Writing and directing a short is a potential passageway to creating a full-length feature film.
Aspiring directors use this medium to create a proof of concept on a small budget that can go on to win on the short film festival circuit and be picked up by investors, leading to larger projects and paving the way to a career in Hollywood.
Shorts are not uncommon to be made as proof of concept for a feature film, especially by first-time directors. Multiple Oscar-nominated actor Bradley Cooper, for example, had to prove to the studio heads that he was capable of directing A Star Is Born, also starring Lady Gaga, in 2019 by creating a short.
The box office hit Smile, directed by Parker Finn, is a recent success story of how a short can go on to launch a career. Finn’s short film for Smile initially titled Laura Hasn’t Slept was picked up by Paramount+ after winning the Special Jury Award at the 2020 SXSW Film Festival.
Famous and acclaimed directors such as Wes Anderson, Quentin Tarantino and Paul Thomas Anderson all started with shorts and went on to make the respective cult classics Bottle Rocket, Reservoir Dogs and Boogie Nights early in their careers.
Even Sam Raimi’s cult classic The Evil Dead started out as a 1978 low-budget 32-minute film, Within 7he Woods, starring Bruce Campbell, that influenced the full feature. It has gone on to be one of the most successful horror films of the genre and spawned a trilogy and television series.
Below is a selection of inspiring short films to watch, including those that led to Jared Hess’ Napoleon Dynamite, Taika Waititi’s mockumentary What We Do in the Shadows and Damien Chazelle’s Best Picture Oscar nominee Whiplash.
Marcel the Shell with Shoes On, 2022
Marcel started out as a trilogy of short films in 2010 directed by Dean Fleischer-Camp and voiced by Jenny Slate. The charming mock documentary feature film was released in 2021 that followed the curious life of Marcel as it tries to figure out the mystery of how their community disappeared sparking interest from the public to find out where they ended up.
Brian and Charles, 2022
Director Jim Archer created the 13-minute short in 2017 about a lonely Welsh farmer who creates an excitable robot named Charles and eventually released the full feature in 2022.
Shiva Baby, 2020
Director Emma Seligman directed the short in 2018 with actress Rachel Sennott who attends a shiva with her parents and awkwardly runs into her sugar daddy which results in a hilarious film that deals with unlikeable relatives at family events.
Thunder Road, 2018
Director Jim Cummings 13 minute short premiered at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival, winning the Short Film Grand Jury Prize. Cummings wrote, directed, and starred in the 2018 feature of the same title that won the SXSW Grand Jury Award.
Pixels is a 2010 French animated short film written and directed by Patrick Jean. It is about an invasion of New York City by classic 8-bit video game characters and would go on to be directed by Chris Columbus in 2015 as a full length feature starring Adam Sandler Kevin James and Michelle Monaghan.
Damien Chazelle directed the 18-minute short film in 2013 that originally featured actor Johnny Simmons who would be replaced by Miles Teller in the 2014 feature film.
What We Do in the Shadows, 2014
The 2005 short film What We Do in the Shadows: Interviews with Some Vampires, became the inspiration for the mockumentary film that would be made 9 years later and directed by Taika Waititi and Jemaine Clement. The 28-minute short is accurate in portrayal and inspiration to the full-length feature of 3 vampires living together in a flatshare in Wellington, New Zealand.
The Babadook, 2014
The short film Monster was released by Jennifer Kent in 2004 that would go on to be a film festival hit and allow to her expand on the story and develop it into a full feature. The Babadook is now considered a queer cult character and icon in horror.
This Is the End, 2013
Jay and Seth Versus the Apocalypse is the short released in 2007 that would eventually become the star-studded feature, This is the End released in 2013 stars Seth Rogen, Jay Baruchel, Jonah Hill, Danny McBride, and Craig Robinson trapped in James Franco’s home as the world around them descends into the apocalypse.
Tim Burton’s original short for Frankenweenie was released. in 1984 starring Shelley Duvall, Daniel Stern and Barret Oliver who portrayed Victor whose pet dog Sparky is hit by a car and he decides to bring him back to life. The film was released in 2012 as an animated feature with a new cast starring Winona Ryder, Catherine O’Hara and Martin Short.
District 9, 2009
Neill Blomkamp directed the 2005 short mockumentary-style film about an outcast alien species populating a shanty town in South Africa that was very reminiscent of the apartheid era. The short grabbed the attention of Peter Jackson who would go on to produce the feature, District 9, and starred Sharlto Copley, David James and Jason Cope. The film was nominated in 2010 for 4 Academy Awards including the Best Motion Picture category.
Inland Empire, 2006
David Lynch released the short Rabbits in 2002 about three rabbits that live a fearful mystery of a monotonous existence in a nameless city, deluged by continuous rain. Lynch evokes his classic style of building tension with mechanical sounds and crafted sets in the 42-minute short that would inspire the feature Inland Empire starring Laura Dern, Jeremy Irons and Justin Theroux.
Napoleon Dynamite, 2004
The 2003 short film Peluca on which Napoleon Dynamite was based, shows a day in the life of super nerd Seth, starring Jon Heder, skipping school with his two friends, picking up a winning lottery ticket, and thrift shopping. Director Jared Hess made the proof of concept for the film which would go on to be a cult classic.
Director James Wan directed the 10-minute short in 2003 about an orderly at a hospital telling his horror story of being kidnapped and forced to play Jigsaw’s twisted game of survival. The feature film would be released in 2004 and span a franchise of 9 successful Saw films.
Boogie Nights, 1997
Paul Thomas Anderson based his feature Boogie Nights on his mockumentary short, The Dirk Diggler Story which he wrote and directed made as a 17-year-old in high school. Mark Walhberg would go on to star as Dirk alongside Julianne Moore, Burt Reynolds, John C. Reilly, Don Cheadle, Heather Graham, and Philip Seymour Hoffman.
Hard Eight, 1996
Another of Paul Thomas Anderson’s shorts Cigarettes & Coffee released in 1993 tells the story of five people connected through a $20 bill. Anderson later used it as a basis for his directorial debut film Hard Eight in 1996.
Bottle Rocket, 1996
Wes Anderson directed the 14-minute short film in 1994 as proof of concept for the dysfunctional characters Dignan and Anthony who plan to a robbery with the marijuana-growing friend, Bob.
True Romance, 1993
True Romance directed by Tony Scott and written by Quentin Tarantino was originally inspired by Tarantino’s amateur film My Best Friend’s Birthday made in 1987. The film was partially destroyed by a fire that was originally 70 minutes long and was cut to 36 minutes that tells the story of Mickey and his friend Clarence who is trying to throw his friend an unforgettable birthday. The full feature in 1993 would go on to star Christian Slater and Patricia Arquette.
Reservoir Dogs, 1992
The 12-minute short film directed by Quentin Tarantino was made with the help of the Sundance Film institute and served as a proof of concept for the feature film.
Fatal Attraction, 1987
In 1979 James Dearden wrote and directed the short film Diversion which tells the story of a married man who has a one-night stand that propels him into a troubling situation. The short was renamed Fatal Attraction starring Michael Douglas and Glenn Close and it became a cult classic film garnering six Oscar nominations in 1987.
THX 1138, 1971
Electronic Labyrinth: THX-1138 4EB is George Lucas’ 1967 social science-fiction short film that was made while he attended the University of Southern California’s film school. The short made into the feature fim THX 1138.
Subscribe to Deadline Breaking News Alerts and keep your inbox happy.