I had coffee today with a writer-director whose acclaimed short film got him many awards and meetings all over town. And deservedly: it’s terrific, a labor of love that took several years to make.

He said he was finishing up the screenplay for the feature version. I told him to focus on something else instead. You shouldn’t make the feature version of your short.

This seems like terrible advice. After all, it’s easy to think of several acclaimed filmmakers who expanded upon their short films, including Neill Blomkamp and George Lucas.

But having worked with many emerging filmmakers through the Sundance Institute and other programs, I’ve encountered a lot of silent evidence that suggests it’s a pretty bad idea.1

  1. Great shorts are great and short. The perfect haiku isn’t improved by rewriting it as a sonnet.

  2. You will burn out on the idea. Having already made the short, do you want to spend several more years making it again?

  3. Show what else you can do. A career isn’t one movie, or one idea. Even if you make the movie and it turns out great, you’ve still only told one story so far in your career.

  4. Safety is paralysis. It’s less intimidating to expand on something familiar. But you need to push against your boundaries.

Your first feature project should ideally be in the same class or genre as your acclaimed short, but not a retread. If you made a charming short about blind leprechauns, write a feature about kleptomaniac crows. Let the connection between projects be your ambition and sensibility, not a single storyline.

Go was originally written to be a short film — but we never shot it. Had the short version been made, I can’t imagine going back to write the full thing. I would have been too hamstrung by my original choices, and the scenes that had already been shot.

Worse, I wouldn’t have felt the same things the second time through. You don’t get your first kiss twice.

  1. Silent evidence: You’re only seeing the movies that got made and released, not the ones that didn’t.