Starting Small: Ten Notable Shorts That Became Features

Starting Small: Ten Notable Shorts That Became Features (photo)

Posted by on

While some filmmakers spend their entire careers maximizing the succinct pleasures of the short film, others start out by making shorts that they hope will maximize their chances of becoming a feature film director. This week alone will see the feature debuts of two directors who have turned their short films into full-length one — Neill Blomkamp, whose 2005 socially conscious alien invasion tale “Alive in Joburg” has been turned into the Peter Jackson-produced “District 9,” and Paul Solet, whose 2006 horror short “Grace,” about a mother who refuses to give up on her miscarriage has morphed into a feature of the same name starring Jordan Ladd. Here’s a look at ten other notable shorts that got the full feature treatment.

“Bottle Rocket” (1992)
Directed by Wes Anderson

What’s another $4,000 after paying private school tuition? That was probably the pitch made by Wes Anderson and Owen Wilson to their fathers, a year after the two met in a playwriting class at the University of Texas at Austin and decided to pen a script together about a trio of unlikely hoodlums. Similar to the clueless would-be criminals they created — Bob (Robert Musgrave), Anthony (Luke Wilson) and Dignan (Owen Wilson) — Anderson and Wilson scored the initial amount of cash that they asked for from their parents, but only wound up shooting eight minutes of 16mm footage before running out of funds. As a result, the Wilsons’ father contacted family friend and “Paris, Texas” screenwriter L.M. Kit Carson to see if the kids’ work had promise, which led to Carson finding enough money to finance the rest of the 13-minute short, as well as producer Barbara Boyle getting in touch with then-Gracie Films vice president Polly Platt. The short got into Sundance in 1993, and though the unusually rhythmic patter of the characters didn’t make much of an impression on audiences in Park City, it got the attention of Platt’s boss, James L. Brooks, who would ultimately bankroll the feature — which ironically was rejected by Sundance, though there’s no question who got the last laugh.

So What’s Different? Beyond an expansion of the plot, not a whole lot is different except for a jazzier score and that it’s shot in black-and-white.

“Sin City” (2005)
Directed by Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller

While it was never technically released as a short, Robert Rodriguez’s adaptation of Frank Miller’s graphic novel never would’ve happened without the film’s opening scene, which was made long before production started on the feature. That was partly because Rodriguez first wanted to get Miller’s blessing on the project, and figured there was no better way to do so than to show him some footage. So Rodriguez called up his “Faculty” star Josh Hartnett to star opposite Marley Shelton in an adaptation of Miller’s “The Customer is Always Right,” in which a monochromatic Hartnett plays an assassin hired to kill Shelton’s woman in red. On the film’s DVD commentary, Miller relates Rodriguez’s invitation to join him in Austin as they shot the scene, saying Rodriguez told him, “We’ll see how it works out. The worst possible thing is we’ll end up with a cool short little film and part ways. And you know, maybe you’ll agree to do this.” Ten hours later, the shoot was complete and Rodriguez got Miller’s yes. Afterward, the pair used the short to recruit actors for the film by listing their name in the accompanying credits, even if they hadn’t agreed to star in it yet.

So What’s Different? Not a thing.

“The Dirk Diggler Story” (1988)
Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson

In the October 2008 issue of Esquire, writer John H. Richardson did a fairly exhaustive job of piecing together how a high school senior named Paul Thomas Anderson corralled his friends and family to make what would become the inspiration for his second feature, “Boogie Nights.” The gist: with his friend Michael Stein in the lead, Anderson was going to make a mockumentary about the well-endowed porn star Dirk Diggler, based on “Exhausted,” the documentary of real-life porn star John Holmes, featuring interviews with Reed Rothchild (later to be played by John C. Reilly) and a pampered porn producer played by character actor Robert Ridgely, who also had a role in the feature. (Ridgely was a friend of Anderson’s dad, Ernie, who had a prolific career as a TV announcer and would also lend his voice to his son’s short). The short so obsessed Anderson that he used a Diggler quote for his high school yearbook — saying “All I ever wanted was a cool ’78 ‘Vette and a house in the country.”

