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Martin Scorsese’s Rare $70 Million Short Film: The Audition

The Audition Martin Scorsese, The Audition 2015 short film, Robert De Niro, Brad Pitt, Leonardo DiCaprio

Director Martin Scorsese’s celebrated collaborations with legendary actor Robert De Niro are the stuff of cinematic legend– TAXI DRIVER (1976), RAGING BULL (1980), GOODFELLAS (1990); to name just a few.  Each project they undertake together seems to bring out the very best in the other, even if the finished products don’t quite meet expectations.

To a somewhat lesser extent, this is also true of Scorsese’s more-recent string of collaborations with Leonard DiCaprio, an acclaimed performer in his own right.  GANGS OF NEW YORK (2002), THE DEPARTED (2006), and THE WOLF OF WALL STREET (2013) may not be on the same level as Scorsese’s earlier classics but they too constitute a body of work that has seen both director and actor feeding off the other’s highly-attuned creative energies.

Most directors are lucky to get one muse in their lifetime, let alone two, so it’s understandable that many in the cinema world viewed a collaboration between both men under Scorsese’s direction as something of a cinematic holy grail akin to the long-anticipated team-up between De Niro and Al Pacino in Michael Mann’s HEAT (1995).

In 2015, this dream scenario finally arrived, albeit not in the form fans were expecting.  Instead of a sprawling feature with characters these actors could really sink their teeth into, we would get a 16 minute short film called THE AUDITION.

Commissioned by the owners of the then-unbuilt City of Dreams and Studio City casinos in Manila and Macau, respectively, at a cost of $70 million dollars, THE AUDITION is nothing less than the most expensive advertisement ever made. With RSA and Brett Ratner’s Ratpac Productions serving as his production team, Scorsese and his key collaborators are just barely able to stay above the profound level of sleaze coating the project.


Watch the entire short below.

Written by Terence Winter, Scorsese’s writing collaborator on BOARDWALK EMPIRE, THE WOLF OF WALL STREET, and the then-upcoming HBO show VINYL, THE AUDITION plays like one big meta joke.

De Niro, DiCaprio, Scorsese, and even Brad Pitt appear as highly exaggerated versions of themselves, with De Niro and DiCaprio running into each other in a Manila casino and discovering they’ve both been summoned by Scorsese to audition for his next picture.

For the ensuing 16 minutes, the two actors expend a great deal of energy trying to one-up each other and prove they’re the right choice for the part.  For some reason, this effort takes them from Manila, to Macau, and finally to Japan, where Scorsese realizes (erroneously) that Brad Pitt is actually the man for the part.

Scorsese brings his signature visual style to the proceedings, collaborating with THE WOLF OF WALL STREET’s cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto for a high-contrast, glitzy look that crosses CASINO (1995) with BLADE RUNNER (1982) in the worst possible way.

It’s unclear from this particular viewing whether Scorsese acquired the 2.35:1 image photochemically or digitally (I suspect the latter considering the heavy use of CGI backdrops), but other signatures like a dynamic, zooming camera and a rollicking jukebox soundtrack make it clear that his employers hired him for his unique style just as much as his famous name.

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Indeed, the concept hinges on the audience’s cognizance of Scorsese’s most high-profile artistic trope– his consistent collaborations with De Niro and DiCaprio.  It milks this central joke for every ounce of comedic juice, never mind the fact that their age difference alone makes the idea that they’d ever compete for the same role a patently absurd and unrealistic one.

It’s a common saying in the gambling industry that “the house” always wins, but in the case of THE AUDITION, it’s clear that the players walked away from the table as the true victors.  There’s no doubt that the project is the very definition of selling out, but if some big casino is willing to wastefully spend $70 million on a glorified commercial with limited appeal, then the vendors involved should be commended for taking those suckers for all they’re worth.

Indeed, a huge percentage of that $70 million went to the talent– Scorsese, De Niro, DiCaprio, and Pitt all received $13 million for only a few days of shooting.  Odds are they’re still enjoying that cash, while their employers gave the film a lavish world premiere at the Studio City Casino’s grand opening and then screened it only a select few times since.

The film still hasn’t received a proper release in the United States (a mind-boggling development considering the talent involved), but those who want to see Scorsese’s latest cheeky foray into the world of branded content can find an awful-quality rip on Youtube.

THE AUDITION gives us no new insights into Scorsese’s artistic character, but it does serve as further evidence of the iconic director’s playfulness in his later years as well as his recognizes of his own place in American pop culture.

Author Cameron Beyl is the creator of The Directors Series and an award-winning filmmaker of narrative features, shorts, and music videos.  His work has screened at numerous film festivals and museums, in addition to being featured on taste making online media platforms like Vice Creators Project, Slate, Popular Mechanics, and Indiewire. 

THE DIRECTORS SERIES is an educational collection of video and text essays by filmmaker Cameron Beyl exploring the works of contemporary and classic film directors. 

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Want to watch more short films by legendary filmmakers?

