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Feature-worthy entertainment: Short films on the bill at UNLV

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Jon Heder in Napoleon Dynamite.

Ever wonder how they came up with the crazy idea for a film like Napoleon Dynamite? Or where big screen masterminds like George Lucas got their start? The UNLV Film Department and the UNLV Short Film Archive are hosting “An Evening of Notable Shorts that Became Feature Films” on Thursday night. The free event is part of an ongoing short film screening series organized by UNLV Film Department associate professor David Schmoeller.

Schmoeller teaches Production 2 and 3 where students make their own short films, and he has firsthand knowledge of what it takes to turn an on-screen sprint into a full on feature: “It takes a lot of money. It’s fairly common, happens quite a bit. I turned my thesis into my first feature film, The Spider Will Kill You.

Schmoeller has selected several titles for this event, which will showcase shorts that went on to become feature films, like Peluca, a short by Jared Hess that inspired the beloved cult classic, Napoleon Dynamite. The most successful independent film of 2004 started out as a nine-minute short with a measly $500 budget and actor Jon Heder, who went on to play Napoleon, in the lead.

“A producer saw it at a film festival and picked it up,” Schmoeller says. The next thing you know, everyone is going around saying, “Gosh!” and “my lips hurt real bad” and fanny pack sales have skyrocketed (well, not exactly).

Of course, not all shorts are destined to become features.

“There’s a concept in the short that they then expand on,” Schmoeller explains. “Peluca and Napoleon Dynamite were about how nerds survive the world, exactly the same story only one is 10 minutes and one is 90 minutes. Same cast. I would never have imagined it would become a feature film. It was so poorly made. As filmmakers, I don’t think they had a clue what they were doing. Some smart producer saw something in it.”

Another featured short on Thursday’s program will be a student film by George Lucas, Electronic Labyrinth THX 1138 4EB. This film later transitioned into the feature THX 1138 with a little help from one of Lucas’ filmmaker friends. “[Lucas] was friends with Francis Ford Coopola during film school, and after he became famous, he convinced producers to pick up Lucas’ film,” Schmoeller recalls. Lucas’ story revolves around a man who is trying to escape from an Orwellian 1984 type of society where Big Brother is always watching.

While Big Brother may not actually be paying much attention to the short film releases, producers clearly are. See what they’ve seen in the mini masterpieces like Peluca, La Jetée, True, 15 and Five Feet High and Rising this Thursday at UNLV.

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