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19 Short Films Made Into Feature-Length Movies

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Making and distributing a short film is relatively less expensive than making a feature film, and sometimes it’s a director’s ticket to stardom in Hollywood. Here are 19 short films that were expanded into full-length features.

1. Short: Bottle Rocket / Feature: Bottle Rocket

In 1992, after meeting in a playwright class at the University of Texas in Austin, Wes Anderson and Owen Wilson collaborated on a short film called Bottle Rocket, which followed the exploits of three clueless would-be criminals, played by Robert Musgrave, Owen Wilson, and his brother Luke. During the 1994 Sundance Film Festival, Bottle Rocket received little attention from film critics and festival attendees, but it managed to catch the eye of film producer James L. Brooks, who funded the duo’s debut feature based on the short.

The feature film version of Bottle Rocket was released in 1996 and gained cult status among film critics and cinephiles. The difference between the 13-minute short and the 92-minute feature film are mostly cosmetic; the narrative was expanded, and color photography was used. The feature also ditched the short's jazzy soundtrack for a new score from composer and former Devo member Mark Mothersbaugh. Director Martin Scorsese named Bottle Rocket one of his 10 favorite movies of the decade, and it launched Anderson and the Wilson brothers’ careers.

2. Short: Jay & Seth vs. The Apocalypse / Feature: This Is The End

In 2007, actors Jay Baruchel and Seth Rogen starred in a 10-minute short film featuring two friends named Jay and Seth arguing while trapped in their apartment during a cataclysmic doomsday event. While the short film was only intended to play the film festival circuit, its premise was expanded into the feature film This Is The End in 2013.

The feature film now took place at a Hollywood party and centered on a group of celebrities going through the Biblical Rapture. The comedy starred James Franco, Rogen, Baruchel, Jonah Hill, Craig Robinson, and Danny McBride playing exaggerated versions of their on-screen personas.

3. Short: Frankenweenie / Feature: Frankenweenie

In 2007, Disney signed Tim Burton to direct two films using Disney Digital 3D, the Mouse House’s own 3D technology system: Alice In Wonderland and the stop-motion animated remake of Burton’s own 1984 short film Frankenweenie. The original short film is live-action with Shelley Duvall, Daniel Stern, and Barret Oliver as the Frankenstein family.

After the short was completed, Disney fired Burton because the film didn’t meet the movie studio’s expectations as a family film. Frankenweenie was originally going to screen before the 1984 re-release of Pinocchio, but instead Disney decided to shelve it. After Burton found success with Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure and the original Batman film series, Disney released the short film on home video in 1992.

The full-length feature film version of Frankenweenie was released in 2012 and received nominations for an Academy Award for Best Animated Feature Film.

4. Short: Le Jetée / Feature: 12 Monkeys

Terry Gilliam’s sci-fi classic time travel film 12 Monkeys was a box office hit in 1995. Brad Pitt’s performance as the mentally disturbed Jeffery Goines earned the actor his first Academy Award nomination, and the movie won the Saturn Award for Best Science Fiction Film. Little do many people know, 12 Monkeys was based on French New Wave filmmaker Chris Marker’s 1962 short film La Jetée.

The French short film is told with still images and text, and follows a man who is a prisoner living underground of a post-apocalyptic Paris in the aftermath of the Third World War. Scientists develop time travel and send the man to the past because he is one of the few test subjects that can withstand the painful journey back in time.

Gilliam’s version of the source material retained the themes of broken memories and time, but introduced the film’s deadly virus and the terrorist organization the Army of the Twelve Monkeys.

5. Short: Alive in Joburg / Feature: District 9

In 2005, director Neill Blomkamp created a vision of dystopian South Africa with the short film Alive In Joburg. The film followed a group of extraterrestrial refugees living in Johannesburg and looked at how the human population treated the new alien race. Blomkamp’s film was documentary-style and explored themes of South African apartheid; the director had conceived the short as a proof-of-concept to showcase advanced special effects with a low budget.

Alive in Joburg caught the eye of director Peter Jackson, who planned to produce a live-action version of the video game Halo with Blomkamp in the director’s chair. While the Halo creators ultimately backed out of the film adaptation, Jackson gave Blomkamp $30 million to do whatever he wanted to do instead. The result was the feature District 9, a box office hit that went on to be nominated for an Academy Award for Best Picture in 2009. Blomkamp introduced a new character named Wikus van de Merwe, played by Sharlto Copley, a well-mannered government official who slowly turns into an alien. Copley was also Alive in Joburg’s producer.

