Fest fave the latest in long line of shorts

No matter who wins the short film competition at Sundance, writer/director Angela Robinson has already nabbed what she describes as “The Holy Grail” for short-makers.

Screen Gems president Clint Culpepper has greenlit a feature version of Robinson’s wickedly funny “D.E.B.S” to start shooting in May.

Deal places Robinson among the few whose careers were launched by short pix. Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s “The Spirit of Christmas” became “South Park,” and Vin Diesel’s biographical “Multi Facial” prompted Steven Spielberg to launch his star in “Saving Private Ryan.”

But a short doesn’t equal a shortcut. For one thing, their budgets usually come out of the pockets of the filmmakers — and their relatives — never to return. Comedies like “My Dinner With Ovitz,” for example, get press coverage and momentary must-see status at agencies and studios, but the heat is fleeting.

But that doesn’t stop people from trying. Art Brown, who co-directed the “Leaving Las Vegas” parody “Eating Las Vegas,” just completed “FUCK: The Movie,” about a naked guy who gets locked out of his hotel room, his only dialogue being that most versatile four-letter word. Project just got booked at the U.S. Comedy Arts Festival and will recoup if a deal comes together for it to be the first short to accompany R-rated films in college area theaters. “All that’s gravy, because this was meant as a splash of creativity to get people to look at our projects,” Brown said.

Another short-maker with ulterior motives is Steph Patternot, the former dotcom entrepreneur who’s reinventing himself in film. He cofounded Globe.com, one of the first billion-dollar web businesses during the dotcom IPO craze. “I was worth $100 million one day, but left with nothing,” said Patternot, who saved enough to finance “Wholey Moses.” Patternot scripted, produced and starred as a donut painter, and hopes the short’s debut next month will let him participate in a feature adaptation of his dotcom memoir, “A Very Public Offering.”

Staying involved when a short jumps to features is enough. Ask Neil Leifer, the sports photog who famously snapped Muhammad Ali standing above a fallen Sonny Liston. Leifer just directed the Pete Bonventre-scripted “Smallroom Dancing,” his fourth short. One Leifer short became “The Great White Hype.” Another, “Scout’s Honor,” is feature-bound through producer Ed Pressman. Leifer wasn’t invited to direct either, but is determined to keep financing his shorts until given the chance.

Robinson got luckier with “D.E.B.S.,” which was funded through a grant by Power Up. “D.E.B.S.” is about a quartet of plaid-skirted high school cuties whose SAT scores displayed such an aptitude for lying, cheating and killing that they’re made secret agents. They’re not smart enough to realize they’re always rescuing a member who’s kidnapped by a gorgeous villain, who engineers the snatchings as an excuse for heated makeout sessions between the ladies. After creating heat with an earlier comic short about bisexual art thieves but then having nothing to sell, Robinson made sure she was ready with “D.E.B.S.”

“You get five minutes of attention and I learned that if you want the next five, you’d better have a script, and a budget,” said Robinson.

“Too often, I see features I wished were short films, and I’ve rarely seen a short that needs to be longer,” he said. “This is the exception. It’s funny and smart, a camp version of ‘Heathers’ or ‘Clueless.'” Andrea Sperling and Jasmine Kosovic will produce, with Larry Kennar exec producing.

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