Our collection has short films by Martin Scorsese, Quentin Tarantino, the Coen Brothers, Chris Nolan, Tim Burton, Steven Spielberg & more.

 

Alex Proyas’ Short Film: Strange Residues

Alex Proyas, Vidiverse

This is what Alex Proyas had to say about one of his early short films Strange Residues.

I was a teenager when I made this film in the second year of film school. Even so there’s plenty of ideas I would keep coming back to. And “STRANGE RESIDUES” is possibly the silliest title for a film I ever came up with…

Subscribe to Alex Proyas YouTube Channel

We had the honor of speaking to Alex Proyas about his creative process and his new streaming service Vidiverse.

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Want to watch more short films by legendary filmmakers?

Our collection has short films by Martin Scorsese, Quentin Tarantino, the Coen Brothers, Chris Nolan, Tim Burton, Steven Spielberg & more.

Richard Linklater’s Short Film: Woodshock ’85

Woodshock '85, Woodshock '85 short film, Richard Linklater, Richard Linklater short film

Richard Linklater’s Short Film: Woodshock ’85

This short documentary chronicles the chaos of the Austin, Texas music festival, “Woodshock ’85.” Directed by a young Richard Linklater.

Read Richard Linklater’s Screenplay Collection in PDF

Alex had the pleasure of speaking to Richard and discussed his philosophy, filmmaking and creative process.

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Sam Raimi’s Rare Short Film: Clockwork (1978)

Sam Raimi Short Film, Clockwork (1978)

This is the extremely rare 1978 short film Clockwork by horror master Sam Raimi. The film star  Scott Spiegel and Cheryl Guttridge. Raimi was no more than 19 years old when he embarked on making  this Super 8mm thriller. The film is about A very wealthy, but lonely woman is stalked in her home by a violent serial killer.

According to reviewer Rafael Jovine:

In keeping with the somewhat over the top crime and slasher of his first projects, this six minute short is about a woman who is stalked by a serial killer. Unlike some of his old shorts, the cinematography is good enough for you to enjoy it, and there are plenty of good and interesting ideas when like our lead lady, scared, lie her back against a wall only to have the killer blast his arm out of it and try to stab her.

It’s a quick but the most memorable moment in the short to me. All in all, there’s not much to say about this short but it is a fun slasher film from Raimi fans of the director would enjoy.

Enjoy the early work of this horror master!

The film is available on The Internet Archive

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The Original Dirk Diggler & The Early Films of Paul Thomas Anderson

I can remember when a young director by the name Paul Thomas Anderson released a remarkably good film called Boogie Nights back in 1997. The film was kind of a small bomb going off in the film industry.

Anderson made by far the best feature film about the groove porn business of the 1970s. Anderson was able to take extremely sleazy topic and elevate it to high art with his brilliant direction, camerawork and amazing performances.

Click below to read the screenplay for Boogie Nights and watch some of his early films, including the original Boogie Nights, his short The Dirk Diggler Story, as well as Cigarettes and Coffee, his hard to find short film.

Anderson is infamous for dropping out of NYU film school after two weeks. Here’s why:

My filmmaking education consisted of finding out what filmmakers I liked were watching, then seeing those films. I learned the technical stuff from books and mags, and with the new technology you can watch entire movies accompanied by commentary from the director. You can learn more from John Sturge’s audio track on the Bad Day at Black Rock Laserdisc than you can in 4 years of film school. Film school is a complete con, because the information is there if you want it.

The Dirk Diggler Story  wonderful mockumentary short film shot in 1988 and written and directed by one of the best working directors alive, Paul Thomas Anderson. It tracks the rise and fall of the fictitious Dirk Diggler, a very well-endowed porn actor. The character is based on legendary porn star John Holmes.

Download and Read Paul Thomas Anderson’s Screenplay Collection in PDF


The Original Dirk Diggler

Anderson’s first work is admittedly lo-fi, filming on videotape partly out of necessity, but also because of the inherent video aesthetic of both the documentary and pornography formats.  Anderson’s penchant for constantly moving the camera is already evident in THE DIRK DIGGLER STORY, seeing him utilize both handheld and Steadicam-based camera moves that roam the space and adjust the composition mid-record to lend a degree of immediacy and realism.

The documentary footage is interspersed with staged still photographs and taped interviews with the characters, further riffing on the style ofTHIS IS SPINAL TAP.

Because the year was 1988 and computer-based nonlinear editing suites had yet to become commonplace, (and editing video on a flatbed Steenbeck was impractical), Anderson had to edit THE DIRK DIGGLER STORY using the archaic, terminally frustrating VCR to VCR method.

The bane of many a young filmmaker’s existence in the 90’s, the method consisted of tediously syncing up a desired take on one VCR, recording it to a blank VHS tape on the second deck, hitting pause and then finding the next chronological shot from the original footage.  Any mistake meant you had to rewind the tape to just before the error and start over again.