6. Short: The Dirk Diggler Story / Feature: Boogie Nights

In 1987, at age 17, director Paul Thomas Anderson made a mockumentary short film about the rise and fall of a fictional porn star named Dirk Diggler. Anderson shot The Dirk Diggler Story with a video camera and edited the 32-minute short using a VCR-to-VCR editing system. Anderson’s short was based on the chaotic life of '70s porn star John Holmes and his part in the drug-deal-gone-wrong Wonderland Murders in 1981. The short was also influenced by Rob Reiner’s faux-documentary This Is Spinal Tap.

Almost a decade later, in 1997, Paul Thomas Anderson re-visited The Dirk Diggler Story with his second feature film Boogie Nights. The film would go on to launch Anderson’s career as an emerging auteur filmmaker, as it was nominated for three Academy Awards.

7. Short: Within The Woods / Feature: The Evil Dead

Armed with a Super 8 film camera, a remote cabin in the woods, and longtime friend Bruce Campbell, director Sam Raimi made a 30-minute short film called Within The Woods in 1978. The short sits firmly in the horror genre and was made to gain interest from investors to one day make a full-length feature film. Within The Woods cost Raimi and Campbell only $1600, and the short was remade into the feature film The Evil Dead in 1981. Today, Within The Woods is seen as a prequel to Raimi’s highly successful Evil Dead film franchise.

8. Short: Peluca / Feature: Napoleon Dynamite

Before Jon Heder played the titular character in 2004’s breakout indie hit Napoleon Dynamite, the actor starred as the same character (only going by the name of Seth) in director Jared Hess’ student short film Peluca, which was made in 2002. The short was made for only $500 on black-and-white 16mm film stock in Hess’ hometown of Preston, Idaho over the course of two days. After being shown during the Slamdance Film Festival in 2003, Peluca was adapted into Napoleon Dynamite the following year.

Although Napoleon Dynamite was a sleeper hit in 2004, the film’s production still kept its indie sensibility with a small budget of $400,000 (Heder was only paid $1000 to reprise the leading role). It was selected for the Sundance Film Festival, where Fox Searchlight acquired the film’s distribution rights and the indie film became an instant cult hit.

9. Short: Milton / Feature: Office Space

In the 1990s, writer/director Mike Judge created a series of animated short films that followed the daily belittling of a meek office worker named Milton. The animated shorts were frequently aired during broadcasts of MTV’s Liquid Television and later on Saturday Night Live. For his second feature film, Mike Judge expanded Milton’s office setting into the film Office Space in 1999. Although the character of Milton and his passive aggressive boss Bill Lumbergh were reduced to secondary characters, Office Space’s personality drew from Judge’s characters and actor Stephen Root’s performance as Milton, the office punching bag.

10. Short: Some Folks Call It A Sling Blade / Feature: Sling Blade

Before Billy Bob Thornton’s Sling Blade won the Academy Award For Best Adapted Screenplay, Thornton wrote the short film Some Folks Call It a Sling Blade in 1994. George Hickenlooper directed the 29-minute short film, while Molly Ringwald and J.T. Walsh co-starred with Billy Bob Thornton as the mentally challenged Karl Childers. While both films deal with the return of Childers into society after being convicted of killing his mother and her lover, the feature film trades in the short's black-and-white photography for full color, an expanded story, and more French fried potaters

11. Short: Cashback / Feature: Cashback

In 2004, British writer and director Sean Ellis created a short film called Cashback, about an art student who takes a job at a late-night supermarket after he gets insomnia. The short won several awards at international film festivals and was nominated for an Academy Award For Best Live-Action Short Film in 2006. Although the short was a critical darling, when it was expanded into a feature film, it received mixed to tepid reviews. The feature version retained some of the short’s cast, including Sean Biggerstaff, Emilia Fox, and Michael Dixon.

