Another Day, Another Effects-Heavy Sci-Fi Short Film Gets Sold to Hollywood

E.B. Rhee The Garden
With the advent of online video sites like Vimeo and YouTube, creators can get their work out like never before.

No longer do you have to wade into the film festival world surrounded by hundreds of other short films — you can now get immediate results the second something is posted online. You might be thinking it's a rare occurrence for a short film (or its creators) to get picked up for a feature film, but it's been happening for years. The only difference over the last 5-10 years is that the shorts getting picked up tend to be the movies Hollywood is spending the most money on these days — big ideas with huge worlds and lots of effects. 

Just today, another one of these films got picked up, this time it's E.B. Rhee's The Garden, which is a reimagining of John Milton's epic poem "Paradise Lost," which tells the story of the fall of man and the expulsion from the Garden of Eden. Made for $30,000 and shot on the RED ONE with much of the crew working for free, it was purchased by Warner Bros-based Polymorphic Pictures with the hope that it can be turned into a new science fiction franchise. The feature film has already been written by E.B. Rhee & Aaron Strongoni, and you can watch the short proof-of-concept film directed by Rhee here:

Video is no longer available: vimeo.com/135752184

There are many more BTS shots and also storyboards on the website here, but here's one to give you an example:

EB Rhee The Garden BTS Shot 1
Hollywood has continued this trend of being massively impressed by short films with big ideas, and while not all of them turn into feature films with the same idea, a few become mega-hits, like Neill Blomkamp's Alive in Joburg, which became District 9:

There have also been a number of more recent examples that have been bought by Hollywood. Ruairi Robinson recently created this proof of concept called The Leviathan, which already had a feature film script written by Jim Uhls (who wrote Fight Club). Interestingly enough, Neill Blomkamp is one of the people attached to make this project, closely mirroring how he got his own big break:

Here's another, Mischa Rozema's SUNDAYS:

By now it's clear that making a well-crafted short with great dialogue and acting is going to get you less attention than a proof-of-concept film with lots of effects. When it comes to lots of these ideas, they don't even really need to make that much sense, all that matters is someone in a power position needs to see the concept as something original enough for them to work and potentially develop.

It's a good strategy if you want to get noticed, but unfortunately it speaks to where Hollywood is right now. While it does happen, it seems like the shorts that get the most attention online are those that are sci-fi in nature with plenty of effects — and made for pennies. From the buyer's perspective, I suppose they are looking at the idea more than anything, and it's the effects that get it noticed in the first place. The strange thing about buying these films made for nothing is that they're probably going to give them budgets north of $100 million — which makes the budget of the short kind of irrelevant, especially since it's a good/fast/cheap argument, where these short films take a long time, versus Hollywood films that need insanely fast turnarounds.

Of the films that have gone viral and been bought by Hollywood, what are some of your favorites?     

You Might Also Like

Your Comment

46 Comments

Well... the first one looks like crap, there are many other with better stories and original concepts that really deserve attention and it would be great to become feature films.
In addition they used a giant budget of $ 30000 !!! (Feature film "Monsters" from Gareth Edwards was made with $15k)

Instead, incredible films like "Panic Attack" by Fede Alvarez, was made with only $400! And it has better special effects than many Hollywood movies.

Perhaps you dont need a big great camera like the red one, but the combination of a great idea, concept... and maybe some good vfx.

August 12, 2015 at 8:43PM, Edited August 12, 9:01PM

8
Reply
avatar
Mateo Baldasare
Filmmaker
219

On another website some production guy from "monsters" chimed in and corrected the urban legend that it was made for 15k, he said it really cost close to 500k to do it. Not surprising, just the tickets for 7-10 people to fly down there would've cost a large chunk of the budget, even for third class and last minute. It probably is good for marketing.

August 13, 2015 at 12:34AM

0
Reply
DingDong
2273

I would love to see what your doing!! Why don't you show us how great you are? 30000$ is far from a giant budget. They deserve some respect

August 13, 2015 at 7:51AM

0
Reply
Alexis Marcoux
Director of photography
441

1) It's a free country, where we can say what we want about what we want. 2) He doesn't have to show you anything to have an opinion. Film Critics don't make movies. 3) He's right; this film looks like crap. It looks like any of the junk SyFy produces.

