Starting Small: Ten Notable Shorts That Became Features

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

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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.

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Documentary Now! Robert Evans Mansion

The Reel Deal

Everything You Need To Know About “Mr. Runner Up” Inspiration Robert Evans

Watch the two-part finale of Documentary Now! this Wednesday at 10P on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection

In its upcoming two-part finale, Documentary Now! spoofs the crown jewel of docs: The Kid Stays In The Picture. It’s the autobiographical documentary about Robert Evans, the unlikely Hollywood mogul whose mix of self-aggrandizing bravado, classic good looks and extremely circumstantial good luck took him from being a salesman to an actor to the head of Paramount Pictures.

If you’ve never seen the film, it’s totally worth it. Rotten Tomatoes agrees, with a staggeringly-high approval rating. Watch it before, or watch it after — doesn’t matter. You’ll appreciate it whenever.

In the meantime, here’s a bit of background that will come in handy…

Robert Loves Robert

Robert Evans desk

USA Films/Everett Collection

Robert Evans is the ultimate Robert Evans fan. The movie was narrated by Robert Evans and based on his memoir of the same name. It is totally unbiased.

He’s Kind Of A Big Deal

Robert Evans, Chinatown
Paramount Pictures

Evans produced some of Hollywood’s true classics: Chinatown, Rosemary’s Baby, The Godfather, Love Story…the list goes on. Totally legit and amazing movies.

He’s Also Kind Of A Joke

Wag The Dog
New Line Cinema

Evans has been parodied in TV shows and movies like Entourage and Wag The Dog. He is the quintessential “producer” you already have in your head.

So Wrong He’s Right

Robert Evans Slap
20th Century Film Corp

Robert Evans is a notorious narcissist whose love of self is so blind and sincere that it’s actually adorable.

There’s Something Missing

via Giphy

Entire sections of Robert Evans’ life are left out of the documentary. Maybe it’s because of timing. Maybe it’s because real life isn’t a tidy narrative. Who knows.

He Blew It

Spider coke

Evans had a pretty spectacular fall from grace. He was convicted of cocaine trafficking in the early 80’s, and was connected to a contract killing during the production of The Cotton Club. Oops.

Losing Is For Losers

Everett Collection
Everett Collection

In the Robert Evans mythology, all tragedies are just triumphs in disguise, and every story has a happy ending…for Robert Evans.

Bill Hader Jerry Wallach

With these simple facts in hand you are now prepared to thoroughly enjoy the two-part finale of Documentary Now! starting this Wednesday at 10/9c on IFC.

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Weird Roles

Anthony Michael Hall’s Most Rotten Movies

Catch Anthony Michael Hall in Weird Science on Friday at 8P on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Universal/Everett Collection

Anthony Michael Hall was the quintessential ’80s nerd. We love him in classics like The Breakfast Club and National Lampoon’s Vacation. But even the brainiest among us has his weak spots. In honor of Weird Science airing this Rotten Friday, we analyze Hall’s worst movies.

Weird Science (1985) 56%

A low point for John Hughes, Weird Science is way too wacky for its own good. Anthony Michael Hall’s Gary and his pal Wyatt (Ilan Mitchell-Smith) create the “perfect woman.” Supernatural chaos ensues. The film costars a young Bill Paxton, floppy disks, and a general disconnect from all reality.

The Caveman’s Valentine (2001) 46%

This ambitious drama starring Samuel L. Jackson couldn’t live up to its rich premise. Jackson plays Romulus, a Juilliard-educated, paranoid schizophrenic who lives in a cave. Hall co-stars as Bob, a rich man, who wants to see Romulus play the piano. The plot centers around Romulus investigating a murder, but with so much going on, the movie never quite finds its rhythm.

All About the Benjamins (2002) 30%

Ice Cube plays a bounty hunter who teams up with Mike Epps’ con man to catch diamond thieves. Hall plays Lil J, a small-time drug dealer. It’s definitely a role we’ve never seen Hall in, but overall the movie isn’t funny or original enough to justify its violence.

Freddy Got Fingered (2001) 11%

This showcase for Tom Green’s goofy gross-out comedy is often hailed as one of the worst films of all time. Green plays Gord, a 20-something slacker, who dreams of having his own animated series. Hall is Dave Davidson, a CEO of an animation studio who eventually helps Gord find success. Too bad Tom Green wasn’t so lucky.

Johnny Be Good (1988) 0%

Hall plays against type as Johnny Walker, a star quarterback. Robert Downey Jr. is his best friend and Uma Thurman plays his devoted girlfriend. Despite the support of a future A-list cast, the movie lacks central conflict and charm. Or, as TV Guide put it, “Johnny be worthless.” Ouch.

Catch the “Too Rotten to Miss” Weird Science this Friday at 8P on IFC.

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Season 6: Episode 1: Pickathon

Binge Fest

Portlandia Season 6 Now Available On DVD

The perfect addition to your locally-sourced, artisanal DVD collection.

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End of summer got you feeling like:

Portlandia Toni Screaming GIF

Ease into fall with Portlandia‘s sixth season. Relive the latest exploits of Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein’s cast of characters, including Doug and Claire’s poignant breakup, Lance’s foray into intellectual society, and the terrifying rampage of a tsukemen Noodle Monster! Plus, guest stars The Flaming Lips, Glenn Danzig, Louis C.K., Kevin Corrigan, Zoë Kravitz, and more stop by to experience what Portlandia is all about.

Pick up a copy of the DVD today, or watch full episodes and series extras now on IFC.com and the IFC app.

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