Last Saturday, we brought you the trailer for the upcoming supernatural chiller Lights Out. It’s based on a horror short of the same name by filmmaker David F. Sandberg, starring his wife, Lotta Losten, and shot in his own apartment back in 2013. Many millions of You Tube plays later, Sandberg got a gig directing a feature length version of Lights Out under the guidance of producer James Wan. New Line Cinema plans to release the film July 22, “Blockbuster Season”, meaning the studio has great faith in its abilities to perform.
If this isn’t a lesson for aspiring filmmakers, then I don’t know what. While there are examples of features evolving out of short films dating back several decades, it’s becoming an increasingly viable way to break into the film industry. CryptTV is at the forefront of this popular movement; featuring top-notch short films united under their motto “Weird is Good”, they recently surpassed 1 million fans on Facebook.
It probably happens more often than you think: Shorts essentially becoming “proof of concept” demos for quality feature films; below are 10 examples. Some horror heavyweights and even a major franchise began life as shorts. It’s a practice likely to become the norm in our fast-paced digital society, as fans and filmmakers gravitate towards this arena.
Saw (2004), based on Saw (2003)
Shortly after moving to Los Angeles in 2003, the Australian filmmaking duo of writer Leigh Whannell and director James Wan produced a 7-minute short film called Saw (above), which they hoped to develop into a feature film. Not only did the tactic work, the up-and-comers were given an incredible deal that included creative control and 25% of the film’s profits. Released in 2004, Saw went on to spawn 6 (possibly 7?) sequels, video games, and even theme park attractions. No wonder, then, that Wan is eager to give another short filmmaker an opportunity break in by producing Lights Out.
Mama (2013), based on Mamá (2008)
After seeing the short Argentinian film Mamá (above) in 2008, Guillermo de Toro called it: “One of the scariest scenes I’ve ever seen”. Incredibly impressed with writer/director Andrés Muschietti’s abilities, he was enthusiastic to give Mamá the feature film treatment. Mama, released in 2013, became a genre favorite and Muschietti is now a sought-after director; he was recently attached to helm the 2-part adaptation of Stephen King’s IT for New Line Cinema.
Clown (2014), based on Clown (2010)
Jon Watts and Christopher D. Ford made their short film Clown (above) in trailer form to bolster its perception as a future feature film; they included an MPAA rating, as well as logos for Lionsgate and Screen Gems Studios, just to add authenticity. They also included text that claimed: “From the Master of Horror Eli Roth.” Roth had never met Watts and Ford, but the tactic got his attention. Roth told Deadline: “I loved how ballsy they were, issuing a trailer that said, ‘From the Master of Horror Eli Roth.’ They said ‘Thanks for not suing us.’ I really felt these guys deserved a shot.” The rest is history!
Excision (2012), based on Excision (2008)
I’ve been a huge fan of writer/director Richard Bates, Jr. since experiencing his first feature film, Excision, in 2012. While IMDB lists the film as drama/horror, I’ve always described Excision as a horror comedy—with a caveat: Laugh now but cry later. Excision was based on a short film of the same name, also written and directed by Bates. Seeing the story that launched the movie gives some incredible insights into the filmmaker’s intentions; it’s also fascinating to see Excision’s evolution from short into feature. See for yourself (above).
The Babadook (2014), based on Monster (2005)
Written and directed by Jennifer Kent, The Babadook was the breakout horror hit of 2014. Though it wasn’t universally lauded, it’s nonetheless one of the most talked-about and hotly debated genre films of the 21st Century. While The Babadook was Kent’s feature film debut, most fans are unaware that it was inspired by a short she wrote and directed years earlier called Monster (above). Released in 2005 and screened at over 50 film festivals, Monster is clearly a blueprint of The Babadook.
District 9 (2009), based on Alive in Joburg (2005)
Neill Blomkamp’s debut film, District 9, made him one of the most lauded sci-fi practitioners of the 21st Century. His unique vision of a dystopian South Africa populated with refugee camps for wayward aliens, was a success of Blockbuster proportions. This gross and gritty feature began life as a 6-minute short called Alive in Joburg, which Blomkamp produced in 2005. Also filmed documentary style, Alive in Joburg is steeped in the same satirical condemnation of governmental xenophobia and institutionalized racism as its predecessor.
Grace (2009), based on Grace (2006)
Paul Solet’s exasperation of pregnancy anxieties, Grace (released in 2009), is based on the filmmaker’s 2006 short of the same name; the version above includes Solet’s commentary. While reminiscent of landmarks like Rosemary’s Baby and The Exorcist, Solet puts these classic fears into a modern context, certain to rattle millennials. After directing the feature Dark Summer (released in 2015) Solet went back to his roots, producing the short The Weak and the Wicked for the anthology film Tales of Halloween (2015)
Oculus (2014), based on Oculus Chapter 3: The Man with the Plan (2006)
No offense to writer/director Mike Flanagan, but his 30 minute short Oculus Chapter 3: The Man with the Plan (above) proves that 2014’s Oculus (which I enjoyed) could have gone in a much different direction. I found the short to be a singularly intense experience, much more effective and impactful than the feature. Perhaps a case of “more is less”, having the entire film take place in a single room was intensely claustrophobic; the use of a single actor made the descent into madness unbearable. PS: No, there isn’t an Oculus Chapter 1 or Chapter 2; I checked.
Darkness Falls (2003), based on Tooth Fairy (2001)
Directed by Jonathan Liebesman, 2003’s Darkness Falls is based on a wicked 4-minute creeper called Tooth Fairy, written and directed by Joe Harris. Much more whimsical than its predecessor, but just as chilling, it’s used as a mere jumping-off point for the feature; the mythology of a vengeful spirit and a young man returning home to face his demons all comes from screenwriter John Fasano (who produced and directed Rock ‘n’ Roll Nightmare back in 1987).
Trick ‘r Treat (2007), based Season’s Greetings (1996)
Michael Dougherty’s Trick ‘r Treat succeeds on so many levels: It’s one of the best Halloween-themed horror movies of all time, one of the best horror anthologies ever, and a near-perfect horror comedy. The orange-clad, bulbous-headed demonic prankster Sam is one of the most iconic horror villains of the 21st Century. But Sam made his first appearance back in 1996 when Dougherty produced an animated Halloween card (above), where he epitomized the mischievous spirit of horror fans’ favorite holiday.
Today’s horror shorts may just be tomorrow’s biggest Blockbusters. You can follow CryptTV on Facebook for the latest and greatest examples of horror, sci-fi, true-crime, and paranormal shorts from the world’s most innovative emerging filmmakers.
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