Thursday, May 29, 2008

When Shorter is Better: Cashback

Two versions of the movie Cashback exist. One is a short nominated for an Academy Award in 2006, the other is a feature film built around the short.

The short film centers around how four employees in a Sansbury's supermarket kill an eight-hour shift. The screenwriter comes up with some great examples of how the clock is the enemy. Some of the guys are jokesters, some put tape on the face of their watch and one stops time. The real treat of the short is the story is told in 15 minutes. This skill is something not appreciated in Hollywood today. My most recent example is having recently watched The Assassination of Jessie James by the Coward Robert Ford. It tells too much story and has inconsistent pacing. I enjoyed the dialog, how the film was creatively shot, the pace and the length of the short. I'd post a link to the film, but there's some serious gratuitous nudity (which is a whole other topic). After all, Strange Culture is a family blog.

The feature film is not so good. They took the 15-minute short and wrote a script that included the entire short, in-full. The lead character's gift of stopping time is explained by his insomnia. The screenwriter develops the insomnia story line for much of the movie, but the second half of the film devolves into a boy-meets-girl-in-a-movie-that-could-star-Hugh-Grant type of film. The dialog along with the first half of the movie is good. The lead, Sean Biggerstaff of Harry Potter fame, has a good performance along with Emilia Fox who plays Sharon, a checker in the grocery store. The film has a good beginning and middle, but the ending felt like an afterthought and completely contrived.

The problem is that the character of a good a 15-minute story was completely changed by adding an hour and fifteen minutes to the story. The only other film I can think of that was adapted from a short story was Shawshank Redemption. Technically, that was a written short story and not a short film. If we were to play the game "name the cliche that best fits this film," the winner would be "a good story-teller leaves the audience wanting more."

Are there any other films that started as shorts and were successfully made into feature films?

You can read Adam regularly at the Stone Report.


RC said...

Adam, I think converting a short story to feature length is pretty common (you can usually tell a short story film when it has fewer characters in a smaller amount of time). I don't mind short story film conversions to feature length at all.

But Cashback as a feature length sounds painful!

It makes me think of Nick Park's Wallace and Gromit. He's really know for the short films, and then they did Curse of the Ware Rabbit...which was kind of long in feature length, I felt.

Will said...

I TOTALLY agree that the short is better on this one.

I haven't seen it, but Billy Bob Thornton's masterpiece SLINGBLADE started out as a short film. It was good enough that it landed him funding for the full-length feature.

This has happened a couple other times, but no others are coming to mind.

Heather said...

I loved the full-length version of the 7-page short story Harrison Bergeron by Kurt Vonnecut ( But then again, I am a big nerd.

Anonymous said...

Interesting blog. It's gives me a good insight of the film.

Anonymous said...

This film impressed me i got really into it.

Anonymous said...

Bottle Rocket, man. It started out as a 13-minute short film that played at Sundance. Then, Wes Anderson and Owen Wilson turned it into a feature length film. It launched their careers, and it's a great film.