August 13, 2015 at 3:33PM

8
Reply
avatar
Edmund Lloyd
Cinematographer/Director
241

Edmund,
no it doesn't look THAT bad. They did it with almost no money. Some 15 secondes shitty commercial can cost 15k. Everything I said to Mariano goes for you too. Like I said, they deserve more respect from you guys. Saying that this look like crap? Not very nice of you mr. cinematographer/director. Why don't you put yourself out there also so we can judge this amazing work that you do. I'm sure you won't appreciate when it your turn.

August 14, 2015 at 6:09AM

0
Reply
Alexis Marcoux
Director of photography
441

Yup - I just Love the Titles people give themselves nowadays.
Based on all the different Jobs & Disciplines I have done in my Life, I guess I could have a Helluva Imperious Title following my name on EVERY "Important" Opinion & email I send.

August 15, 2015 at 8:34AM

1
Reply

You are an idiot, Alexis, if you think that only people shitty at their job can have an opinion different than yours.

Not go back to "Directing some photography" (That's my new catchphrase !)

August 15, 2015 at 4:35PM

0
Reply

They deserve only one thing: the public's opinion. Not just "positive reviews". Just because they put money and effort into a "labour of love" doesn't get them a free pass. Some movies are good, some are shitty. This one is not good.

By the way, Alexis, you should know by now (you being a "Director of Photography"...) than it's not only moviemakers who have a right to voice their opinion on movies.

Now go back to "Directing some photography".

August 15, 2015 at 4:32PM, Edited August 15, 4:33PM

2
Reply

Wow Jocelyn, you sound like a really angry guy. I guess respect doesn't apply to you ether...

August 16, 2015 at 5:10PM

0
Reply
Alexis Marcoux
Director of photography
441

I guess i'm getting really tired of people shitting on others people work. You are right saying that anybody can say what ever they want. But seriously, if somebody work hard and put himself out there with no money, he deserve a bit of respect. Especially if the result is ok. Not perfect... Not a masterpiece... Not crap shit. Decent work

August 16, 2015 at 5:25PM

0
Reply
Alexis Marcoux
Director of photography
441

Alexis, I think we can all agree - you're just wrong. Nobody here is saying the people who made this short are bad people. People are commenting on the work itself. There is nothing disrespectful about calling a spade a spade. If you make a short film, don't expect a participation trophy. They put it out there. They deserve to be told that's it total garbage. It is. It's total garbage. Nothing wrong with saying things that are true. Truth may hurt. But it's not a vice.
EDIT - just realized I'm replying to 2 year old comments. Embarrassing for me.

June 29, 2017 at 6:52AM, Edited June 29, 6:54AM

0
Reply

Best internet viral video concept bought by Hollywood?

Probably "Pixels"...

*gets hit by lightening*

August 12, 2015 at 9:04PM, Edited August 12, 9:04PM

12
Reply
avatar
Jared Adamo
Creative Director / Producer
191

"Panic Attack" by Fede Alvarez, was made with only $400! And it has better special effects than many Hollywood movies."

Yeah, but Alavrez owned his own production and VFX house. It's like saying George Lucas made a short and it only cost him $400! He only had ILM to do the VFX!" lol

Neill Blomcamp's "District 9" short film was very, very advanced for the time period and also was visually impressive, it managed to lay out a new and unique story.

Newer shorts like "Leviathan" are very visually impressive, but is there a story there for a whole movie?

"Sundays" is probably the most visually impressive short I have ever seen. The whole damn thing is so well put together, and I can see why Warner Bros. picked it up. But, as good as the short was, it was a lot of "What if's." "What if the world were different? What if every woman was the same? Etc." Interesting to see if the director of "Sundays" can bring a good story to the big screen.

