck to the premise of small-time hoods pulling off jobs, though, the story would get old fast. So they introduced a new obstacle of a road trip in Act 2 that has the group going on the lam where they have a falling out. Even that wasn’t enough to sustain the rest of the film, so in Act 3 the friends reunite for a grand heist.

Blomkamp had a mere kernel of a story in “Alive in Joburg.” The world is fully fleshed out, but the style is in documentary format and the lead character, Wikus, is only seen briefly. For District 9, a new obstacle was created: Wikus is sprayed with a fluid and slowly turns into an alien. This provided the spine for the entire story.

“Lights Out” required even more invention. The incident in the short and its lead actress appear as part of a teaser in the feature version. An entirely new character was created—an older sister who tries to save her younger brother from their mentally unstable mom. The new obstacle had to do with uncovering the mystery of the shadowy killer.

#2: Film School Grads Know the Arc for the Lead Character Requires a Broader Trajectory

“Bottle Rocket” is a two-hander, but the feature version highlights Anthony more so than Dignan. In the short, Anthony is satisfied with his life of petty crime. But in Bottle Rocket, Anthony questions the criminal life while on the lam, which puts him in conflict with Dignan. Ultimately, Anthony rejects his lawlessness and embraces his recovery.

Wikus in District 9 is an uncaring bureaucrat who suppresses the slum-dwelling aliens. During his transformation into an alien, he undergoes the five stages of grief—denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. By the end, Wikus is helping a pair of aliens to escape Earth.

In Lights Out, the older sister only believes in saving her brother, but once she accepts the supernatural entity, her focus shifts to destroying it. She goes from hiding out from the world to tackling a problem bigger than herself.

Following these two tips—a new obstacle and broader character arc—will help you to expand your short film into a satisfying feature experience.

Want to put these tips to use and learn many more through film production training?

Contact us for information about attending film school in Vancouver!

4 Possible Career Paths for Film Production School Graduates

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There are many career options for film school graduates

Many passionate movie fans dream of a career in the film and television industry, but never pursue the idea. They tell themselves that it’s too competitive, or too unstable, or that only a select few are able to find steady work. These kinds of doubts are all too common, and lead to thousands of potentially brilliant filmmakers giving up before they’ve even started.

In reality, however, a career in film is far more practical than you think. A typical production employs hundreds of trained professionals for specific, specialized roles in sound, visual, and production crews, each playing an important role in bringing an idea to life.

What’s more, prospective filmmakers based in Vancouver—the third largest film production centre in North America—can expect a steady stream of regular work, with hundreds of productions taking place each year.

If you want to find secure work in a business you love, read on to learn more about the many options available.

1. Picture Your Career as a Camera Operator after Film Production School

Have an eye for interesting and original visuals? A career as a camera operator could be for you. A big-budget production can have more than 50 people in its camera crew, with many entry level roles available, such as camera assistants and camera trainees. Working closely with the director, these highly trained professionals help to create a unique visual style for the film, carefully crafting each individual shot.

Camera operators also need to be familiar with a variety of different shooting styles, making it an ideal role for film production school graduates, who gain experience by working on a variety of different portfolio projects, such as documentaries, music videos, and commercials.

2. Use Your Film Production Training to Make the Cut as an Editor

Being an editor requires a wealth of technical knowledge and excellent attention to detail, as you work to craft all the scenes from a film together to ensure the project comes together seamlessly as a coherent whole.

It’s not an easy task, but your film production training and project work will provide you with extensive practical editing experience, while the small class sizes at schools like InFocus mean that each student gets the individual attention they need from instructors to truly hone their craft.

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Editors help make sure a film comes together as a whole

3. Script Readers: For Film Production Students with a Passion for Storytelling

More interested in the storytelling aspects of film? Don’t worry, there are plenty of roles to suit your talents. For example, script readers are often employed by production companies and public funding bodies to assess screenplays they receive, providing detailed reports and story breakdowns to help determine whether a script is suitable for production.

4. Script Supervisor: The Ideal Role for a Film Production School Graduate?

A unique role that requires both screenwriting and cinematography expertise, script supervisors work with the camera crew to ensure they get all the shots they need to bring a script to life, as well as keeping written and photographic records of individual shots to ensure continuity. Because the role requires comprehensive knowledge of filmmaking theory, film school graduates are often considered ideal candidates for script supervisor positions.

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Script supervisors help ensure continuity

Interested in finding out about even more great careers for graduates of film production courses?

Contact InFocus Film School for more details!