12. Short: The Customer Is Always Right / Feature: Sin City

After working on the RoboCop sequels, comic book writer Frank Miller was disillusioned with Hollywood—and he swore that he would never sell the movie rights to any of his graphic novels. So when director Robert Rodriguez wanted to create a film version of Miller's Sin City, he made a three-minute proof-of-concept short called The Customer Is Always Right with actors John Hartnett and Marley Shelton. After watching the short, Miller was happy with how faithful Rodriguez kept to the original source material and signed off on the film adaptation. The short film served as the opening sequence in the final version of Sin City.

13. Short: Gowanus, Brooklyn / Feature: Half Nelson

In 2004, director and co-writer Ryan Fleck and screenwriter Anna Boden made a 19-minute short film called Gowanus, Brooklyn, which followed a middle school teacher who was addicted to cocaine. The short won the Short Filmmaking Award at the Sundance Film Festival and grew into the feature film Half Nelson two years later. The feature film still kept the short’s handheld, minimalistic style, but added actor Ryan Gosling in the leading role. Gosling was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actor later in the year, but lost to Forest Whitaker for his chilling performance as dictator Idi Amin in The Last King of Scotland.

14. Short: 9 / Feature: 9

in 2005, film student Shane Acker created the short film 9 as his thesis film at the UCLA Animation Workshop. The 11-minute short, which follows a group of ragdolls that try to survive in a post-apocalyptic world, caught the eye of director Tim Burton, who wanted Acker to make a feature film based on the short. In 2009, 9 was released on September 9 with a refined look and an all-star voice cast including Elijah Wood, Jennifer Connelly, and John C. Reilly. Although the short film was showered with awards, the feature film version of 9 failed to resonate with critics and general audiences alike.

15. Short: Electronic Labyrinth: THX-1138 4EB / Feature: THX-1138

Before George Lucas raced into superstardom with the release of American Graffiti and Star Wars in the '70s, he made a student film called Electronic Labyrinth: THX-1138 4EB while he was still a film student at the University of Southern California in 1967. The short film followed a group of people living in an underground dystopia, as one of its citizens hopes for something more to his simple and mundane life.

The short was made into a feature when Lucas’ friend and fellow USC film student Francis Ford Coppola founded his production company American Zoetrope in 1971. A feature film version of Electronic Labyrinth: THX-1138 4EB, now simply titled THX-1138, was the first film under the new banner.

Coppola struck a distribution deal with Warner Bros, but studio executives hated THX-1138 and demanded that Coppola and Lucas repay the $300,000 the movie studio loaned the pair to make the film. THX-1138 almost bankrupted American Zoetrope, but the film company was saved when Coppola made The Godfather in 1972.

In 2010, Electronic Labyrinth: THX-1138 4EB was selected for preservation in the Library of Congress’ U.S. National Film Registry for being a film that is culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.

16. Short: Saw / Feature: Saw

In 2003, screenwriter Leigh Whannell and director James Wan failed to attract producers for their new script, so the Australian filmmakers moved to Los Angeles with the hopes of finding investors to make the horror movie Saw. With the goal of getting a feature made, the pair shot a short film that featured a gruesome torture scene.

Once in Los Angeles, Whannell and Wan met film producer Gregg Hoffman, who watched the seven-minute short and was left in awe of its blood and gore. After he gave the Saw short film and script to his partners Mark Burg and Oren Koules of Evolution Entertainment, Hoffman decided to fund a feature version of Saw for $1.2 million. The production company made a deal with Whannell and Wan that allowed the Australians creative control and 25 percent of the film’s net profits.

Ten years later, the short film has spawned seven films, two video games, a toy line, and three theme park attractions. The Saw film franchise also coined a new subgenre in horror called “Torture Porn.” Lionsgate, the movie studio that distributes the Saw movies, has also expressed interest in rebooting the very popular film series.

17. Short: Mama / Feature: Mama

When Argentinian director Andrés Muschietti and his sister and co-writer Bárbara Muschietti released the short film Mama in 2008, it quickly caught the eye of filmmaker Guillermo del Toro, who agreed to produce and finance a feature version. Both films followed two very young sisters named Victoria and Lilly who were abandoned in a cabin in the woods.

Although they were thought of as missing or dead, the sisters were found five years later, as it was revealed a mysterious ghost—which they affectionately called “Mama”—was raising the pair. The feature version expanded Victoria and Lilly’s backstory and psychosis, while it also added new characters, including the sisters’ uncle, played by Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, who adopts the girls once they’re found, and his girlfriend, played by Jessica Chastain, who becomes close with Victoria and Lilly.

18. Short: The Hard Case / Feature: Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels

Before British director Guy Ritchie invaded American movie theaters in the late '90s, the then-27-year-old filmmaker created the short film The Hard Case in 1995. The 20-minute short grabbed the attention of the rock star Sting when his wife Trudie Styler made him watch it; Sting then met with Ritchie and agreed to invest in the director’s feature, Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, which was based on The Hard Case. The crime film was released in the United States in 1999 and launched the careers of Ritchie, Jason Statham, and Vinnie Jones.

19. Short: Machete / Feature: Machete

In 2007, Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino teamed up to deliver the trashy, schlocky exploitation double feature Grindhouse. Rodriguez created the science-fiction-zombie-mad-scientist-horror flick Planet Terror, while Tarantino delivered the talky-muscle-car-slasher Death Proof. Fake trailers played between the features, including one that centered on one of Rodriguez’s reoccurring film characters, Isador “Machete” Cortez. Three years later, the Mexican-American director turned the fake trailer into a real full-length film called Machete.

Primary image courtesy of IMPA Awards.

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13 Fascinating Facts About Nina Simone
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Nina Simone, who would’ve celebrated her 85th birthday today, was known for using her musical platform to speak out. “I think women play a major part in opening the doors for better understanding around the world,” the “Strange Fruit” songstress once said. Though she chose to keep her personal life shrouded in secrecy, these facts grant VIP access into a life well-lived and the music that still lives on.

1. NINA SIMONE WAS HER STAGE NAME.

The singer was born as Eunice Waymon on February 21, 1933. But by age 21, the North Carolina native was going by a different name at her nightly Atlantic City gig: Nina Simone. She hoped that adopting a different name would keep her mother from finding out about her performances. “Nina” was her boyfriend’s nickname for her at the time. “Simone” was inspired by Simone Signoret, an actress that the singer admired.

2. SHE HAD HUMBLE BEGINNINGS.


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There's a reason that much of the singer's music had gospel-like sounds. Simone—the daughter of a Methodist minister and a handyman—was raised in the church and started playing the piano by ear at age 3. She got her start in her hometown of Tryon, North Carolina, where she played gospel hymns and classical music at Old St. Luke’s CME, the church where her mother ministered. After Simone died on April 21, 2003, she was memorialized at the same sanctuary.

3. SHE WAS BOOK SMART...

Simone, who graduated valedictorian of her high school class, studied at the prestigious Julliard School of Music for a brief period of time before applying to Philadelphia’s Curtis Institute of Music. Unfortunately, Simone was denied admission. For years, she maintained that her race was the reason behind the rejection. But a Curtis faculty member, Vladimir Sokoloff, has gone on record to say that her skin color wasn’t a factor. “It had nothing to do with her…background,” he said in 1992. But Simone ended up getting the last laugh: Two days before her death, the school awarded her an honorary degree.

4. ... WITH DEGREES TO PROVE IT.

Simone—who preferred to be called “doctor Nina Simone”—was also awarded two other honorary degrees, from the University of Massachusetts Amherst and Malcolm X College.

5. HER CAREER WAS ROOTED IN ACTIVISM.

A photo of Nina Simone circa 1969

Gerrit de Bruin

At the age of 12, Simone refused to play at a church revival because her parents had to sit at the back of the hall. From then on, Simone used her art to take a stand. Many of her songs in the '60s, including “Mississippi Goddamn,” “Why (The King of Love Is Dead),” and “Young, Gifted and Black,” addressed the rampant racial injustices of that era.

Unfortunately, her activism wasn't always welcome. Her popularity diminished; venues didn’t invite her to perform, and radio stations didn’t play her songs. But she pressed on—even after the Civil Rights Movement. In 1997, Simone told Interview Magazine that she addressed her songs to the third world. In her own words: “I’m a real rebel with a cause.”

6. ONE OF HER MOST FAMOUS SONGS WAS BANNED.

Mississippi Goddam,” her 1964 anthem, only took her 20 minutes to an hour to write, according to legend—but it made an impact that still stands the test of time. When she wrote it, Simone had been fed up with the country’s racial unrest. Medger Evers, a Mississippi-born civil rights activist, was assassinated in his home state in 1963. That same year, the Ku Klux Klan bombed a Birmingham Baptist church and as a result, four young black girls were killed. Simone took to her notebook and piano to express her sentiments.

“Alabama's gotten me so upset/Tennessee made me lose my rest/And everybody knows about Mississippi Goddam,” she sang.

Some say that the song was banned in Southern radio stations because “goddam” was in the title. But others argue that the subject matter is what caused the stations to return the records cracked in half.

7. SHE NEVER HAD A NUMBER ONE HIT.

Nina Simone released over 40 albums during her decades-spanning career including studio albums, live versions, and compilations, and scored 15 Grammy nominations. But her highest-charting (and her first) hit, “I Loves You, Porgy,” peaked at #2 on the U.S. R&B charts in 1959. Still, her music would go on to influence legendary singers like Roberta Flack and Aretha Franklin.

8. SHE USED HER STYLE TO MAKE A STATEMENT.

Head wraps, bold jewelry, and floor-skimming sheaths were all part of Simone’s stylish rotation. In 1967, she wore the same black crochet fishnet jumpsuit with flesh-colored lining for the entire year. Not only did it give off the illusion of her being naked, but “I wanted people to remember me looking a certain way,” she said. “It made it easier for me.”

9. SHE HAD MANY HOMES.

New York City, Liberia, Barbados, England, Belgium, France, Switzerland, and the Netherlands were all places that Simone called home. She died at her home in Southern France, and her ashes were scattered in several African countries.

10. SHE HAD A FAMOUS INNER CIRCLE.

During the late '60s, Simone and her second husband Andrew Stroud lived next to Malcolm X and his family in Mount Vernon, New York. He wasn't her only famous pal. Simone was very close with playwright Lorraine Hansberry. After Hansberry’s death, Simone penned “To Be Young, Gifted and Black” in her honor, a tribute to Hansberry's play of the same title. Simone even struck up a brief friendship with David Bowie in the mid-1970s, who called her every night for a month to offer his advice and support.

11. YOU CAN STILL VISIT SIMONE IN HER HOMETOWN.

Photo of Nina Simone
Amazing Nina Documentary Film, LLC, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons

In 2010, an 8-foot sculpture of Eunice Waymon was erected in her hometown of Tryon, North Carolina. Her likeness stands tall in Nina Simone Plaza, where she’s seated and playing an eternal song on a keyboard that floats in midair. Her daughter, Lisa Simone Kelly, gave sculptor Zenos Frudakis some of Simone’s ashes to weld into the sculpture’s bronze heart. "It's not something very often done, but I thought it was part of the idea of bringing her home," Frudakis said.

12. YOU'VE PROBABLY HEARD HER MUSIC IN RECENT HITS.

Rihanna sang a few verses of Simone’s “Do What You Gotta Do” on Kanye West’s The Life of Pablo. He’s clearly a superfan: “Blood on the Leaves” and his duet with Jay Z, “New Day,” feature Simone samples as well, along with Lil’ Wayne’s “Dontgetit,” Common’s “Misunderstood” and a host of other tracks.

13. HER MUSIC IS STILL BEING PERFORMED.

Nina Revisited… A Tribute to Nina Simone was released along with the Netflix documentary in 2015. On the album, Lauryn Hill, Jazmine Sullivan, Usher, Alice Smith, and more paid tribute to the legend by performing covers of 16 of her most famous tracks.

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13 Secrets From the Guinness Archives
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Leon Neal/AFP/Getty Images

Guinness has been a staple in Irish pubs for nearly 260 years. With so much history, it's no surprise that the Guinness Storehouse Archives—which are open to the public—are stuffed with intriguing artifacts that tell some pretty wild stories. Here are a few.

1. THE LEASE TO THE DUBLIN BREWERY WAS INTENDED TO LAST 9000 YEARS.

In 1759, founder Arthur Guinness signed a lease for a four-acre property at St. James’s Gate in Dublin. The lease required a down payment of £100, an annual rent of £45, and a term of 9000 years (not a typo). Such lengthy leases were relatively common back then: “At the time in Ireland, there was a lot of instability to do with land tenure,” explains Fergus Brady, Archives Manager at Guinness. Centuries earlier, the British had begun confiscating land from native Irish in an effort to build plantations, and extra-long leases were a means of avoiding this fate. As Brady explains, “You see these really long leases: 99-year or 999-year leases. It seemed to be a legal custom at the time that they used the number nine.”

2. ARTHUR GUINNESS WAS NOT AFRAID TO DEFEND HIS PROPERTY WITH A PICKAXE.

In 1775, the Dublin Corporation—that is, the city government—demanded that Arthur Guinness pay for the spring water flowing to his brewery. When Guinness argued that he was already paying for water rights through his 9000-year rental agreement, the Dublin Corporation sent a sheriff and a committee to his brewery to cut off the water supply. Guinness was livid. He seized a pickaxe and unleashed a torrent of obscenities so colorful that the Dublin Corporation’s goons eventually retreated.

3. GUINNESS ONCE DEPLOYED FIELD AGENTS TO CATCH COUNTERFEITERS.

Guinness Apology
Guinness Archive, Diageo Ireland

In the 19th century, there was no such thing as brand consistency. Guinness did not bottle its own beer; instead, it shipped the suds in wooden casks to publicans who supplied their own bottles and applied their own personalized labels. Occasionally, these publicans sold fake or adulterated Guinness. To prevent such sales, the company sent special agents called “travellers” into the field to collect beer samples, which it tested in a laboratory. “If a publican was found to be serving adulterated or counterfeit Guinness, they had to give a public apology in their local newspaper—and even the national newspapers,” archivist Jessica Handy says.

4. FOR 21 YEARS, THE COMPANY HIRED A GUY TO TRAVEL THE WORLD AND DRINK BEER.

In 1899, Guinness hired an American ex-brewer named Arthur T. Shand to be a “Guinness World Traveller.” It was arguably the coolest job in the world. For 21 years, Shand traveled the world taste-testing beer. According to Brady, “His job was to travel the world and taste Guinness, say whether it was good or bad, who our bottlers in the market were, who our major competition was, what kind of people were drinking our product.” Shand traveled to Australia and New Zealand, to Southeast Asia and Egypt. “He was sort of a Guinness sommelier,” Brady says.

5. THE COMPANY'S HARP LOGO CAUSED TROUBLE WITH THE IRISH GOVERNMENT.

The Celtic harp—based on the 14th century “Brian Boru Harp” preserved at Trinity College—became a trademarked Guinness logo in 1876. Forty-five years later, when Ireland gained independence from England, the Irish Free State decided to use the same Celtic harp as its official state emblem. This became awkward. Guinness owned the trademark, and the Irish government was forced to search for a workaround. You can find their solution on an Irish Euro coin. Look at the coin, and you’ll notice that the harp’s straight edge faces the right; meanwhile, the harp on a glass of Guinness shows the straight edge facing left [PDF].

6. GUINNESS REPORTEDLY SAVED LIVES ON THE BATTLEFIELD.

The old slogan “Guinness is good for you” sounds like a marketing gimmick, but it was born out of a genuine belief that the beer was, in fact, a restorative tonic. The health claim dates back to 1815, when an ailing cavalry officer wounded at the Battle of Waterloo reportedly credited Guinness for his recovery. For decades, the medical community widely claimed that the dark beer possessed real health benefits—and they weren’t necessarily wrong. “There was little safe drinking water at the time,” Handy says. “But with brewing, consumers knew they were getting a safe beverage.”

7. THE COMPANY CREATED A SPECIAL RECIPE FOR CONVALESCENTS.

A label for Guinness invalid stout
Guinness Archive, Diageo Ireland

From the 1880s to the 1920s, Guinness produced a special “Nourishing Export Stout”—a.k.a. “Invalid Stout”—that contained extra sugars, alcohol, and solids and came in cute one-third pint bottles. “It was very common practice for people to buy a couple bottles and keep them as a tonic, even if it was just a glass or half a glass,” Handy says. In fact, Guinness went as far as asking general practitioners for testimonials attesting to the beer’s medical benefits. According to Brady, “Many of them wrote back and said yes, we prescribe this for various ailments.” One doctor even claimed a pint was “as nourishing as a glass of milk.”