August 12, 2015 at 9:05PM, Edited August 12, 9:05PM

0
Reply
avatar
Film Voltage
Director
372

Well I'm shocked. Not a single novel element in that whole piece and it's terribly executed and boring. It's hard to imagine from this that the screenplay is terribly good either. Producer or agent must be a GOOD salesman, I may look them up :)

August 12, 2015 at 11:31PM, Edited August 12, 11:31PM

0
Reply
eric wadsworth
Director, Storyboard artist, VFX artist.
140

It's not really a short. More like a concept art video/trailer with the sole purpose to sell the idea.
Half the effects look pretty crappy, lol.
I guess lasers and dinosaurs are a good match ;-)

As a student I did read half of Paradise Lost in old, but not the ancient English of 1667 (it was a release from 1910). It was a tough read as it is a 'poem' of the classic Roman/Greek style: no rhyme, but rhythm and sentences that go on forever and ever. English is not my native language, but I guess even for English people it's a tough read about Satan's quest for revenge.
Unfortunately, life got in the way of reading further, since I spent more and more time on learning filmmaking.

Anyway, I hardly see elements from Miltons book here.
Unless it is about humans escaping from hell (their planet looks like hell) and going to a paradise like world.
With one big problem: demon like creatures with guns.

The 'Earth' twist is nice: reminds me of the original Planet of the Apes.
There is just one problem: when dinosaurs walked the earth the continents looked different.

BTW, did humans made the dinosaurs extinct in this video? :-p

August 13, 2015 at 3:18AM, Edited August 13, 3:18AM

12
Reply
avatar
WalterBrokx
Director, DOP, Writer, Editor, Producer
9683

The 1910 edition you read of Paradise Lost...? Same as the 1667 version dude. It's a tough read, but worth it - it's an incredible piece of work.

This short film looked like a tough watch. Someone else will have to tell me if it was worth it...

August 13, 2015 at 11:36AM

4
Reply
avatar
Alex Richardson
Director
3738

Oh, I expected the 1667 version to be even further away from modern English... lol
So I was reading real 17th century stuff... cool :-p

August 14, 2015 at 3:28AM

3
Reply
avatar
WalterBrokx
Director, DOP, Writer, Editor, Producer
9683

Hmm... I'm surprised to see this one get picked up. Compared to the other films "The Garden" looked pretty weak. The effects didn't look very good, and the plot doesn't seem to be very original. I guess the people who picked this up are better at spotting potential than I am ;)

August 13, 2015 at 4:52AM, Edited August 13, 4:52AM

1
Reply
Daniel Jek
Editor/Colorist
111

Well, Sharknado got made too :-p

August 13, 2015 at 6:10AM

2
Reply
avatar
WalterBrokx
Director, DOP, Writer, Editor, Producer
9683

Sharknado is charming in its own way, even though the CGI is crap ;)

August 14, 2015 at 7:04AM, Edited August 14, 7:04AM

8
Reply
Daniel Jek
Editor/Colorist
111

The Leviathan is surely inspired by Dune.
The move the worm from the sand to the sky.
So I guess the feature will also be about a power struggle to control the planet of these creatures and a fight for freedom that results in overthrowing the ruling class in the galactic empire/federation/whatever :-p

Looks great, btw

August 13, 2015 at 6:17AM, Edited August 13, 6:17AM

0
Reply
avatar
WalterBrokx
Director, DOP, Writer, Editor, Producer
9683

I recognize the trend you're talking about here, but to say that a flashy high-concept short will get you more attention than an artistically well executed traditional short is really not the case, and you could really only get there by cherry picking examples.

Whiplash was a well acted and written short film at one point (with an accompanying feature script). I think it's fair to say that it received more attention than any of the shorts above, and when all is said and done will almost certainly be the more successful project.

It's just a lot easier to come up with vfx of this caliber than it is to find writing/directing skills like Damien Chazelle's. So when you can't find that extraordinary script with the incredibly well acted short proof of concept, you buy something with some flashy effects in it. Studios have to make a certain number of movies, they just have to.

But still, they'd buy Whiplash ten times before they bought The Garden if they could.

