Takeaways from The Raven, and other online shorts that went Hollywood

There’s no one way for a film to get made, or a filmmaker to be discovered — but proving that you know how to direct something, even a short film, seems like a good way to start.

The latest example of a short film evolving into a feature length project is The Raven, which began life as a 2010 online video directed by Ricardo de Montreuil, and is now in development as a feature film for Universal (s CMCST). The premise: A telekinetic rebel with some sweet parkour skills goes on the run from a futuristic LAPD.

While the film was originally being developed as a vehicle for producer Mark Wahlberg, Deadline reported this week that The Raven is looking to sign Hunger Games star Liam Helmsworth for the lead — bringing the dystopian sci-fi action project that much closer to multiplexes.


Here are some key takeaways from The Raven‘s success:

You never know what will get you some attention

De Montreuil is an established director on the festival circuit, having already directed three feature films, including the 2008 Mancora, which was screened at both the Sundance and SXSW film festivals. But it’s this $5,000 short, shot in 48 hours, that pushed him towards directing his first big studio picture.

Sometimes the path of a successful online short film takes you directly to a feature — take the example of Neill Blomkamp, whose short film Alive In Joburg eventually evolved into the Oscar-nominated 2009 film District 9.

But other times it’s less direct, as with former Totally Rad Show host Dan Trachtenberg, who made a big splash in 2011 with a short inspired by the video game Portal.

While a Portal feature remains elusive, the buzz that resulted lead Trachtenberg to another project — directing the adaptation of Y The Last Man, an award-winning graphic novel series that has equal fanboy appeal.

The Raven is more likely on the Blomkamp track than the Trachtenberg track, but even if a feature version is never produced, De Montreuil has gotten his foot inside the door.

Making movies really does take a long time

The Raven was originally posted on April 21, 2010, and was picked up by film blogs a few days later.

But the deal with Universal didn’t come through until July 2010, and between then and now there have been few updates. Even for projects that could technically be considered success stories, the pace of the studio system requires no shortage of patience.

Put it all out there

The Raven was released simultaneously on both YouTube (s GOOG) and Vimeo, and across both sites the description is simple and to the point — it lays out the project’s logline, the cast and crew, the tools used to create the short, and a contact email for the creator.

And the most important fact laid out is the budget for the project: $5,000, which is impressive given the level of digital effects involved.

In addition to the short film, the official Facebook page contains news updates and concept art for the future tech featured in the project, and a short behind the scenes video showcases some of the stunt work that gives the project a human edge.


All of this leads to a concept of the short film as more than a short film — as a prototype for a much larger project. Which, for filmmakers interested in this approach, is the most valuable takeaway of all.