The Helpful Reviewer

Short Film Adaptations

Friday, May 15, 2020

Another common type of script adaptation the adaptation of short films, which means taking a short film with a simple, more contained conflict and using it as a basis to write a feature film or TV series. Writers can choose to focus on the main conflict, one or more characters, a location, or anything that provides them with the right inspiration to develop a full feature screenplay.

Adapting (or “based on”) doesn’t mean it’s just the same story but with a longer format. There’s a lot more that goes into an adaptation, as you need to develop a fully fleshed out story. In a feature, you need to expand the characters and their backstories, as you have more room to let them shine. You can dig deeper into the different conflicts, and you have the time to add more layers.

Some of the biggest obstacles to overcome when adapting a short film into a feature are:

  1. Finding new obstacles: While the main conflict can remain the same, when adapting into a feature, new obstacles have to be added to widen the scope of the central conflict, and to actually expand it into a full feature script.
  2. The arcs of the characters need to be developed more. With more time to see them grow and change on the screen, we expect more of them in terms of their arcs. We want to see a really well developed trajectory mapping out their core wound or flaws, their growth, and their eventual change.
  3. Developing the secondary characters and the antagonist: In short films, since the time is more limited, there’s usually only true development for the protagonist. In a feature, we expect fully fleshed out and interesting secondary characters and a unique antagonist that can really counteract the protagonist.

A lot of writers trying to break into the industry tend to write short films to better be able to finance them and shoot them themselves as proof of concept so they can later develop a feature film based on the short. After shooting them, they submit them to film festivals to get exposure. So what are some tips at this stage?

  1. Network: At film festivals, it’s all about networking. Show up, mingle, meet producers, directors, actors, financiers, and anyone who can help you get your feature made, or give you valuable input. Even if they can’t help now, make connections that will be valuable to have during your career.
  2. Capitalize on your wins: If you win or place at a festival, you’ll most likely see interest from managers or agents. This is your chance to gain good representation.
  3. Workshops & Grants: After winning or placing at a festival, you can continue your path towards making your feature by applying to workshops and grants by esteemed institutions that can help you to develop your feature film script.
  4. Screen your short: Try to get as many people as possible to watch your short. You need exposure, and to hopefully gain interest by someone who wants to invest in you and your film.
  5. Crowdfunding: This is another way to go. After you’ve made a short as proof of concept, and done well with it, if you hire a reputable crowdfunding manager, you can raise funds to develop your feature script, or to even shoot the feature yourself.

Cody Smart

Cody Smart


Cody is an independent writer and script doctor from Santiago, Chile. She attended the prestigious Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile, where she double majored in English Literature and Linguistics, with a minor in Dramatic Literature. She moved to L.A. and got her MFA in Screenwriting at the New York Film Academy, Universal Studios location, while at the same time working at Sony Pictures as a reader and story analyst. She also received two Certificates from UCLA, in Development and Producing for Film and TV.

Aside from her years of experience as a studio reader, she’s a judge for multiple script and film competitions, has written some award-winning short films and feature film scripts, she’s been working as a script analyst and doctor for years helping writers take their scripts to the next level, and is currently the head of the coverage department at Story Data.