Humble Beginnings: Celebrated Films that Began as Shorts

Before Oh Lucy was a feature film, by writer and director Atsuko Hirayanagi, it was a short film that was her thesis project at NYU. Before that, it was just one of many one-sentence plot descriptions she had to write for another class project. The short film was a Short Film Jury Prize winner at Sundance in 2014. Now, in its full-length adaption, it has gained more critical acclaim, including award nominations at Cannes, and earning its lead actress, Shinobu Terajima, an Independent Spirit Award nomination.

Ahead of Friday’s screening of Oh Lucy!, here’s a few films from, now, very accomplished directors, whose early works listed below, began as shorts before becoming celebrated first or second feature-length films.

Bottle Rocket

Wes Anderson‘s very first writing and directing credit, starring two unknown actors, Luke and Owen Wilson. The feature length film was a box office bomb, but did not deter Anderson or either Wilson from achieving great success. Traces of Wes Anderson’s signature style, including his quick and sharp dialogue, are definitely present here, as the groundwork is laid for his eight (in my opinion, all wonderful) films that have followed.

Boogie Nights

While this is Paul Thomas Anderson‘s second feature length film, the short it was based on, was his first directing credit, nine years before the feature’s release. Boogie Nights and his follow-up, released two years later, Magnolia, quickly established PTA as one of our greatest current auteur directors, who would eventually release modern masterpieces The Master and There Will Be Blood.


Damien Chazelle‘s first feature length film, Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench had already made a strong impression with some critics, but was not widely seen. His next project was an 18 minute short, Whiplash starring J.K. Simmons, which would win the Sundance Short Film Jury Prize “for its wicked sense of humor, fantastic ensemble acting and razor sharp directing.” The feature length film Whiplash would earn J.K. Simmons a Best Supporting Actor Oscar and give Damien Chazelle the opportunity to make his next film, La La Land, for which he became the youngest ever winner of the Best Director Oscar at just 32 years old.

Half Nelson

Another Sundance Short Film Jury Prize winner, Ryan Fleck‘s 19 minute short, Gowanus, Brooklyn, was about a young girl who finds her teacher using cocaine. The short featured Shareeka Epps as the student, and she would go on to reprise the role in the feature-length film, Half Nelson, which earned Ryan Gosling a Best Actor Oscar nomination. After following that up with several well-received heartfelt indies, It’s Kind of a Funny Story, Sugar, and Mississippi Grind, Fleck is set to release Marvel’s next big superhero origin, Captain Marvel in 2019. Some readers may recall that Fresno Filmworks presented Half Nelson in November 2006.

Justus Bier-Stanberry serves as Communications Director for Fresno Filmworks.