August 13, 2015 at 8:22AM, Edited August 13, 8:22AM

0
Reply
Russell Anway
DP, editor, compositor
172

I have to disagree entirely. You cannot jumble all film investors/buyers into a "they" category. This article is about "Hollywood" and major studios. Whiplash was by no means a major studio studio production, it just did well enough to be distributed by one. I know it is a harsh reality, but hollywood wants these low brow, action packed, CGI pieces of crap to sell the masses. They have a wider audience and have the larger potential for profit, but with that the potential for loss. All we can hope is that enough of these freak babies bomb like fantastic 4 so they start investing in quality films again.

August 13, 2015 at 8:49AM

0
Reply
no1
231

Right, but if Whiplash was just some short that was put online it may not have gotten the attention these shorts got. That's the point I'm making.

Any film that wins at Sundance is going to get noticed, and Whiplash won a Jury Prize back in 2013. Film festivals are the traditional way for short films to get picked up and made into features, and it's been happening far longer.

What I'm talking about has only been happening recently, and there are many more examples than what is here. There are so many terrific shorts online, and we don't share enough of them, but that doesn't mean they are getting feature film deals.

August 13, 2015 at 8:55AM

0
Reply
avatar
Joe Marine
Camera Department
6161

I'm really talking about this:

"By now it's clear that making a well-crafted short with great dialogue and acting is going to get you less attention than a proof-of-concept film with lots of effects."

You're saying that Whiplash sort of doesn't count because it won Sundance, and obviously, Sundance. But the reason it won Sundance is because it is precisely the thing you said would get less attention than a flashy proof of concept. Whatever happened to it after the festival, whatever powerful exec or ally Chazelle had moving toward the feature, at the beginning of the day it was "a well-crafted short with great dialogue and acting."

And the proof of concept was a necessary step for that film, if he'd been able to secure funding he would have gone straight to production on the feature as most movies do.

Live action shorts being optioned into features nothing new, the VFX thing is new. But there's an element of "why even bother, all they want is CG" in the article, and I just don't think it's warranted.

Whiplash got a different kind of attention than the above movies, and it found it through a different avenue, but in no way was it "less."

August 13, 2015 at 9:23AM, Edited August 13, 9:23AM

0
Reply
Russell Anway
DP, editor, compositor
172

Sundays is amazing visually, but it's kinda expected for a short with over 100 people working on it. Story is pretty bad & acting is underwhelming. People are naive if they think it was shot for 50k $ & it was done by amatours.

August 13, 2015 at 10:13AM

1
Reply
Andy Tokarski
Director, Editor, Colorist
1521

It's more of a filosophical essay than a story with action.
I think it is really well done.
The visuals are great, and although the presented idea is not new at all: ask any yogi who actually read the filosophy, ask any buddhist who studied the filosophy and you'll see that the idea that this world is just an illusion is not new at all.
Although in Sundays the conclusion is pretty nihilistic...

August 14, 2015 at 5:34AM

0
Reply
avatar
WalterBrokx
Director, DOP, Writer, Editor, Producer
9683

These vfx adolescent wank fantasies are a xerox of a xerox. There is no nutrition to them at all. VFX in place of filmmaking.They are everything that is wrong with movies.

August 13, 2015 at 10:24AM, Edited August 13, 10:24AM

1
Reply
LJ
680

Don't know why everyone's hating on "The Garden" so much - I thought it was hilarious. Best comedy of the year.

August 13, 2015 at 10:31AM, Edited August 13, 10:31AM

6
Reply

Lights Out by David F. Sandberg.
This got picked up for a full feature, too. Shot in his apartment with his significant other on a Blackmagic. Just awesome stuff.
https://vimeo.com/82920243

August 13, 2015 at 10:39AM

7
Reply
avatar
Ben Meredith
Cinematographer/Filmmaker
1395

Much better :)

August 13, 2015 at 4:03PM

0
Reply
avatar
Agim Molla
Writer
81

The Garden was purchased? Yikes. The effects really were not great. Some of it just bad. Made for Syfy quality, like Sharknado or Sharktapus. VERY disappointing. Lousy acting too.

