Drafting the Short Screenplay...
Drafting the Short Screenplay: Writing Scenes. Beginnings, Middles, Ends
All films - even the bad ones - have beginnings, middles, and ends. But in the short film, these three very important components have to be handled with particular delicacy and speed.
Beginnings and Endings
Syd Field argues that to have a strong beginning, you need to know your ending. In other words, before you begin to write you need to know what your character's problem is, and how it's going to resolve itself. Field points out that the resolution of your script and the end of your script aren't usually the same thing: in many films the story is resolved before the end of the film. Usually, these endings give the audience some sense of what the future will be. For instance, in Natural Born Killers, after the conflict is resolved and the couple escapes their pursuers, we see them driving around in a Winnebago with a couple of kids. There's almost always a forward-looking moment like this in film: audiences seem unsatisfied without them.
In a short narrative (not experimental) film, the relationship between a film's beginning, resolution, and end must be very snug. Curiously, we've found that it's best to think about this relationship as both linear and circular. On the one hand, because the short film's beginning is so close to its end, the screenwriter needs to provide a very linear sense of how the character gets from a to b. On the other hand, it's helpful to think of your story line as coming full circle. Whatever elements you lay out as essential in the beginning must be apparent in the resolution and the end.
In Because of Mama, our opening scene indicates that feelings are important: the cello teacher's first bit of dialogue instructs the boy to use his music to express his feelings, and she repeats that dialogue just before he goes on stage. Our resolution comes when the boy does indeed manage to play the cello with exquisite feeling, thereby pleasing both of his parents.
As to the end of our film: Our last scene does indeed come after the resolution. As in other films, our last scene also points to the future that's in store for the boy. We've left the future bleak: his mother will continue to be a perfectionist, and his father will continue to mess up - for instance, by leaving the cello on the tram. The only thing that has changed in the film is the boy. And the audience believes (or, at least, hopes) that this change will be enough to help him deal with his world.
The Unwieldy Middle
To talk about structuring scenes in detail is more than we're willing to take on here. Some of what it takes to make a great scene is intangible: you need talent, experience, practice, and patience. Still, it's helpful to have a strong sense of the basics of what makes a good scene good: