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 Film Festivals to Check out While You Attend Film School in Vancouver

Vancouver hosts a wide range of great film festivals

Vancouver hosts a wide range of great film festivals

It’s every film buffs idea of heaven: days of endless new movies, appearances from famous directors, actors, and other film pros, and even workshops and networking opportunities. Attending a film festival could lead to you discovering your new favorite filmmaker, meeting your personal hero, or even catching your big break.

Fortunately for those considering film school in Vancouver, the city has no shortage of excellent events. With such a vibrant movie industry presence, the area is the ideal backdrop for a range of festivals both large and small, taking in a number of genres and styles and filling their own particular industry niches.

So where should you go first? Read on to find out more about just a few Vancouver’s best film fests.

1. Every Film School Student in Vancouver Should Attend VIFF

Let’s start with the granddaddy of them all. Now in its 35th year, the Vancouver International Film Festival (VIFF) isn’t just the biggest in the city, it’s also one of the five largest film festivals in North America, playing host to over 300 films, highly regarded international guests, and countless compelling workshops and lectures for industry insiders and aspiring filmmakers alike.

This year’s festival will take place from September 29 to October 14, but film school students might have a hard time fitting everything into just over two weeks, with new features including an interactive hub, a sustainable production forum and the return of their ‘Power to the Indie Program,’ a special workshop for budding indie filmmakers to explore strategies in direct distribution and audience engagement.

2. Students in Film Courses Can Get the Real Stories at DOXA

With the recent success of the likes of Making a Murderer and The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst, we’re very much in a golden age for documentaries, with filmmakers creating some of the most daring, provocative pieces ever produced in the genre.

Film school students can see provocative documentaries at DOXA

Film school students can see provocative documentaries at DOXA

With that in mind, why not check out the latest groundbreaking work for yourself at DOXA Documentary Film Festival? Held each May at various locations around the city, DOXA showcases both local and international films that tell real stories designed to educate and inform, and features appearances from some the leading filmmakers in the field.

3. Film Students Can Get Involved at the Vancouver Island Short Film Festival

Just a few short hours away, the Vancouver Island Film Festival is a veritable treasure trove of mini cinematic gems, with somewhere between 10 and 20 films with a running time of twelve minutes or less screened over two days in Nainamo.

Best of all, the judging panel accepts multiple submissions from filmmakers, with an entry fee of just $30 per film! There’s even a specific category for student work, making it an ideal avenue for students looking to get the work they complete during their film courses out there.

4. Vancouver International Women in Film Festival: A Fresh Perspective for Film School Students

A smaller festival, but one that’s definitely worth a look, the Vancouver International Women in Film Festival, held every March, showcases the best work from women both at home and abroad. The festival screens around fifty films, taking in a number of genres and styles, and is run by Women in Film and Television Vancouver (WIFTV), a not-for-profit society that also offers professional development services for women in the industry throughout the year, including workshops, mentorships, and a monthly networking breakfast.

WIFTV provide a range of services for female filmmakers

WIFTV provide a range of services for female filmmakers

What else will you discover while you attend film school in Vancouver?

Contact InFocus Film School today for more information about our courses!

Why Go To Film School: Beyond the Basics

There is a lot to consider when deciding to go to film school. Because it is a creative art, some may even argue that filmmaking can’t be taught in a classroom, and is better learned on your own. As an independent film school we’re all for indie productions and a DIY ethos. But, we also believe film school is the best way to sharpen your skills and produce portfolio quality work.

Why? First and foremost: creativity breeds creativity. We’re familiar with the lone mad genius trope. But the reality is, we can all benefit from receiving creative feedback – particularly when it comes from experienced industry professionals. Filmmaking is an ever­ evolving art, and the industry thrives on innovative and unique ideas. Working in a creative environment with practicing and emerging filmmakers is the best way to explore and push the boundaries of your filmmaking vision.

IMG_5433Which brings us to the next point. We know you’re passionate about filmmaking and determined to pursue your dream project. Yet setting aside time to do so can often be a challenge. Attending film school gives you an opportunity to explore your ideas, learn new techniques, and hone your craft.­Although it might seem counterintuitive, deadlines are useful because they increase productivity and time management. Instead of being relegated to the “when I have time,” pile attending film school allows you to focus on just one thing: your personal development as a filmmaker.

It also allows you to explore the different technical aspects of filmmaking. From pre­production through to post­production, there are countless processes involved in making a film. While many film industry professionals specialize in one area such as directing or cinematography, understanding the basic processes behind each facet is essential to your development as a filmmaker.

And of course, collaborating with fellow students on a variety of film projects gives you on set experience, and can lead to lasting creative partnerships.

Perhaps most importantly, attending film school gives you the opportunity to build a strong and diverse portfolio of work. Your show reel is your calling card – from entry­level positions to funding an independent project, it’s your key to the industry.

As user­friendly cameras, accessible editing software and online tutorials become increasingly popular, learning about filmmaking on your own is much easier than it used to be. And like any field, much of the learning process is trial and error. Delving into film school expedites the learning curve so that you can realize your potential, and your filmmaking vision, that much sooner.