Good Things in Small Packages


What do these two directors have in common?  They both started in short films.
What do these two directors have in common? They both started in short films.

This Thursday and Friday, Fresno Filmworks is proud to be presenting The Oscar-Nominated Short Films 2015. For 10 years, Filmworks has screened the best of short films and we are pleased to be continuing a decade of bringing some of the most inventive, original, and touching voices in cinema to Fresno.

Short films are an important way for young filmmakers to find their voice, hone their craft, and gain recognition among peers. Many of the most recognizable names in movies got their start in short films. Some of these shorts were expanded into features and some were left as small snippets of what was to come, showing the beginning point of a path that would shaped American cinema.

Martin Scorsese and “What’s a Nice Girl Like You Doing in a Place Like This?”

Martin Scorsese’s influence on American cinema is so profound that it can actually be hard to pinpoint. With so many iconic films to his credit the director of “Taxi Driver,” “Raging Bull,” and “Goodfellas” has shaped the way we view postwar urban life. His signature viewpoint of melding a large romantic scale with a realistically gritty settings and infusing all of it with his own sense of humor has become a standard trope of modern crime films. Scorsese has filmed so many groundbreaking scenes that it’s hard to pick only one, but a personal favorite of mine is a long take of Ray Liotta and Lorraine Bracco entering a nightclub in “Goodfellas.”


This single shot of a gangster trying to impress his girlfriend with how well connected he is demonstrates Scorsese’s attention to detail and storytelling craft. He uses every tool in his arsenal from lighting, costume design, music, and camera angles to direct the audience’s attention exactly where he wants it at every moment. We too are left breathless and dizzy after being escorted into an impossible to get in to nightclub through the back door.

While a student at NYU, Scorsese directed several highly regarded short films that hinted at the style master to come. His 1963 effort “What’s A Nice Girl Like You Doing in a Place Like This?” shows the same attention to detail that would become one of Scorsese’s hallmarks. This short tells the story of a young man who moves into an apartment and buys a picture on a whim to hang on the wall and then becomes obsessed with it. The story is more whimsical than many of Scorsese’s famous films, but it shows the same attention to detail and film craft. As with “Goodfellas,” Scorsese uses every tool at his disposal to masterfully direct the audience’s attention and emotions where he wants them.

Tim Burton and “Vincent”

Tim Burton is another American original. Perhaps one of the most unusual directors working in mainstream film, Burton has created some of the most iconic imagery in the past 30 years. By embracing a cinematic style of total world building and adding a touch of the macabre at every turn, Burton has created a body of work that would be impossible to confuse with anything else. His 1990 fantasia, “Edward Scissorhands,” is a classic example of Burton’s fascination with fairy-tales and visual storytelling.

The 1982 short film, “Vincent“, shows that Burton was always a filmmaker who knew what he wanted to say and where he wanted to go. This dark little nursery rhyme tells the story of a good little boy named Vincent who desperately wants to be bad. He dreams of emulating his heroes like Edgar Allen Poe and living a twisted life on the dark side. Unfortunately, he is thwarted in his quest by his mother. The style of “Vincent” is surprisingly close to Burton’s later works such as “A Nightmare Before Christmas” and “Corpse Bride,” demonstrating that Tim Burton has always seen the world a little differently.

Fae Giffen studies at San Jose State in the School of Library and Information Science graduate program. She serves on the Filmworks board, working on marketing and development.