mike mills short

We haven’t posted a Big Director Small Films column in quite some time. This has happened for a variety of reasons, but mainly due to the fact that we ran through most of the available short films of the big Hollywood directors. I’m hoping to bring the column back with more of a focus on younger filmmakers, some of which you might recognize, others of which you might not, but all of whom have, at very least, directed a feature film. So yeah, the “Big Directors” part of the column title is not completely accurate anymore, but lets move on…

Mike Mills is a famous New York graphic artist who designed promotional material and album covers for such acts as Beastie Boys, Beck, Sonic Youth, and Ol’ Dirty Bastard. He moved on to directing music videos for such artists as Moby, Yoko Ono and Air, and became a very successful commercial director.

Mills made his feature directorial debut in 2005 with a big screen adaptation of Thumbsucker, a novel by Walter Kirn (also the author of Jason Reitman’s upcoming film adaptation Up in the Air). The film starred Lou Tayloy Pucci, Tilda Swinton, Vincent D’Onofrio, Kelli Garner, Keanu Reeves, and Vince Vaughn, and premiered at the 2005 Sundance Film Festival. Mike received the 2005 Guardian New Directors award at the Edinburgh International film festival. The film was met with moderately positive reviews, but was considered a disappointment by those who had been following Mills’ short films.

Today I would like to share with you Mills’ first short film, Architecture of Reassurance, which tells the story of a young girl who is dissatisfied with life at home, and decides to travel through other residences in her suburban neighborhood. It is a voyeuristic look at the utopian concept of suburban America. The 1999 short features Kelly Garner, Bob Stephenson and Sarah Hagan (before Buffy and Freaks and Geeks). The Architecture of Reassurance played in the 1999 Sundance Film Festival, Edinburgh International Film Festival, Oberhausen short film festival, and The New York Museum of Modern Art’s New Directors New Films.

Watch the short film Architecture of Reassurance embedded after the jump.

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Fantastic Fest Review: Survival of the Dead

Survival of the Dead

When George Romero walked on stage at the Paramount theatre for the introduction to his latest zombie film Survival of the Dead, over 1,000 Fantastic Festers gave the filmmaker not just one, but two standing ovations. If there is any crowd thankful of Romero’s contributions to cinema, it has to be the film fanatics at the Alamo Drafthouse-run genre festival.

And don’t get me wrong, I’m also very grateful of Romero’s body of work, and I’m not going to claim he doesn’t deserve a standing ovation for his past achievements. But I’m getting tired of celebrating Romero’s recent lackluster additions to the Zombie horror subgenre. Romero hasn’t made a good movie since 1985 when the original Day of the Dead was released.
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In 2007 an omnibus film called Chacun son cinema (To Each His Own Cinema) played at festivals. Made to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Cannes Film Festival, the collection featured short films about cinema made by an amazing variety of directors: Takeshi Kitano, Gus Van Sant, Zhang Yimou, Jane Campion, Atom Egoyan and many more. Among those ‘many more’ were Joel and Ethan Coen, who enlisted their recent star Josh Brolin in a three-minute movie called World Cinema. Problem was, World Cinema didn’t show up on either of the DVD releases of Chacun son cinema, making it very difficult to see. (I was lucky enough to see it at Toronto that year.) But now it has found its way onto YouTube, and you should watch it after the break, right now, before it goes away again. Read More »

Steven Spielberg’s first completed 35mm short film is Amblin’. Shot in 1968 with a $15,000 budget, the 26-minute short film resulted in Sid Sheinberg signing Spielberg to a long-term deal at Universal under the Television division. Steven became the youngest director at the time to ever be signed to such a deal by a big Hollywood studio. Amblin won several film festival awards, and later became the name for Spielberg’s production company – Amblin Entertainment.

The film tells the story of a young couple who meet up while hitchhiking across the desert. Many of Spielberg’s unpaid crew members supposedly left the project before the end of the 105+ degree grueling desert shoot. For the most part, the film is silent, accompanied by some sound effects and acoustic guitar. Thanks to /Film reader David for sending this over.

And below you can see a brief excerpt from an interview where Spielberg talks about Amblin at the Cannes Film Festival junket for Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.

Big Directors Small Films: Kurt Kuenne’s Validation

Composer turned filmmaker Kurt Kuenne‘s short film Validation is “a fable about the magic of free parking.” Bones star TJ Thyne stars as Hugh Newman. Some of you might recognize Kurt as the director of one of this year’s best films — a heart wrenching documentary called Dear Zachary (if you haven’t seen it, don’t even read anything about it — just rent it — YOU NEED TO SEE IT). I was originally hesitant to include this short as part of /Film’s Big Directors Small Films series, as I’m afraid not enough people know who Kuenne is yet, but I’m sure thats about to change. Dear Zachary is probably one of this year’s best. Kuenne’s short won a bunch of awards at film festivals across the country. Thanks to /Film reader Andreas C for the tip.

BDSF: Paul Thomas Anderson’s Cigarettes & Coffee

In a previous edition of Big Directors Small Films, we took a look at Paul Thomas Anderson‘s first film, a 1988 short fictional documentary that inspired Boogie Nights titled The Dirk Diggler Story. From there, Paul went on to attend New York University, but quit after only two days of classes. He became a production assistant on a bunch of made for television movies, television game shows and independent film projects. In this time he developed his second serious short film project made up of five vignettes set in a diner with Philip Baker Hall (who later went on to become a PTA regular) and Miguel Ferrer among the cast.

