12 Early Short Films By Famous Hollywood Directors

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By Scott Meslow

If last weekend's number one movie, Mama — in which two adopted children are beset by a malevolent creature they call Mama — sounds familiar, it may be because you first encountered the film in its original three-minute short form when it was released in 2008. (Watch the original short version of Mama below.) On the strength of the three-minute version, Guillermo del Toro (of Pan's Labyrinth fame) tapped director Andres Muschietti to expand the short into a full-length film of the same name. But Muschietti is hardly the first director to cut his teeth on self-produced shorts before moving up to a big directing gig. Here, 12 early short films by famous Hollywood directors. (Warning: Some videos may contain strong language.)

1. What's a Nice Girl Like You Doing in a Place Like This? (1963) 
Directed by Martin Scorsese (Goodfellas, The Departed, Hugo)

As an NYU film student, Martin Scorsese made a series of well-received short films — including The Big Shave, a darkly satirical indictment of the Vietnam War — but the most accessible is this briskly paced short, which tells the story of a man who becomes obsessed with a picture on his wall.

2. Six Men Getting Sick (1966) 
Directed by David Lynch (Blue Velvet, Mulholland Drive, Inland Empire)

David Lynch's unsettling style, a trademark of his mature work, first made its appearance in a number of early short films — but none more so than Six Men Getting Sick, which is more or less what it sounds like.

3. Vincent (1982) 
Directed by Tim Burton (Edward Scissorhands, Alice in Wonderland, Frankenweenie)

Like David Lynch, Tim Burton seems to have emerged as a filmmaker fully formed in his early work. Vincent is a beautifully executed, delightfully twisted stop-motion short that gleefully pays homage to the classic horror films that have inspired so much of Burton's oeuvre.

4. The Discipline of D.E. (1982) 
Directed by Gus Van Sant (Good Will Hunting, Milk, Promised Land)

The ever-ambitious Gus Van Sant offered a powerful early film in this black-and-white adaptation of William S. Burroughs' story of the same name from his 1973 collection Exterminator! In order to get permission from Burroughs to make the film, Van Sant simply visited his apartment after finding his address in the telephone book.

5. Luxo Jr. (1986) 
Directed by John Lasseter (Toy Story, A Bug's Life, Cars 2)

This John Lasseter short, which follows two desk lamps as they play with a ball, was the first CGI-animated movie to be nominated for an Oscar (for Best Animated Short Film). In homage to Luxo Jr.'s success, Pixar has featured a hopping lamp in its logo ever since.

6. My Best Friend's Birthday (1987)
Directed by Quentin Tarantino (Pulp Fiction, Kill Bill, Django Unchained)

Quentin Tarantino directed, cowrote, and starred in this 70-minute amateur film, which took four years to complete. But fate had something else in store for the budding director: Half of the film was lost in a fire that broke out during the editing process, resulting in the incomplete 36-minute cut that remains.

7. Geometria (1987) 
Directed by Guillermo del Toro (Blade II, Pan's Labyrinth, Hellboy II: The Golden Army)

There's a reason that Guillermo del Toro remains so supportive of filmmakers like Andres Muschetti — he also got his start in short films, including this strange specimen, in which a high school student turns to black magic in order to pass a math exam.

8. Mae Day: The Crumbling of a Documentary (1992) 
Directed by Kevin Smith (Clerks, Dogma, Red State)

When Kevin Smith's student documentary on transsexual performer Mae Day fell apart before completion, he and co-director Scott Mosier came up with an ingenious solution — turning their existing footage into a short documentary about how they had failed to make a documentary.

9. Bottle Rocket (1994) 
Directed by Wes Anderson (The Royal Tenenbaums, The Fantastic Mr. Fox, Moonrise Kingdom)

Director Wes Anderson catapulted himself and stars Owen and Luke Wilson to Hollywood fame with the 13-minute short version of Bottle Rocket, which they reworked into a feature-length film in 1996.

10. Doodlebug (1997) 
Directed by Christopher Nolan (The Dark Knight, Inception, The Dark Knight Rises)

Before trying his hand at feature-length independent filmmaking with 1998's Following, Christopher Nolan made this surreal three-minute short, in which a man races around his decrepit apartment, trying to catch the "doodlebug" of the film's title.

11. Gulp (2001) 
Directed by Jason Reitman (Juno, Up in the Air, Young Adult)

Jason Reitman's quirky directorial sensibility shines through this short film, in which a young man goes to extreme lengths to save his pet fish when he accidentally puts it into fresh water instead of salt water.

12. Alive in Joburg (2006) 
Directed by Neill Blomkamp (District 9, Elysium)

Neill Blomkamp's short faux-documentary about extraterrestrials who become refugees in Johannesburg was so well-received that he was tapped to expand it into 2009's critically-adored sleeper hit District 9.

Watch Andres Muschietti's original Mama short: