How Filmmaker Neer Musa Shelter Got His Oscar-Qualifying Short Off the Ground

Filmmaker Neer Musa Shelter shows you how to follow your passion and make the short film you envision.
by ScreenCraft on November 10, 2023

Egyptian-British screenwriter Neer Musa Shelter has been stacking up accolades for his work. Not only have his films and web series played in festivals around the world, but he is also a Nicholl semifinalist, Page Award gold winner, Final Draft Big Break winner, an Austin Film Fest finalist, and a ScreenCraft Film Fund finalist.

ScreenCraft got the chance to chat with Neer about his Oscar Qualifying short film, Perspectives, a story about an LGBTQ+ female soldier who is forced to choose between killing a potentially innocent man to save Israeli bus passengers when she suspects him of being a suicide bomber.

ScreenCraft: Congratulations on writing and producing your Oscar-qualifying short! Can you tell us how that came about? 

Neer Musa Shelter: Thanks! This project took years to complete, I'd been working on it on and off for a decade by the time it was finished. Along the way, I rewrote the script many times, saved up money for the budget and location scouted in Israel years ahead of the shoot. Then, after the script won a few awards, including the Page Gold Award, I had enough money for production. So, in 2019, I worked with an Israeli line producer for six months over Zoom calls, and we shot later that year. Afterwards, we started post-production in Australia, and then Covid hit. Finally, in 2022, we finished the film and premiered it at the Bafta and Academy Awards qualifying Flickerfest. After that, it won the best screenplay and best film at the Academy Awards qualifying St Kilda Film Festival.

Final Draft Big Break Winner Neer Musa Shelter on his Oscar-Qualifying Short

Perspectives (2023)

SC: What was the inspiration for the project and what did the writing + development process look like?

NMS: The film is based on a true story. It's best defined as semi-autobiographical, as it's something that happened to me. I had to change the characters to distance myself enough to retain objectivity. Also, some actions were added to help adapt it to the screen and give the main character a complete arc. Lastly, I gave the story an open ending to both inspire debate and encourage viewers to make up their own minds, while questioning how they reached their conclusions.

Perspectives debate social media's capacity to inform its users truthfully. This film isn't about politics, religion, or social conflicts; it's about how our individual perspectives on these topics are shaped. As it can sometimes be hard to tell truth from fiction online, I wanted to demonstrate how similar the two can look. That's why we blurred the line between fiction and reality by combining cinema and found-footage cameras.

With cinema cameras representing fiction and found-footage cameras representing fact, and with both looking alike, I hoped to show how similar fact and fiction can appear online. Most of that, hopefully, came through in the script before we started shooting.

Read More: Write Your Short Film in 7 Days

Final Draft Big Break Winner Neer Musa Shelter on his Oscar-Qualifying Short

Perspectives (2023)

The script’s development was a roller coaster as I had to walk the fine line of neutrality to retain the integrity of the story’s themes. And the style in which it was written had a big impact on my other work. Earlier drafts of the script had a lot of dialogue, but I realized that wasn’t necessary. So, I stripped out the dialogue and focused on visuals and actions to tell the story. Inspired by scripts like Wall–E, Misery, and The Bourne Supremacy, I adopted a writing style/voice that helped the script read well without dialogue. This then became a defining characteristic in all my screenplays.  

Read More: How the Development Process Works

SC: How did the writing lead to the production and ultimate success in the festival? Is there anywhere someone could watch it right now?

NMS: I’d like to think that my voice on the page helped give the script a unique feel and pace. This, in part, then led to it winning some big awards. All of which made it easier for actors’ agents to read the script, and therefore helped secure a high-caliber cast. Had the script been written differently, it might not have gotten the attention it received and would likely not have been produced. And, yes, the film is available online at this private link. 

Final Draft Big Break Winner Neer Musa Shelter on his Oscar-Qualifying Short

Perspectives (2023)

SC: We originally connected through ScreenCraft’s Action Adventure program— how did ScreenCraft impact your writing process?

NMS: ScreenCraft has a range of genre-specific screenwriting contests that help writers gauge their craft in specific types of stories. At first, I submitted early draft scripts to ScreenCraft’s action comps and didn’t get far at all, not even to a quarter-finalist stage. However, after asking for and actioning readers’ notes, I improved my screenplays and writing in general. My scripts began placing progressively higher over about five years until I reached the finals. This gave me a clear indication of an upward trajectory in the quality of my writing. 

Final Draft Big Break Winner Neer Musa Shelter on his Oscar-Qualifying Short

Neer Musa Shelter

Read More: ScreenCraft Writing Competitions

SC: How has ScreenCraft impacted your career development? 

NMS: The result of submitting to ScreenCraft and other screenwriting competitions and receiving readers’ notes was a slate of award-winning scripts. Some of these were big awards such as Final Draft’s Big Break, The Page Awards and Emerging Screenwriters. Off the back of these and with the help of Roadmap Writers, I signed with literary management at The Cartel and am now preparing to take out several scripts next year.

SC: Other than the awards circuit for the short, what else are you working on? What’s next?

NMS: Currently, I’m working on a contained horror feature, and I’m about to finish a martial arts drama. 

SC: If you had a bit of writing craft advice for our audience inspired by the success you’ve seen, what would it be?

NMS: Develop a writing method. It took me a while to figure out how I write best, and once I did, I had a solid method to rely on. This made me realize that how you write is equally as important as what you write. You may be able to write a good script through many iterations, but if you can’t repeat the process, you won’t last long in a professional environment. So, figure out your method and hone it well. 

Read More: How Coverfly Helps Screenwriters Get Discovered

SC: If you had a bit of writing career advice for our audience inspired by the success you’ve seen, what would it be?

NMS: Painful as it may be, don’t rush it. I sent out scripts and treatments way before they were ready. Execs’ eyes are weary and experienced, which means they’re quick to pick up on the type of writer they’re reading and will drop the script just as fast. You want them to see you as a pro, even though you may not have been paid to write yet. Wait until you’ve figured out your method and have your voice down pat. Only then, get your pages out there.

Read More: How to Break Into Screenwriting: Paths to the Profession


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