From short to feature

Filmmaker Tammy Davis with Darcey-Ray Flavell-Hudson on the set of ‘Ebony Society,’ which has just secured funding for further development toward a feature.


Every filmmaking icon had to start somewhere and short films are a great way for filmmakers to enter the industry. This month, we bring you three captivating short films that inspired the creation of feature films. From sci-fi, to comedy, to drama, these shorts prove that it’s not about budget or genre; a successful short film relies on the passion of the filmmaker and an engaging story.

Short films don’t require a lot of time to watch, they have a very limited duration in order to captivate the attention and interest of the audience. They can also provide filmmakers a way to present their ideas and get noticed in the industry. Alive in Joburg, Peluca and Ebony Society all began with a creative and engaging idea that leaves the audience wanting more; it is no wonder that these thematically rich shorts have laid the groundwork for feature length films. Take a look.

Alive in Joburg (2005)

Alive In Joburg – Neill Blomkamp from Spy Films on Vimeo.

Alive in Joburg was the short film that inspired the feature length, blockbuster hit, District 9. South African-born director, Neill Blomkamp, began his career making short films that showcase computer-generated special effects. Ten years later, he is an internationally recognized name, having directed Elysium (2013), District 9 (2014), and Chappie (2015).

Alive in Joburg is a science fiction short film that employs mockumentary-style conventions to depict aliens in South Africa. The shaky-cam style, poor framing, found footage and use of interviews all work to highlight the growing tension between the civilian population and the extra-terrestrial visitors. While the short is only 6-minutes long, its rich themes touching on apartheid, xenophobia, and social segregation gave plenty of room for development into the subsequent feature film District 9. Neill’s creativity extends into the film, where he re-frames real interview snippets with South Africans regarding their thoughts on black Nigerians and Zimbabweans. This footage is almost indistinguishable from the fictional commentary on the aliens, adding a real, dramatic element to a fictional film.

This film is an inspiration to short film makers with ambitions on the feature-length industry. District 9 was nominated for four Academy Awards, including Best Picture.

Peluca (2002)

Peluca from Slamdance on Vimeo.

Peluca is a comedic short film written and directed by Jared Hess and was produced for an assignment while he was attending university. The entire project had a budget of less than $500 and was shot around Jared’s hometown and high school in Preston, Idaho. Shot on black-and-white 16mm film, the project was completed in less than two days.

Peluca follows Seth as he gets bullied at school and decides to skip the rest of the day with two of his friends. He attempts (and fails) to buy a lotto ticket before heading to the clothing store to buy a wig for Giel (one of his friends).

The short film was later adapted into the 2004 hit then cult classic Napoleon Dynamite. If you’ve had the chance to watch both films, you will have noticed that nearly all of the elements and locations from the initial short are retained in the feature film. Jon Heder plays both Seth in Peluca and Napoleon in the 2004 film, while the characters of Giel and Pedro were combined into Pedro in Napoleon Dynamite.

Interestingly, the short film’s title is the Spanish word for wig. GOSH!

Ebony Society (2012)

Ebony Society featured in the Show Me Shorts Film Festival in 2011 where it won the Best Screenplay Award. It now in development for further exploration in an feature film with the help of a recent successful kickstarter project.

This dramatic short is at times both heartbreaking and heartwarming, following two teenage boys on a night out that ends with them getting more than they signed up for. In their own (adventurously misguided) way the boys try and bring a bit of happiness to their community. Set and filmed in South Auckland, the film confronts the harsh realities of growing up in a place where many are struggling to survive. The story has personal resonance with writer and director, Tammy Davis, who spent half his life growing up in South Auckland.

All of these incredible short films demonstrate the power of a great idea and the dedication of the filmmaker to realize their vision. These shorts all have so much to offer in terms of character development and both socially and culturally engaging thematic content. They leave plenty of room for exploration in following feature films.