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4 Things to Consider Before Turning Your Short Film into a Feature or TV Pilot

By March 17, 2022No Comments

Want to turn your short into a feature (or TV pilot)? Here are some things to think about.

A story can take many forms and one great way to maximize your story’s potential is by adapting it to a longer format.

Though writing and producing a short film is a great way to showcase your skills while keeping budgets low and schedules light, sometimes it makes sense to transform your short into a longer format. 

Here are some things you should consider if you’d like to take that amazing short film and write a feature or television pilot. 

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Does It Have Legs?

Not every story has room to be expanded into a longer piece. Sometimes a short is just a short.

A good way to make sure your story has enough to develop into something longer is to brainstorm where else you can take the characters.

Do your characters have more to say beyond the short you already crafted? Were there moments, beats, scenes you had to cut to create the short? Could this story sustain the two hours a feature film would require? What about the 30 to 60 minutes of a television pilot? Your story will only be a good candidate for television if you could see the story expanding into multiple episodes.

A great example of a short film that became a series is Smilf. If you’ve seen the pilot for the show, this moment captured in the short film is a scene in the pilot. But one of the most important lessons here is that the character, the “Single Mom I’d Like to F…”, is very clear and the setup of how a young single mother navigates dating and a social life when the responsibility of taking care of the child doesn’t ever go away. 

 Where Does It Belong? 

Is it a half-hour comedy or an hour-long drama? Or is it a two-hour movie? Not quite sure? Here are a few things you can ask yourself:

  • Do you see your characters heading for quick major changes or slow-burning changes? The former is ideal for film. The latter is ideal for TV.
  • Do you have an ending in mind? If not, your story might be great for TV. If you do, you might have a film on your hands.
  • How many characters are in your story? Large ensemble casts aren’t unique to either film or TV, but if you want to write multi-dimentional characters, writing them into a TV pilot will most likely give them the room they need to breathe and grow.

Find Your Structure 

After you’ve done some work examining the world and the characters and you’ve decided which format to explore, figure out what your story structure is. You will most likely have some beats and story points already built into the short film.

Make sure to brush up on your three-act structure as you start plotting your story and use the short as a guide. A good example of this is the short film Peluca which later inspired the feature film Napoleon Dynamite. A lot of the story events were outlined in the short. 

What Else is There to Say?

Odds are, if you want to expand your short into a longer story, there was something more you wanted to say. Find out what that is and how this format will best serve you.

If you end up finding out you said everything you wanted to say with the short, then perhaps it’s time to move on to another story. If there is more to say, what is exactly that you wish you had included in the short but you didn’t have the time or money to do it?

A good example of this is the short film Whiplash which later became the feature film by the same name. The short was a starting point and there was so much more to cover in the feature film. 

Julia Camara is an award-winning Brazilian screenwriter/filmmaker. Julia won a Telly Award for the sci-fi found footage feature Occupants. Julia’s feature directorial debut In Transit, won Best Experimental Film at four different festivals. Julia’s other writing credits include Area Q and Open Road.