August 13, 2015 at 10:56AM

0
Reply
avatar
Josh.R
Motion Designer/Predator
1043

I just watched the trailer and I'm really confused/disappointed.

The initial look made me think of the movie, "Sky Captain", which was somewhat cutting edge at the time, but became the default look for budget scifi. I think you should be looking to the look and feel of something akin to Predator or Alien if you want to take cues. They had a similar small cast against a few monsters story world and what you see there is the need to make everything feel very real, gritty, and visceral. This just felt like a metric ton of green screen......and that's it.

The entire 6+ minute piece made almost no sense to me? It boiled down to kill the monsters and save the world I guess?

Our anti-hero's rejection of his call to duty, was wooden and....just sad.

The dialogue! I could see the line for "we're not asking you, but telling." coming from a mile away.

I'm a small one man band producer, director, and editor. I know what it is to struggle with budget. This budget was mishandled though.

A 6 minute piece that tells you no real story and could have been down better if you focused on your best 1:30. You have a bunch of horrible looking aliens that you've obviously spent too much time/money animating.

Why was that blonde lady constantly glistening with sweat? Even in the middle of the night when they check out the enemy base. Why did they shoot a close up that demos how bad the gun effects look?

Why does the anti-hero look like the dude you met at the bar whose girlfriend just left him and he won't shut up about it. He's supposed to be a lead or at least look like one, give me badass, asshole, brooding loner, or anything. Make some casting decision. He just reads as....."some guy".

To me the best example of their style missing the mark is when the anti-hero and his love interest/ex are crouched down avoiding gunfire. Why the wide shots of there bodies? Give me a closeup where you can fake the drama and gunfire better by mixing in some practical effects.

I admittedly don't work in this end of the industry for a living, but.....wow.
This all makes for a confusing purchase decision to me, but does show me that.....you gotta get out there and make something. First and foremost I have to look at myself and maybe take up the challenge to do something like this myself. Maybe then, I'll have an idea of what these guys went through.

It would be a great No Film School Project to take select shots form The Garden and reproduce our own versions. Just a thought.

August 13, 2015 at 12:35PM, Edited August 13, 12:35PM

0
Reply
avatar
Nnamdi Ejim
Filmmaker
326

People talk about VFX, that's the last thing we should be talking about... The story is crap! Even if I see ILM quality VFX it is still a piece of crap... :)

August 13, 2015 at 3:12PM

7
Reply
avatar
Agim Molla
Writer
81

THANK YOU.

August 13, 2015 at 4:21PM

0
Reply
avatar
John V. Knowles
Director
185

I'd love to hear about ANY of these VFX-heavy shorts that were optioned by major studios that have actually started production. The Raven? R'ha? The Prototype? Hate to be a Debbie Downer but I'm getting tired of hearing about shorts getting optioned without any follow-up or analysis of what good comes out of the process. Are the directors at least getting representation? Pitching other scripts? Getting other directing work? Are they seeing any money?

Ever since shorts started getting optioned off the web, I can only point to a handful of success stories. Blomkamp was one of the first and was fortunate to get hooked up with Peter Jackson, with Halo's failure leading directly to District 9 getting made. Alvarez got a shot at directing the Evil Dead remake. Rinsch got The Gift optioned and was pushed for Prometheus, ultimately winding up with the disastrous 47 Ronin -- and he was most certainly aided by having Ridley Scott as his boss and father-in-law. If Ruiari's Leviathan actually gets made in spite of Hollywood's recent cold feet over anything original (or without comic book-based source material) then it will be a minor miracle, and a victory for short film directors with a vision. Until then though, the actual success stories are few and far between.

August 13, 2015 at 4:20PM, Edited August 13, 4:20PM

8
Reply
avatar
John V. Knowles
Director
185

You are absolutely right. Most of these movies havent started production yet (and its a really big list of shorts that were supposedly optioned by hollywood studios). I think most of the fortunate directors started as a TV commercial directors and they made a lot of effects heavy TV commercials before they made their shorts.

