11 Short Films That Launched Directors' Careers

by Derek Silvers - updated on July 2, 2016

Great directors aren't made in a day. They often get their start by directing shorts as a kind of resume to show they can handle features.  (Also, if you're about to shoot a short film, don't miss our Short Film Grant Program.)

Here are the shorts that launched the careers of some great directors.

"Electronic Labyrinth THX 1138 4EB" (1967) George Lucas

George Lucas made this sci-fi short as a student at USC. It later won first prize in the drama category of the National Student Film Festival, where it caught the attention of a young Steven Spielberg. Lucas expanded the short into a feature starring Robert Duvall.

"Alive in Joburg" (2004) Neill Blomkamp

Neil Blomkamp got his start as a visual effects artist for advertisements and music videos. That explains the impressive special effects in this short. When Peter Jackson watched it, he hired Blomkamp to direct an adaptation of Halo. That fell through, but Blomkamp was able to expand "Alive in Joburg" into District 9.

"Milton" (1991) Mike Judge

Office Space characters Milton and Bill Lumbergh were created for this short, which was aired on Saturday Night Live.

"Six Shooter" (2006) Martin McDonagh

Martin McDonagh had already won two Tony awards for The Pillowman, but this Oscar-winning short proved he could work in the cinematic space as well. He would go on to direct In Bruges and Seven Psychopaths.

"Small Deaths" (1996) Lynne Ramsay

This film school thesis short won the Prix du Jury at Cannes.

"Glory At Sea" (2008) Benh Zeitlin

Glory At Sea! from Court 13 on Vimeo. Benh Zeitlin won awards at South-by-Southwest and New Orleans Film Festival with this short. His aesthetic of magical realism in a post-Katrina New Orleans continues in Beasts of the Southern Wild, his feature debut.

"Lick The Star" (1998) Sofia Coppola

Sofia Coppola may be the daughter of Francis Ford Coppola, but she still earned her stripes the old fashioned way:  by making short films like this one.

"Cigarettes & Coffee" (1993) Paul Thomas Anderson

Paul Thomas Anderson was a production assistant on a PBS movie, where he met Phillip Baker Hall. Anderson financed this short with gambling winnings and his girlfriend's credit card. It created a sensation at Sundance. He would later expand the short into Hard Eight, and the rest is history.

"Luxo Jr." (1986) John Lasseter

After Steve Jobs bought Lucasfilm Computer Graphic Group and renamed it Pixar, he gave John Lasseter the job of making a short. It became the first Oscar-nominated 3D animated short, and later gave Pixar its logo.

"Bottle Rocket" (1994) Wes Anderson

Wes Anderson met Owen Wilson in a playwriting class. They wrote the short together. It didn't win any awards at Sundance, but it did make James Brooks fund the feature-film version.

"Frankenweenie" (1984) Tim Burton

Finally, this short by Tim Burton. It was commissioned by Disney, but they fired him after seeing the short's dark tone. Stephen King liked it, though, which caused him to recommend Burton to Paul Reubens. This led to Reubens hiring Burton for Pee-Wee's Big Adventure.   What are some other shorts that launched big directors? Leave us a comment here or on Twitter!

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