How to Come Up With Unique Ideas for a Short Movie

Digital cameras are used more and more to shoot short films. Simply put, a short movie is a quick motion picture with a gripping and uncomplicated storyline. Are you a filmmaker who is the new kid on the block? A brief film is an excellent place to begin your filmmaking career. It could even be a fun side gig for a more established filmmaker with a story to tell.

In this article I will list and explain how to come up with ideas for your short movie.

Usually, short movies average about 20 minutes. However, any film below 50 minutes is a short movie. The catch is that the movie has a clear beginning, middle, and ending within a brief time. Therefore, it is best to have a small cast, a story that is easy to follow and shot in not more than two locations.

In most cases, a screenplay page roughly equals one minute of screen time. Therefore, ensure that your story plays out in a script less than 20 pages long. How can you come up with a unique idea for your short movie? Here are a few other helpful tips.

1. Write

The human brain is a marvel of engineering. Some of the best ideas come to us when we are engaged in doing something familiar or mechanical. Science tells us that as we do something routine, like walking to the bus stop, our brain slips into an Alpha State, and we daydream.

All you need to do is to write those thoughts and ideas. Chances are that one or more of those ideas is bound to be a great idea that you can explore for a short movie.

2. Your experiences

Some experiences we go through in life are unique or even surreal and could make for superb entertainment. Sometimes, after the heat of a situation has subsided and things go back to normal, you may look back and realize that you might want to share your experience.

For example, are you a film student? The place to find short movie concepts is to focus on some of your campus experiences. Many students face social anxiety, instability, meeting their first love, coming of age, and other situations. Take these ideas and make them relatable in a short movie.

3. Opposites attract

Another clever way for a unique idea for your short movie is to take an iconic, well-known story and flip the characters or the story around. For example, say you try to reverse the movie Sister Act 1. The film shows Whoopi Goldberg going into a convent and posing as a nun to hide from a criminal gang that pursues her. You can reverse the story and create a storyline of a nun who has to live in a criminal underworld to survive. Be careful of copywriting issues.

4. Start with your budget

If you are working with a tight budget, the easiest way is to work backward from how much you are at liberty to spend on your movie. Your budget will determine the actors you will enlist, the locations you will use, and the props you will need. Then, with this in mind, create a storyline that works around these elements.

Pricey camera equipment

5. Confinement movies

Some of the best movies are where you have the two most unlikely characters having to work together or get along. Therefore, all you need to do is to think up two personalities from opposite sides of the spectrum, create a location where they have to live with each other, and the rest is history.

6. “What if…?”

“What if?” is another brilliant starting point for story ideas. Pick up an everyday item and explore different scenarios beginning with the words “what if?” For instance, take a computer. Explore an idea such as, “What if computers advanced so much that they had minds of their own?”

7. Older movies

Another surefire way to get your creative juices churning is to watch other films. Older quick flicks can provide you with possibilities that you could explore or build on to create your short movies. With the recent technologies of converting super 8 to a digital format, it is now possible to access older movies as early as the 1930s.

One of the best ways to find short movie ideas that work is by taking the time to learn from older versions that won awards, made it to the big screen, or jump-started renowned writers’ careers.

8. Read the paper

Any regular reader of the newspaper can attest to the fact that some incidents and factual happenings that make their way into the newspaper can be stranger than fiction. Therefore, the newspaper is an endless supply of ideas you can bend, blend, or interchange for an original idea for a short film.

The famous movie “The Fast and the Furious” originated from a newspaper headline.

9. The holidays

We all love movies about the holidays or special occasions, such as funerals or weddings. Besides, there is no end to how much you can experiment with any of these iconic moments to create an out-of-the-ordinary story of a wedding ceremony or other similar iconic moment.

10. Keep It Simple

A brilliant film should not be complex. Some of the most renowned short movies base their story on simple concepts and storylines that are easy to follow. Especially if you are a first-time filmmaker, why not start with simple storylines and slowly grow or branch out as you gain more confidence and experience?

11. Parody movies

Parody movies are another tried and tested area that could work well for you when creating a film. The general idea is to make fun of business leaders, politicians, celebrities, or other icons in a way that endears them to the viewer. However, you must be careful that your movie is free from defamation and libel. It may even be a good idea to enlist the services of an entertainment lawyer to help you identify potential problems.

12. Local Heroes

Short movies about local legends or heroes are also consumer favorites. You could create a brief flick about an outstanding person in the community. This person need not be a famous individual. Your choice of local hero or legend could be anyone exceptional within a community, even in a small community.

13. Find a location

You could also search for a cheap or free location. Then create a short movie to suit that location. For example, you could ask whether a friend or a friend of a friend would allow you to shoot some screens in their home, backyard, or café. Working with a particular location could help you develop your plot and storyline while cutting costs.