BTW, The Garden is really terrible movie (the effects are extremely bad). I cant believe the budget was 30k. But the idea isnt so bad. It could be pretty good feature with better screenwritter and better director and better visual effects.

August 14, 2015 at 12:19PM

8
Reply

"By now it's clear that making a well-crafted short with great dialogue and acting is going to get you less attention than a proof-of-concept film with lots of effects."

It's not clear in the slightest.

I don't like being a downer on stuff - and as I'm in post on my own microbudget feature, I know how tough it is and how just getting something out there is a huge achievement... But it's misleading and inaccurate to suggest that piling your hard-earned money into making plot/character/story-free effects heavy short films is going to suddenly elevate you to $100 million budgets. The people with the money aren't stupid, and it's not 1993 - we've all seen CG now, and it's rare that something really impresses.

Got $30k? Listen to/read some interviews with Edward Burns and realise that you can go out there and make a feature - and potentially sell it - and still have some change left over if you're clever. Then use it to get an agent - most are more interested in someone who can tell a story and direct actors with a bit of flair - rather than someone who can use Primatte keyer.

August 13, 2015 at 4:53PM, Edited August 13, 4:53PM

0
Reply
avatar
Alex Richardson
Director
3738

Best of the lucks to E.B. Rhee and his "The Garden".
I feel strange watching this, but think that what they actually try to sell here is a story that will have a script. Let's try to be positive;)
Good luck!
But I wonder, why Hollywood dont look around for other talents, like the Spanish - Miguel Mesas, that eight years ago! did things like this:

BATMAN Arkham Asylum
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DcUFOuJ3goI

SLAINE: The Horned God
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iS3TjxdGI3Q

And he does tralier books like this:
https://vimeo.com/132345275

August 14, 2015 at 4:09AM

8
Reply
avatar
Ferran Brooks
Writer & Filmmaker.
74

Amazing! Look great

August 14, 2015 at 10:52AM, Edited August 14, 10:52AM

0
Reply
Alexis Marcoux
Director of photography
441

Y'all know that it doesn't have to be a good movie to get made right?

Let's put aside the critique of the dialog silliness, bad acting, and sub-par effects of this particular "Garden" POC film and consider how the movie making business would give this consideration:

It just needs to tick-box certain elements that appeal to a lowest-common-denominator audience. This one has the Christian origin story (cha$ching) mixed with blow-em-ups and sci-fi monsters. That's it. It's not more complicated than that.

If a producer re-made this concept with an a-list actor, a decent budget, and true filmmaking craft people they'd have a successful money making film, if not a critically successful one.

Hey, wait, they already did that. It was called "Noah."

August 14, 2015 at 9:36AM, Edited August 14, 9:48AM

14
Reply

There's a flash frame in the dip to black on The Garden after the intro. They may want to fix that.

August 14, 2015 at 11:47AM, Edited August 14, 11:47AM

8
Reply
avatar
Phil Jimenez
Creative Director/ Owner Lucky Bastard Productions
81

I really don't mean to disrespect the work of this guys, as I'm still a total amateur with very little experience. But. I'm sorry, to me The Garden is everything but impressive. Banal story, a truckload of very bad CGI, meh editing and bad timing of acting. I saw tens of shorts made with way less budget that are a million times more intriguing than this. The point is: is it really this the stuff picked by Hollywood? That is discouraging. Really discouraging.

August 17, 2015 at 3:42PM

0
Reply
avatar
David R. Falzarano
Director / Writer / Editor
1473

http://thederelict.pandoranage.com/index.php

Here's ours. Space Opera, really, more magic realism that scifi, if you want a little insight into what it is-more Ursula LeGuin than Arthur Clarke, sort of Sam Delany meets the Foundation series. We're going for a retro '50s looks, somewhat, and we're at an animatic more than hyper finished pitch simply because of resource limitations. eBooks here. https://www.smashwords.com/books/byseries/6608

August 19, 2015 at 10:04AM, Edited August 19, 10:08AM

0
Reply
avatar
Dante DAnthony
Writer/Producer Chronos Productions Motion Picture Studios
74