There have been a handful of short films in the YouTube/Vimeo age that have gone from “viral short” to “feature-length blockbuster”–and there are seemingly more stunning shorts becoming hotshot bidding war subjects every year.
That’s good news for filmmakers who can turn a good seven-minute idea into a shot at a Hollywood career full of fame and financial excess–but it doesn’t necessarily mean much to the people who go see the movie, if the adaptation of the idea doesn’t result in a watchable finished project. You might get a Kung Fury, The Way He Looks, or Obvious Child–but you could also get a Pixels. And the degree of difficulty goes up when the short is high-concept (and high budget) enough that its development goes the studio route, rather than working its way up as an indie.
When Brazilian filmmaker Marcus Alqueres started fielding offers around his viral short, “The Flying Man”–a dark, evocative superhero story that’s a million miles away from what Marvel and Warner Bros are busy prepping–he was concerned with how to make a big-budget, high-profile studio film out of this idea. “I never wanted to make an obscure indie flick that a handful of people would watch,” he says. And yesterday, he got his opportunity to take it somewhere that isn’t interested in that either: The Hollywood Reporter announced yesterday that Alqueres entered into a deal with Sony Pictures to adapt the short into a full-length feature.
“The idea behind going there is to really make this movie the best way possible,” he says. That doesn’t just mean “with the biggest budget possible,” but also to develop the idea in a way that pays off the amount of time that Alqueres (who wrote, directed, produced, and edited the short) already put into the FX-heavy short. It also means maintaining some control over the creative vision for the film. After “The Flying Man” started getting its viral attention–it has six and a half million views as of this week–Alqueres partnered with screenwriter Chris Collins (who wrote eight episodes of Sons of Anarchy and won a WGA award for his work on The Wire) to create a feature script to sell to the studio as part of a full package.
“It’s very important to note that Sony is optioning not only the short film, but they’re also buying the feature script that I helped develop,” Alqueres says. “The good news is that everyone on board within the studio is interested in maintaining the short film’s DNA. For the short’s plot, I see it more as an introduction to the world where the Flying Man interacts with a modern society, reacting to an inconceivable event. It’s the population’s perspective that’s important–all the other superhero movies explore everything through the hero’s point of view.”
It’s significant that Alqueres didn’t just option a short built around stunning visuals or a killer concept–Pixels had those things, too–he developed a short that was about telling a story, where the effects were in service of selling a more defined pitch than just “what if you could watch this thing for two hours.” “What would it be like to be a criminal in a world where a superhero is killing criminals” is the sort of concept that’s inherently interesting, and Alqueres wanted to be sure that, however “The Flying Man” evolved, that would be at the core of the project.
“I think it all comes down to telling a great story with great characters,” he says of how he intends to keep “The Flying Man” from going off the rails as it develops. “If you’re successful with that, you can adapt anything. The secret is to find an interesting enough character to tell the story from his point of view, and not forgetting the basics of how to tell a great story, and what makes a character interesting enough to grab the audiences.” It sounds like obvious advice–but it’s advice that too many forget to heed.