How To Write a Thriller in 48 Hours

I am a huge fan of thrillers. I am particularly drawn to short thrillers of the Twilight Zone type. In fact, I believe that is where my love of thrillers began and I still watch the Twilight Zone TV series whenever I can. Today’s books and movies are lengthy, and while I enjoy them, I don’t have the free time to consume as many of them as I would like. And it has certainly taken me over a year to write and revise my own thriller novel. So what’s a writer to do to satisfy that need to tell scary, thrilling stories?

What I did was sign up for the 48 Hour Film competition.  As you may know, entrants have no idea what genre they may get, nor do they have control over rules of the “city” imposed elements regarding the required character, dialogue line, and prop item. And just as the name implies, you only have 48 hours to write, shoot, and edit a short film. From 7 pm on Friday to 7 pm on Sunday, to be exact.

A House To Herself

I signed up as a Team Leader. It was only one weekend and I could come away with a thriller.  There were a few things working against us—primarily the luck of the draw. Would I get a genre I could work with? I could make a drama/thriller, or an action/thriller, or most of the other genre combinations. Just about the only genres out of the possible 20 that wouldn’t work was comedy or musical. I didn’t want to draw either of those.  What about all the other important ingredients of a good thriller—casting, music, and setting? I got to work, doing the stuff that we are allowed to do in preparation of the 48 Hour kick-off. I assembled a team.

With the experience of my prior two short films and assisting on a feature horror film under my belt, I was all business recruiting the cast and crew, and about finding the perfect location. Flexibility is key in making a 48 Hour film. But the one thing I wanted set in stone was the location. That way I could spend my time and creativity on the important things.

Of all the things a director does to bring a script to life, and there are literally hundreds of things, I found the three key elements are: story—story—story. No surprise there. But I only had a few hours on Friday night to write the script. It certainly wasn’t going to win any Oscars.  On the other hand, I learned there are other important factors in making a film in a weekend: a phenomenal cast, a resourceful crew, and the ability to go without sleep.

Making a movie is much more collaborative than writing a book. Even though I was also the director, I couldn’t possibly have the final say in every detail (not in a 48-hour film).  I wanted my team to use their creativity, too, and I think the end product turned out pretty good.  We had a blast making ‘A House to Herself’ and I hope it gives you a shiver or two.

See the short film on my web site: Mi Casa Su Casa Productions and read the full three-part blog entries.