085. Short to Feature: Navigating the filmmaking transition
Seven creative MVP case studies
As I wrote yesterday’s post, I recalled an argument I heard that making a short film and then making a feature film was like playing ping-pong and then entering Wimbledon – you only learn how to play tennis by playing tennis.
There is some merit to this. A feature film has way more characters and plotlines, and the pacing for exposition, climax, and resolution are very different between the two. Additionally, there’s a world of difference between working with a professional cast and crew vs a couple of your buddies.
However, there are some notable examples of how you can get started in one format and still transition to another.
George Lucas directed a 15-minute film called Electronic Labyrinth: THX 1138 4EB as a film school student that he later adapted into his first feature-length film (THX 1138).
The Russo brothers directed episodes of Arrested Development and Community before being tapped by Marvel Studios to helm Captain America: The Winter Soldier and eventually Infinity War.
They were specifically picked by Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige after he saw their Community paintball episode
The director-duo known as the Daniels (Daniel Kwan + Daniel Scheinert), started off by directing music videos, most famously “Turn Down For What” by Lil Jon. Three years later, they directed Swiss Army Man and then a little movie called Everything Everywhere All at Once.
Jordan Peele had a career in sketch comedy via Mad TV and Key & Peele before directing Get Out in 2017 and is focused exclusively on directing now.
David F. Sandberg uploaded lo-fi horror shorts made in his home in Sweden to YouTube. His feature debut Lights Out was based off one of his shorts that went viral. Three years later, he directed Shazam! for DC Comics.
Mike Judge got his start with his crude (in all meanings of the word) Beavis & Butthead short “Frog Baseball” for MTV. His subsequent work includes King of the Hill, Office Space, Idiocracy, and Silicon Valley.
A 1984 short called The Adventures of André & Wally B was the first step in Pixar’s journey to Toy Story a decade later, the first ever feature-length CGI film.
So it seems that even if short films aren’t a direct match with creating feature films, they provide a lower-risk testing ground for less experienced creators to showcase talent, technology, and concepts. Once the creators are “proven” to some degree, gatekeepers with money (i.e. producers) are then willing to take a chance on them.
And it can be a long, circuitous road to get there. I glossed over the years it took many of these creators to hone their craft in their initial fields to build up a portfolio/connections. The journey is not always straightforward. That long-term mindset is something I’ll have to remember whenever I get impatient with my own progress.
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Coincidentally was produced by the Russo brothers!
He’s still providing amazing behind-the-scenes insights on being a Hollywood director on his YouTube channel.