So What’s Different? Not as much as you’d think, given that Anderson was only 17 when he made it, though having been shot on video, the short doesn’t have Robert Elswit’s lush cinematography to convey a certain elegance to the otherwise déclassé subject matter. Though it’s crude in other ways as well, the general story remains the same, including Diggler’s drug problems and desire to become a musician, though he doesn’t survive a fatal overdose in the end.

“Some Folks Call It A Sling Blade” (1994)
Directed by George Hickenlooper

According to Billy Bob Thornton, this 1994 short shouldn’t be on this list, since he considers the full-length “Sling Blade” as an extension of a monologue he performed as part of his 1986 one-man play “Swine Before Pearls.” But that’s a bit of revisionist history, since Thornton and “Some Folks Call It a Sling Blade” director George Hickenlooper had a falling out after production wrapped on the short about a simpleton who gets released from prison. Thornton has rarely discussed it since. In a 1997 interview with the L.A. Times, he said, “I would have been glad to have talked about the short if George hadn’t badmouthed me all over town,” shortly after he won an Oscar for best screenplay for the feature and MVP Home Entertainment, a video company looking to capitalize on the feature’s success, decided to release the short as a standalone video. Before all the bad blood set in, Hickenlooper and Thornton met after Thornton’s script for “One False Move” was produced and the director cast Thornton in a small part in the Civil War horror film “Ghost Brigade,” followed by a three-day shoot for “Some Folks” in the same Simi Valley hospital where “Terminator 2″ was shot.

So What’s Different? For starters, the use of black-and-white skews the tone of the film and Thornton’s Karl Childers character towards a completely darker tone. Molly Ringwald plays a reporter who interviews the murderer on the day of his release in a role that was later inhabited by Kathy Sue Brown — the idea of the interview proved to be a leaping off point for the feature, which made Childers far more sympathetic.

“Peluca” (2003)
Directed by Jared Hess

Before he became Napoleon Dynamite, Jon Heder was Seth, an eccentric teen who comes to the rescue when his friend’s cousin gets a bad haircut, putting down his ninja books long enough to find the perfect wig. Heder actually was dabbling in animation when his BYU classmate Jared Hess cast him in the short, which was based in part on his childhood exploits in Preston, Idaho. With less than $500 and some black-and-white 16mm film stock, Hess and Heder went back to the land of potatoes to shoot the nine-minute short, which as Hess admits on the commentary track for “Peluca” on the “Napoleon Dynamite” special edition DVD looks especially grainy since he overexposed the film stock by accident. “Peluca” made a splash at Slamdance in 2003, a year before “Dynamite” would hit Sundance in 2004.

So What’s Different? Besides being shot in black and white, Pedro and his cousin Giel would be condensed into simply the Pedro character in the feature and Heder’s Seth would be rechristened “Napoleon Dynamite,” though Heder’s in full-on “Gosh…” mode in the short.

Whats Eating Gilbert Grape

Depp Gets Real

10 Times Johnny Depp Was Great Without Makeup

Catch IFC's Nightmare on Elm Street movie marathon Friday, November 20th starting at 6P ET/PT.

Posted by on
Photo credit: Everett Digital

Ever since Johnny Depp reached teen idol status as a pretty boy cop on the late ’80s TV show 21 Jump Street, he’s made a career of seeking out film roles that he could disappear into. In most of his career-defining films — like Edward Scissorhands, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and the Pirates of Caribbean series — Depp has proven to be one quirky chameleon. For his fans that may have forgotten what he actually looks and sounds like, here are 10 times Johnny Depp was great without makeup.

