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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 BillDjango 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: 

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Get Crazy With the Official Bob Ross Coloring Book
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If you watched Bob Ross's classic series The Joy of Painting for hours on end but didn’t come away a terribly capable artist, you can still enjoy replicating the amazing public television personality’s work. You can now pretend you’re painting along with the late, great PBS star using a brand-new adult coloring book based on his art.

The Bob Ross Coloring Book (Universe) is the first authorized coloring book based on Ross’s artistic archive. Ross, who would have turned 75 later this year, was all about giving his fans the confidence to pursue art even without extensive training. “There’s an artist hidden at the bottom of every single one of us,” the gentle genius said. So what better way to honor his memory than to relax with his coloring book?

Here’s a sneak peek of some of the Ross landscapes you can recreate, all while flipping through some of his best quotes and timeless tidbits of wisdom.

An black-and-white outline of a Bob ross painting of a mountain valley

A black-and-white outline of a Bob Ross painting shows a house nestled among trees.

A black-and-white outline of a Bob Ross painting shows a farm scene.

And remember, even if you color outside the lines, it’s still a work of art. As Ross said, “We don’t make mistakes. We just have happy accidents.”

You can find The Bob Ross Coloring Book for about $14 on Amazon. Oh, and if you need even more Ross in your life, there’s now a Bob Ross wall calendar, too.

All images courtesy of Rizzoli.

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Kevin Winter/Getty Images
8 Movies That Almost Starred Keanu Reeves
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Kevin Winter/Getty Images

He may not have the natural ease of Al Pacino, the classical training of Anthony Hopkins, the timeless cool of Jack Nicholson, or the raw versatility of Gary Oldman, but Keanu Reeves has been around long enough to have worked alongside each of those actors. Yet instead of Oscar nods, the actor whose first name means “cool breeze over the mountains” in Hawaiian has a handful of Razzie nominations.

While critical acclaim has mostly eluded Reeves during his 30-plus years in Hollywood, his movies have made nearly $2 billion at the box office. Whether because of his own choosiness or the decisions of studio powers-that-be, that tally could be much, much higher. To celebrate The Chosen One’s 53rd birthday, here are eight movies that almost starred Keanu Reeves.

1. X-MEN (2000)

In Hollywood’s version of the X-Men universe, Hugh Jackman is the definitive Wolverine. But Jackman himself was a last-minute replacement (for Dougray Scott) and other, bigger (in 2000) names were considered for the hirsute superhero—including Reeves. Ultimately, it was the studio that decided to go in a different direction, much to Reeves’ disappointment. “I always wanted to play Wolverine,” the actor told Moviefone in 2014. “But I didn't get that. And they have a great Wolverine now. I always wanted to play The Dark Knight. But I didn't get that one. They've had some great Batmans. So now I'm just enjoying them as an audience.”

2. PLATOON (1986)

For an action star, Reeves isn’t a huge fan of violence, which is why he passed on playing the lead in Oliver Stone’s Oscar-winning Vietnam classic. “Keanu turned it down because of the violence,” Stone told Entertainment Weekly in 2011. “He didn’t want to do violence.”

3. THE FLY II (1989)

Few people would likely mistake Reeves for the son of Jeff Goldblum, but producers were anxious to see him play the next generation of Goldblum’s insectile role in the sequel to The Fly. But Reeves wasn’t having any of it. Why? Simple: “I didn't like the script,” he told Movieline in 1990.


Speaking of sequels (and bad scripts): Reeves was ready to reprise his role as Jack Traven in Jan de Bont’s second go at the series … then he read it. “When I was offered Speed 2, Jan came to Chicago and so did Sandra, and they said, ‘You’ve got to do this,’” Reeves recalled to The Telegraph. “And I said, 'I read the script and I can’t. It’s called Speed, and it’s on a cruise ship.” (He's got a point.)

Even when the studio dangled a $12 million paycheck in front of him, Reeves said no. “I told [William Mechanic, then-head of Fox], ‘If I do this film, I will not come back up. You guys will send me to the bottom of the ocean and I will not make it back up again.’ I really felt like I was fighting for my life.”

5. HEAT (1995)

Reeves’ refusal to cave on Speed 2 didn’t sit well in Hollywood circles. And it didn't help that he also passed on playing Chris Shiherlis (Val Kilmer’s role) in Michael Mann’s Heat in order to spend a month playing Hamlet at Canada’s Manitoba Theatre Centre. From that point on, Reeves told The Telegraph that it’s been a struggle for him to book any studio movies. “That’s a good old Hollywood story! That was a whole, 'Hey, kid, this is what happens in Hollywood: I said no to the number two and I never worked with the studio again!’”

6. BOWFINGER (1999)

By the time Frank Oz’s Bowfinger rolled around, Eddie Murphy was pretty much the go-to guy for any dual role part, but the movie wasn’t always intended to play that way. Steve Martin, who both starred in and wrote the movie, had actually penned the part of Kit Ramsey for Reeves (whom he had worked with a decade earlier in Parenthood).

“When Steve gave me the script for Bowfinger, it wasn't written for Eddie Murphy,” producer Brian Grazer explained. “It was written for a white action star. It was written for Keanu Reeves, literally. I said, 'Why does it have to be an action star?' He said, 'That's the joke.' I said: 'What if it were Eddie Murphy, and Eddie Murphy played two characters? That could be really funny.' He said: 'You know, that'd be great—that'd be brilliant. Let's do that.' He processed it in about a minute, and he made a creative sea change.”

7. WATCHMEN (2009)

A year before Zack Snyder’s Watchmen hit theaters, Reeves confirmed to MTV what many had speculated: that he had turned down the chance to play Dr. Manhattan in the highly anticipated adaptation. But it wasn’t because of lack of interest on Reeves’ part; it just “didn't work out.” Still, he made it as far as a set visit: “They were shooting in Vancouver while we were filming so I went over to the set to say, 'hi.' They showed me some stuff and it looks amazing! I can’t wait. It’s going to be so killer, man!”


By the time Ben Stiller’s Tropic Thunder made its way into theaters in the summer of 2008, the meta-comedy had been more than a decade in the making. So it’s understandable that the final product veered from Stiller’s original plan for the film, which included Reeves playing the role of Tugg Speedman (Stiller’s eventual part). Initially, Stiller had planned to cast himself as smarmy agent Rick Peck (Matthew McConaughey picked up the slack).


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