Over the last several years, I’ve served as a Juror for both the Heartland Film Festival and the 168 Hour Film Project, so I’ve had a chance to screen at least a hundred original short and feature-length narrative films by new or aspiring filmmakers looking to make a big impression.
Some of those projects have been amazingly well-made films on very modest budgets, and have served as terrific calling cards for those filmmakers as they seek to get their first break in Hollywood.
But every once in a blue moon, an original short film explodes onto the scene with such creative ferocity that their young creators have their tickets immediately punched into the Hollywood big leagues. My friend Scott Derrickson did that with his brilliant short film Love in the Ruins a dozen or so years ago as his USC Cinema School graduate project. That film was his contemporary adaptation of C.S. Lewis’ Screwtape Letters and it immediately opened doors. Scott has since gone on to write and direct several big studio features, including Hellraiser: Inferno, Urban Legend: Final Cut, The Exorcism of Emily Rose, a remake of The Day the Earth Stood Still, and his newest “found footage” project Sinister now in pre-production.
Four years ago, South African CG Animator Neill Blomkamp created the stunning short Alive in Joburg which you can see here. That short so impressed Lord of the Rings director-producer Peter Jackson that he used his influence and Showbiz juice to help Blomkamp turn his idea into the successful international sci-fi hit District 9. That film went on to earn over $200 million worldwide.
And now, two years later, Uruguayan director Fede Alvarez‘ short sci-fi film Panic Attack has found the same trajectory as Blomkamp’s work. That film so blew away horror film maven Sam Raimi that he attached Alvarez to write and direct his $14 million remake of The Evil Dead.
I talk to so many young filmmakers who are deeply frustrated because they can’t seem to break through the vast layer of cultural noise wrought on all of us by the digital revolution and by You Tube (just because you can [afford cheap digital gear] make a movie, doesn’t mean you should if you don’t have the gift). They can’t seem to grab that bottom rung on the ladder to legitimate Hollywood opportunity.
I challenge them (and you) to watch both Alive in Joburg and Panic Attack. This is how you break into the business. You have to storm your way in with such formidable creative prowess and energy that they can’t turn you away. Watch these two short films and tell me I’m wrong.