8. DOCTORS REGULARLY PRESCRIBED THE BEER TO NURSING MOTHERS.

From the 1880s to the 1930s, many physicians believed Guinness was an effective galactagogue—that is, a lactation aid. The company sent bottles to hospitals as well as wax cartons of yeast (which supposedly helped skin problems and migraines). Hundreds, possibly thousands, of doctors prescribed the beer for ailments such as influenza, insomnia, and anxiety, David Hughes writes in A Bottle of Guinness Please: The Colourful History of Guinness. According to Brady, the company was sending beer to hospitals as late as the 1970s.

9. THE COMPANY ONCE DROPPED 200,000 MESSAGES-IN-A-BOTTLE INTO THE OCEAN.

A Guinness message in a bottle
The message within every bottle dropped in the Atlantic Ocean in 1959.
Guinness Archive, Diageo Ireland

In 1954, Guinness dumped 50,000 messages-in-a-bottle in the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian Oceans. In 1959, they repeated the stunt again, with 38 ships dropping 150,000 bottles in the Atlantic. The first bottle was discovered in the Azores off Portugal just three months after the initial drop [PDF]. Since then, the bottles have turned up in California, New Zealand, and South Africa. Just last year, a bottle was discovered in Nova Scotia. (If you find one, you just might be offered a trip to the Guinness Storehouse in Dublin.)

10. THE PERSONNEL FILES IN THE GUINNESS ARCHIVES CONTAIN SOME DOOZIES.

The Guinness corporate archives are open to the public. According to Handy, “Some of the stories you get in there are amazing, because you get accident reports and you get crazy stories of people bouncing on bags of hops outside the brewery." This may sound less surprising considering that, back in the day, Guinness employees were given an allowance of two pints of beer every day [PDF].

11. A GUINNESS SCIENTIST MADE A STATISTICALLY SIGNIFICANT MARK IN THE FIELD OF STATISTICS.

If you’ve taken a statistics class, you might be familiar with the Student’s t-test or the t-statistic. (It’s a method of working with a small sample size when the standard deviation is unknown.) The t-test was first described by William S. Gosset, a brewer and statistician at Guinness who was attempting to analyze a small sample of malt extract. Gosset’s discovery not only helped Guinness create a more consistent-tasting beer, it would lay the bedrock for one of the most important concepts in statistics: statistical significance.

12. GUINNESS IS SO BIG IN AFRICA, IT LAUNCHED A SUCCESSFUL FEATURE-LENGTH FILM.

Guinness began exporting beer to Africa in 1827. In the 1960s, it opened a brewery in Nigeria—followed by Cameroon and Ghana. Today, there are reportedly more Guinness drinkers in Nigeria than there are in Ireland. “In Ireland, England, and the United States, everybody thinks that Guinness is synonymous with Ireland,” Brady says. “But in Nigeria, there’s a very very low conception of that.” The beer is such a cultural staple that a fictional character who advertised the product named Michael Power—a James Bond-like, crime-fighting journalist—became the star of a feature film in 2003 called Critical Assignment, which was a box office smash. (Of course, there’s some branding built into the script. As Brady explains, “There are definitely scenes where Michael Power is enjoying a pint of Guinness.”)

13. DISPENSING BEER WITH NITROGEN WAS ORIGINALLY CONSIDERED LAUGHABLE.

In the 1950s, Guinness scientist Michael Ash was tasked with solving the “draft problem.” At the time, dispensing a draft pint of Guinness was ridiculously complicated, and the company was losing market share to draft lagers in Britain that could be easily dispensed with CO2. “The stout was too lively to be dispensed with CO2 only,” Brady says. “Ash worked on the problem for four years, working long hours day or night, and became a bit of a recluse apparently. A lot of doubters at the brewery called the project ‘daft Guinness.’” But then Ash attempted dispensing the beer with plain air. It worked. The secret ingredient, Ash discovered, was nitrogen. The air we breathe is 78 percent nitrogen. Today, a Guinness draft contains 75 percent nitrogen. Not only did the discovery make dispensing the beer easier, it created a creamy mouthfeel that’s been the signature of Irish stouts since.

Full disclosure: Guinness paid for the author to attend an International Stout Day festival in 2017, which provided the opportunity to speak to their archivists.

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