10. A Nightmare on Elm Street

Depp was one of the sleep-deprived teens in the original A Nightmare on Elm Street, and his character isn’t remembered for rocking a half shirt or being sufficiently freaked out by Freddy. Depp, who played the boyfriend to Heather Langenkamp’s Nancy, is remembered for being killed in glorious, horror film fashion. As Freddy’s glove springs through his bed, Depp awakens to get sucked in before blood shoots out at the ceiling like a geyser. Depp played a part in one of the greatest moments from the Nightmare on Elm Street series, except for once the other guy in the scene was buried underneath makeup.

9. Platoon

In another pre-21 Jump Street role before he became a household name, a young Depp was cast as “Gator” Lerner, one of the members of the platoon in Oliver Stone’s Vietnam War classic. In a blink-and-you’ll-miss-him role, which Stone cut down to be even smaller, Depp proved he could blend into an ensemble. It was one of the few times a Johnny Depp performance could be described as “subtle.”

8. What’s Eating Gilbert Grape

After wowing audiences by believably portraying an outsider with scissors for hands and a knack for landscaping in Edward Scissorhands, Depp began a string of acclaimed dramatic roles in the early ’90s. Unlike quirkfests like Benny & Joon and Don Juan DeMarco, What’s Eating Gilbert Grape allowed Depp to play a relatable, not-so-out-of-the-ordinary twentysomething meandering through everyday life. In a movie where Leonardo DiCaprio received the lion’s share of the acclaim for his quirky portrayal of the always dirty, mentally challenged Arnie Grape, Depp gave a noteworthy, understated performance in the titular role that sets the tone for this highly likeable film.

7. Donnie Brasco

In this acclaimed crime thriller, Johnny Depp had his own undercover cop Serpico role that pitted him against the legendary Al Pacino in some highly charged dramatic moments. Depp’s character is based on the real life Joe Pistone, an undercover FBI agent who infiltrates the Mob. If you’re going to be playing someone who learns the ropes of the gangster life, you can’t do better than Pacino, and the duo have genuine chemistry. Depp’s Donnie Brasco battles his own conscience and allegiances as he loses himself in the Mafia world.

6. Chocolat

As Jason Segel’s character in I Love You Man said, it’s hard to argue that the cinematic bon bon Chocolat is “just delightful.” There’s a sweet (pun intended) tone to this adult fairytale of a film, and both Depp and Juliette Binoche play off each other well. Their flirty scenes fit the sweetness that Binoche’s chocolate shop begins to bring to the repressed French town she arrives in with her daughter. In Chocolat, Depp puts on the European charm as a suave traveler who falls for the effortlessly beautiful Binoche and for once he doesn’t chew scenery like so much delicious chocolate, er, “chocolat.”

5. Secret Window

In Secret Window, which is based on a Stephen King novella, all Johnny Depp plays a disturbed writer holed up in a remote cabin. Like Misery, Secret Window has the brand of psychological thrills that we’ve come to expect from King. Depp’s Mort Rainey is accosted by a stranger, played by John Turturro, who claims he stole his manuscript. It is Turturro who plays it creepy with the over-the-top accent, but by the end of this thriller the audience is taken on a ride into Depp’s own madness. Secret Window is classic King, and proof that Depp is due for a return to psychological horror.

4. Dead Man

Depp gives an understated performance in Jim Jarmusch’s moody Western where for once he’s the one reacting to the quirky characters. (It’s hard to be the “head quirk” in a film boasting cameos from Crispin Glover, Iggy Pop and Billy Bob Thornton.) An underrated film in Depp’s canon, and a good showcase for his deadpan comedic timing.

3. Once Upon a Time in Mexico

Once Upon a Time in Mexico is the final movie in the Robert Rodriguez-directed El Mariachi trilogy, and it lives up to the over-the-top action, gunfire and general baddassery of its predecessors. Johnny Depp’s CIA agent character Sheldon Sands steals every scene he’s in, creating one of his funniest and most likeably devious performances. You can’t take your eyes off of Depp, as his character becomes more entertaining after losing his.