Movie location shoot

Even deserted places in your city or neighborhood can make for great locations. For instance, cemeteries, abandoned forests, warehouses, abandoned houses, zoos, or hospitals could create a short horror movie. However, some deserted places may require that you get a permit before using that location. Therefore, it would be a good idea to research about permit costs involved before you begin.

14. Character Flaws

With thousands of movies churned out every year, almost every storyline known to man is on paper. Therefore, to stand out from the crowd, try to develop short movie ideas around everyday characters with interesting flaws. For example, create a short movie about a character who is power-hungry, self-centered, frustrated with life, and so on. The list is endless.

15. Listen in on conversations

The more you interact with different people and hear about their lives and experiences, the more ideas you are likely to gather for a short film. When you are on your own, go outdoors, sit in a public place, such as a park or restaurant, and listen to surrounding conversations. Some of these discussions could form the basis of an idea for an amusing storyline.

16. Wikipedia

Believe it or not, you can get movie ideas from Wikipedia. The site has a category known as the Random articles. These articles allow you to find pieces on anything from famous music bands from the 80s to space phenomena. Anyone of these topics could serve as fodder for a great short movie idea.

17. Start with the ending

As you must already appreciate, getting an idea for a short movie is not a systematic process. Ideas can come from literally any situation and from any direction. First, decide on the ending you want your film to have and then work backward from there to come up with an idea for the theme for your short movie. Doing so saves time and resources required for shooting different endings.

18. Blend different genres

You also have the option to mash up two different genres into one for an original and a different idea for a movie. For example, you could mix horror and suspense to create a short thriller or a drama and comedy to create a comedy-drama.

19. Comical scenarios

Nothing compares to hilarious short movies. Besides, you do not need to have a funny bone for an amusing idea for a short film. Just think of stories that made you laugh in the past and flesh this out into a movie. If you still cannot come up with something comical, try to create a character used to a particular environment, but forced by circumstances into unfamiliar surroundings.

Alternatively, you think of regular persons and place them in an extreme situation with hilarious consequences. Such a storyline can be a successful short movie. A good example was Eddie Murphy in Daddy Day Care.

20. Write out the audio for a film

Strange as it may sound, this helps to give you ideas for a short movie. Here’s how it goes: watch a film you have yet to see but watch the flick without sound. As the scenes play out, jot down what you think the actors are saying. As you write, you will get ideas for your short movie.

21. A movie with a moral

Many moral stories are best passed along as short movies. Therefore, think of commonly mistaken societal attitudes. For a short movie idea, highlight the consequences of such an attitude or the results of choosing a different cause of action.

22. Song Lyrics

Often, the lyrics to the melody narrate a story. For instance, the song “I heard” by Etta James is about the pain of a woman watching the love of her life marry another woman. Many can relate to her story, which makes for a beautiful short movie that can reach the hearts of women and men alike. Search for similar songs and how they relate to life events. After all, most tunes capture the moments of the daily life of struggles and experiences.

23. Historical events

You can also get ideas for your flick by reading about historical events. Usually, a good idea for a short film is to narrow it down to a few characters and tell about an event from their perspective. For example, the movie “Hotel Rwanda” follows the story of a hotel manager during the Rwandan genocide. How about “Pearl Harbor”, where two friends both serve as soldiers in World War 2 and fall in love with the same woman?

24. Work where you can hear yourself think

Once you have a general idea of the direction you want your movie to take, you need time to write out the script. Beyond the initial thoughts, you will still need to build your idea into a full-blown movie with characters, a plot, a twist, a genre, and an ending. The best time to work out your short movie ideas is when you have less external disturbance, such as early in the morning or at night, when all is quiet. However, most people consider the early morning hours as the ultimate moment, when all is quiet and while the brain is fresh and rested.

25. Get Out In Nature

Another brilliant way to overcome writer’s block and discover a unique idea for a short movie is to turn off or leave behind all your electronic devices and go outdoors. A simple walk down a busy street or a hike can do much to give your mind space to free-associate and roam free.

You are more likely to come up with a good idea when you are relaxed and in a good place than when you are under pressure and tired.


Regardless of the movie theme, location, and budget of your short film, ensure that the idea for your short movie is simple, brief, and loaded with conflict.

What matters more than a fancy camera and lighting equipment or shooting and editing experience is a well-executed original idea.

Click the following link to learn how to become a better photographer by watching movies.

By Nicholas

Nicholas is a staff writer at Photodoto. His interests include photography, collecting cameras old and new, video editing, and all things 3d. If a new gadget comes out on the market, he's sure to be the first to try it. He enjoys experimenting with low light photography, very long exposures and high speed filming.

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