Cigarettes & Coffee premiered at the 1993 Sundance Film Festival, where he gained the attention needed to be accepted into the Sundance Institute’s filmmaker workshop program where he developed, adapted, and expanded the idea into his first feature film — Hard Eight. In this short you can see the early inspiration of Robert Altman, with Anderson cutting between three stories which somehow intersect. Many thanks to /Film reader Kendrick T who submitted the Vimo link over the weekend.

Big Directors Small Films: George Lucas’ 1:42:08

I forgot to post a Big Directors Small Films column over the weekend due to the Thanksgiving distraction, so here is the make-up edition.

Brandon and the Frog found George Lucas‘ University of Southern California thesis film. 1:42:08: A Man and His Car is short film about a race car driver testing his car. Filmed at California’s Willow Springs Raceway in 1966 with a 14-person student film crew, the short film stars Pete Brock and his yellow Lotus 23 race car, which Jalopnik points out, looks kinda like a XP-34 Landspeeder. Wikipedia claims that the film “is a visual tone poem depicting the graphic beauty of a car going at full speed, and the only sound in it is the roar of the car’s engine.” One thing is for sure, the film features some nice cinematography, especially for a student film from that era.

In this week’s edition of Big Directors Small Films, we will take a look at one of the short films of Seth Gordon.

You probably know Gordon as the director of one of 2007’s best films, a documentary called The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters. The filmmaker has since been offered a plate full of feature film projects starting with the Vince Vaughn/Reese Witherspoon romantic comedy Four Christmases (due in theaters on November 26th 2008). Gordon is also signed on to direct Suicide Squad,The Only Living Boy in New York and a fictional adaptation of King of Kong.

[flv:http://bitcast-a.bitgravity.com/slashfilm/trailers/sethgordonpercival.flv 470 196]

But before all that, Gordon made a few short films, the best of which is probably his 2006 film The Problem with Percival (which can be seen above)

“Persnickety nine-year-old Percival Strum misdirects mourning the loss of his older brother into constant conflict with his trying-to-be-helpful grandmother. With his parents away, Percival’s frustrations lead him to hold auditions for and to hire a replacement ‘Gramma’.”

BDSF: James Cameron’s Xenogenesis

This week in Big Directors Small Films, we take a look at the first film from the master filmmaker behind Titanic, True Lies, Terminator, T2, The Abyss and Aliens. Before he pushed the boundaries in Hollywood, James Cameron made a short film titled Xenogenesis. After seeing Star Wars in 1977, Cameron quit his job as a truck driver. Inspired by 2001: A Space Odyssey, Cameron decided to write a 10-minute short science fiction script with two friends.

The film was financed by a group of Dentists seeking a tax write-off, who invested a grand total of $20,000. This was Cameron’s first real attempt at filmmaking. Rumor has it that Cameron spent a half-a-day dismantling the rented 35mm camera package just so he could understand how to run it. Cameron co-wrote, directed, edited, designed the sets and even did all of the camerawork. Self taught in the field, Cameron created most of the special effects himself on the cheap.

Apparently the investors were expecting something more along the liens of Star Wars, and decided to pull out after screening this short 35mm demo. Xenogenesis landed Cameron a Special Effects gig with Roger Corman, under whom he eventually got his directorial debut with Piranha Part Two: The Spawning.

William Wisher, the lead actor in the film, went on to co-write Terminator 2: Judgement Day and have cameos in both of Cameron’s Terminator films, as well as The Abyss.

It is easy to draw comparisons between this short and Cameron’s later work. For instance, the showdown between the two robots (Terminator), one of which is controlled by a single female inside (reminiscent of the scene from Aliens where Ripley uses the power-lifter to fight the queen). Also there is the ever present use of a strong Female lead. It is also interesting to note that Xenogenesis means “birth of an alien species”.

An amusing side note: there is a widespread internet conspiracy theory that claims that “the consortium of dentists” that helped Cameron fund the film were actually a group of Freemasons that hoped to use the “opportunity to use subliminal imagery and emotional manipulation on mass numbers of people and prepare them for an engineered future” and later “would continue to help his career.” Of course, this is all unfounded.

Thanks to /Film reader Dallas T for the recommendation.

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Big Directors Small Films: Jason Reitman’s Gulp

In this week’s edition of Big Directors Small Films we take a look at Jason Reitman‘s 2001 short film Gulp.

Reitman made a huge splash with last year’s Oscar-nominated dramedy Juno, and made his feature filmmaking debut with a big screen adaptation of Thank You For Smoking a few years earlier. Son of director Ivan Reitman, Jason got his start with a series of six short films which won acclaim at various film festivals around the world.

Gulp tells the story of one man’s quest to save his fish. The film stars Jason Carpenter, Mary Jo Smith, Jeff Witzke and Heather Brown. If you look closely, you might even catch Jason’s short cameo as one of the animal clinic pet owners. The film was one of three comedic short films to be co-produced by Atom Films and funded by Ford Motor Company (the, art the time, new Ford Focus is featured prominently on screen).

Gulp was shown at the 2001 Sundance Film Festival, Los Angeles Film festival, US Comedy Arts Festival, Aspen Shorts Fest, Santa Barbara Film Festival, Palm Springs Festival of Shorts, USA Film Festival, Seattle Film Festival, Nashville Film Festival, Cleveland Film Festival, Taos Talking Pictures, Atlanta Film and Video Festival, Nantucket Film Festival, Rehoboth Beach Film Festival, Kansas City Film Festival, Marcos Island Film Festival and a few dozen more festivals worldwide.