2. Ed Wood

Even Depp’s most hardcore detractors have to admit that he gave one his funniest and richest performances as Z-movie director Ed Wood. In one of his least mannered and overtly “quirky” collaborations with director Tim Burton, Depp puts his stamp on a real person without creating an over-the-top caricature. His scenes with Martin Landau, who won an Oscar for his portrayal of horror icon Bela Lugosi, are some of the best work Depp has done in his long career.

1. Finding Neverland

After his comically on-point role in Once Upon a Time in Mexico, Depp brilliantly took on as opposite a part as he could the following year, portraying famed Scottish author and playwright J.M. Barrie in this acclaimed drama. If you’re looking for the definitive great Depp performance where he’s not relying on make-up or a cartoonish wig to help bring his character to life, you’ve found it. (Even his Scottish accent is understated here.) Depp seamlessly embodies the Peter Pan creator with childlike imagination, as he forms a bond with Kate Winslet’s Sylvia Llewelyn Davies and her four sons. The chemistry between Depp and Freddie Highmore, as the real life Peter, is so heartwarming, even Captain’s Hook and Sparrow would get emotional in the scene where the two sit on a bench as Barrie comforts the boy after the loss of his mother.

This Week

This Week on IFC: Judy Greer Visits CBB, Benders Sobers Up and Gigi Strips Down

The fun starts Thursday, October 15th, starting at 10P.


Posted by on

This week on an all-new Benders, Paul (Andrew Schulz) decides it’s time to renounce beer and give the sober life a whirl. There’s a first time for everything, right? And if it gives him a chance to one up Anthony (Chris Distefano) in a new hockey division, that’s even better. Meanwhile, Karen (Lindsey Broad) hosts a book club and it goes about as well as you’d expect. Who knew book clubs don’t have keggers? See what unfolds this Thursday, October 15th, starting at 10P.

video player loading . . .

Then on Gigi Does It, everyone’s new favorite bubby decides it’s time to tackle her body image issues. And what better way than to volunteer to pose nude for a local art class? Brace yourself for Gigi’s inner (and outer) beauty Thursday at 10:30P.

video player loading . . .

Finally, Jurassic World and Married star Judy Greer stops by Comedy Bang! Bang! to show off the unique auditioning skills that have helped her to score roles in every movie and TV show. Plus, Kid Cudi gets into a hockey rivalry. Maybe a Benders crossover is in his future? Find out by tuning into Comedy Bang! Bang! in its NEW TIME SLOT, Thursday at 11P

video player loading . . .
Home for the Holidays

Pass the Dysfunction

10 Thanksgiving Movies to Be Thankful For

Gorge on IFC's four-day Sweatsgiving Marathon this Thanksgiving Day Weekend.

Posted by on
Photo Credit: Everett Collection

There’s a movie for every holiday (well, maybe not Arbor Day), but Thanksgiving has more than its share. There’s something about a family coming together around an overloaded table that makes for gripping drama and hilarious comedy. Before you tuck into IFC’s Sweatsgiving marathon weekend, take a look at our picks for the best Turkey Day movies of all time. They’re far tastier than Aunt Bertha’s leftover three-bean casserole.

10. ThanksKilling

This ultra low-budget horror comedy about a killer Turkey is the perfect NSFW antidote to heartwarming holiday treacle. Fans of the film’s so-bad-its-good charms helped Kickstart a sequel, ThanksKilling 3. What happened to ThanksKilling 2? Guess the killer turkey ate the print.

9. The Ice Storm

Key parties, family secrets and Nixon masks all converge in one particularly eventful Thanksgiving weekend in Ang Lee’s searing look at dysfunctional families in the turbulent days of the early ’70s. And you thought your post-dinner family games of Trivial Pursuit were tense.

8. Pieces of April

Katie Holmes broke free from her teen drama roots with this indie flick about a young urban misfit who invites her straight-laced suburban family to a big city Thanksgiving dinner. An underrated comedy about the importance of families (be they urban or biological) that also answers the age-old holiday question: canned or fresh cranberry sauce?

7. Tadpole

What is it with Thanksgiving and quasi-incest comedies? 2002’s Tadpole tells the tale of Oscar Grubman, a hyper-intelligent high school boy who has a crippling crush on his stepmother. When he goes home for Thanksgiving, this Oedipal nightmare gets transferred onto a horny cougar chiropractor, and things rapidly spin out of control. A general rule of thumb for the holidays: keep it in your pants, particularly when family is involved.

6. Scent Of A Woman

Al Pacino comes dangerously close to the edge of self-parody in his iconic role as blind ex-Army Ranger Frank Slade, but also scored a Best Actor win in the process. Chris O’Donnell plays the college student who is hired to take care of Slade over Thanksgiving break and finds himself dragged along on an adventure that includes a stop by his brother’s house for a Turkey Day dinner that goes wildly out of control. Hoo-hah! Pass the gravy.

5. The House Of Yes

This psychologically twisted 1997 black comedy helped make Parker Posey a star. She plays “Jackie-O” Pascal, a mentally disturbed young woman who joins her family at their ritzy Virginia estate for Thanksgiving. As a hurricane bears down on the area, Jackie proceeds to go further and further off the rails, capped off by an incestuous encounter with her own brother while they role-play the JFK assassination. With a strong cast and a wickedly sharp script, The House of Yes goes down like a slice of pumpkin pie with a whiskey chaser.

4. The War At Home

This underrated 1996 drama tackled some pretty tough subjects. Jeremy Collier (played by Emilio Estevez, who also directed) is a Vietnam vet back home and dealing with PTSD. Martin Sheen plays his dad, who doesn’t understand that his son came back a little changed. It all comes to a head at the family’s Thanksgiving dinner, where Jeremy pulls a gun on his dad because he wouldn’t loan him the cash he needed to flee the draft. The fact that Estevez and Sheen are father and son in real life only adds to the film’s dramatic tension.

3. Home for the Holidays

Few films capture the mix of dysfunction and warmth that comes with Thanksgiving better than Jodie Foster’s 1995 comedy. Holly Hunter and Robert Downey, Jr. are perfectly cast as a brother and sister weathering uptight siblings, kooky aunts and other family drama with sharp humor and lump-in-your throat tearful moments. We’re not crying. Mom must be cooking her famous onion soup.

2. Hannah and Her Sisters

Widely considered one of the best films in Woody Allen’s vast filmography, Hannah and Her Sisters charts the lives of three very different sisters over the course of three separate Thanksgivings. The holiday serves as a backdrop that reminds us of the ties that bind and also tear us down.

1. Planes, Trains And Automobiles

No movie captures the ups and downs of Thanksgiving quite like this John Hughes classic. Steve Martin plays Neal Page, a high-strung marketing suit who gets paired with John Candy’s slobby salesman Del Griffith as they both try to get back to Chicago in time for the holiday. Hughes was a master of tapping into some very American emotions, and the movie’s climax — where (spoiler alert!) Neal realizes Del has nowhere to go and invites him to come to dinner with his family — is a touching moment that in lesser hands would come off as maudlin.


Benders Tonight

5 Ways to Get Ready For Tonight’s All-New Benders

Catch Benders tonight at 10P on IFC

Posted by on

Thank Chubbys it’s Thursday! Follow these tips for preparing for tonight’s brand new Benders if you want to end the week in style.

1. Throw a Chickenpox Party.

video player loading . . .

Beer helps cure chicken pox, right?

2. Get Your Flu Shot.

video player loading . . .

Just a friendly reminder that it’s cold and flu season. You don’t want to empty the contents of your stomach during your next game of floor hockey like poor Sebalos. Serious party foul, bro.

3. Recruit Some Friends

video player loading . . .

Get your friends on Team Uncle Chubbys with this recruitment video.

4. Practice the “What up, bro?” Move.

video player loading . . .

Your bros will never know what hit them.

5. Prepare for The Force to Awaken in You.


There is no try when it comes to chugging beer. Do like the Benders or do not.

Powered by ZergNet