Sometimes the big picture starts small.
Though most feature films begin as a screenplay, a few started out as movies - albeit small ones.
A filmmaker will discover that a story explored in a short film has potential for a feature treatment. Sometimes the complexity of the themes dictates an expansion, sometimes a character merits further exploration and sometimes there is just more story to be told. Here are a few notable examples:
12 MONKEYS (1995): Director Terry Gilliam's inspiration for this time-travel tale came from an experimental art film produced in France in the early 1960s. The short, La Jete, features many of the same story points as 12 Monkeys but approaches them in a very different way. The French film progresses slide-show style, using carefully composed still photographs and a voice-over narration.
OFFICE SPACE (1999): This satire of cubicle culture from Mike Judge actually began as an animated short produced for Saturday Night Live. Although only two of the film's characters, the loathsome boss Lumbergh and the harried Milton, appear in the short, the concept of the workplace as limbo is clearly defined.
THX 1138 (1971): The film that Star Wars auteur George Lucas made his bones with was originally produced as a student short titled Electronic Labyrinth THX 1138 4EB. Originally a sort of surveillance/chase story, some of the feature-length version's more Orwellian aspects were added after Mr. Lucas decided to revisit the project.
SLING BLADE (1996): The opening moments of this film, which feature a journalist interviewing the long-institutionalized Karl Childers, are based on director Billy Bob Thornton's earlier short feature. All that transpires afterward, the tragic arc of Karl's post-release existence, was added for the feature film.
BOTTLE ROCKET (1996): The original Wes Anderson and Owen Wilson short film was really more of a storytelling sketch, a spare outline, of this comic caper film. Though some of the character and tone are evident in the short version, made two years before the feature-length Bottle Rocket, it's still interesting to see what time, effort, and money can accomplish.
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