I’m in the midst of rewriting a short drama that is to be shot in about two months. I’m having trouble injecting character depth into it and I don’t know how to fix it. Everytime I try to make it more about the character it gets longer and longer, and it must be around 10 minutes (for university assessment).
— Eva Fitzroy
Character depth may be a false goal. With only ten minutes, you’re not going to be able to make CHINATOWN. Nor should you try.
Rather than cramming in extraneous character information, strive for economy. Is your protagonist a one-armed professional accordion player nervous about meeting his birth father? Fine. Show us that information in the very first scene. If you can’t work in all those details, ask yourself what’s really important: that he plays accordion, that he has one arm, or that he’s nervous about meeting his biological dad.
You may find you have to omit or alter some aspects of the character for sake of getting the plot started. So be it. Think of it like writing poetry: you may have really wanted line two to end with “orange,” but if you’re setting up for a rhyme, that’s just not going to work.
Good short films tend to be about a Character facing a Situation who takes an Action and has an Outcome. Yes, that’s sort of a generic template, but my point is that most successful shorts don’t spend much of their time filling in the details about their characters. What you see is what you get. So make sure those first details we see about the characters are enough to sustain our interest for ten minutes.