It was a horrible process that also completely destroyed the quality of the footage, in addition to probably discouraging a significant number of would-be directors from pursuing the profession.

Several of Anderson’s defining thematic conceits make their first appearance in THE DIRK DIGGLER STORY, like a constantly-moving camera and the presence of an omniscient narrator (best employed in 1999’s MAGNOLIA), who here is voiced by Anderson’s father, Ernie.  What really strikes me about the DIRK DIGGLER STORY is the presence of a palpable family dynamic amongst this group of pornographers.

The family angle would later be played to a more substantial degree in BOOGIE NIGHTS, but already we get the sense that Anderson has a genuine love for these characters, like they’re a part of his own family.  They depend on each other, they need each other, they are not complete without each other.

At a very core level, Anderson’s films are about people trying to find their place in a family unit, and those who actively turn away from the embrace of family are met with tragedies like accidental death (Dirk Diggler in this film), murder/suicide (William H. Macy in BOOGIE NIGHTS), or abandonment (Daniel Day-Lewis in 2007’s THERE WILL BE BLOOD).

As an early draft of BOOGIE NIGHTSTHE DIRK DIGGLER STORY story is already interesting on its own merits, but what makes it even more compelling from my standpoint is how fully-formed Anderson’s filmmaking voice already seems.  The fact that this short follows BOOGIE NIGHTS’ general plot progression shows how long Anderson had spent developing the idea while conveying his gift for interesting, unique stories.

Despite being shot on shoddy video, the film has a certain polish that places it above what 99% of aspiring, pre-film-school directors are capable of.  There’s not a lot of directors that most can say were born to be a filmmaker, but in the case of Anderson, it’s a notion that’s nearly impossible to deny.


CIGARETTES & COFFEE (1993)

When it was time for director Paul Thomas Anderson to go to college, he naturally went the film school route, like so many other would-be directors did before him.  He was admitted to Boston’s Emerson College as an English major, lasting for 2 semesters (it seems like all the prominent Emersonians are actually dropouts).  Unsatisfied with his education there, he enrolled in NYU’s film school, and he was there all of two days before he decided that the institution of film school in general held no benefit for him.

Instead, he decided to make a short that would serve as his “film school”, so to speak.  He scraped together funding with $10,000 his father, Ernie Anderson, had squirreled away for college tuitions, and supplemented that with some gambling winnings and his girlfriend’s credit card.  Once funding was complete, he worked with producer Wendy Weidman to secure a desert diner location for a weekend of shooting, as well as a camera package donation from Panavision.

This one weekend soon ballooned into a much longer shoot as production issues and on-the-job training caused no shortage of hiccups for the burgeoning director.  The final result was CIGARETTES & COFFEE (1993), a weaving narrative about three sets of characters connected together by a single twenty dollar bill.  The film debuted to an incredibly warm reception at the 1993 Sundance Festival, effectively kickstarting Anderson’s directing career into high gear.

In a diner in the middle of the desert, a variety of transient souls come and go, on their way to destinations unknown.  In this particular moment, at this particular diner, several of the patrons are unknowingly connected to each other by a twenty dollar bill that has passed between them.  In one booth, an elderly man (Philip Baker Hall) has met his squirrely younger friend (Kirk Baxter), who reveals that he’s discovered his wife to be cheating on him with his best friend, and he fears it might be too late to stop the hit he’s ordered on them both.

Two booths over, a newlywed couple in the middle of their honeymoon are quarreling over the wife’s loss of a significant amount of the husband’s money at a casino gambling table. Outside the diner, a mysterious lone man has arrived and conducts a mysterious conversation in a phone booth.  The twenty dollar bill unifies the characters in some kind of cosmic conspiracy, all tied together by the time-honored ritual of brutally honest conversation over cigarettes and coffee.

Anderson’s deep knowledge of film history and obscure character actors is highly evident in CIGARETTES & COFFEE.  The piece is anchored by Philip Baker Hall, a venerated performer who has since become a key player in Anderson’s repertory. His calm, collected delivery grounds the film and sets the tone just so.  Getting Hall on board was something of a coup for Anderson, who approached him on the set of a CBS TV movie that the two were on together (Baker as an actor, Anderson as a lowly production assistant).

Anderson gave Baker the script to the short, and Baker was generous enough to take a gamble on this unruly, untested young director.  Anderson also recruited the help of Kirk Baltz, who had previously made a name for himself as the unfortunate cop Marvin Nash in Quentin Tarantino’s RESERVOIR DOGS a year earlier.

  Additionally, Baltz acted as a producer and was instrumental in getting the film made.  Scott Coffey and Miguel Ferrer round out the cast, with everyone turning in fine performances that make Anderson’s direction look confident and competent, considering this is his first real time at bat.

Anderson has made a name for himself with his precise, classical approach to composition and camera movement. Unconcerned with modern, trendy techniques like “shaky cam” or rapid-fire editing, he takes his cues from the revered directors of yesteryear.  CIGARETTES & COFFEE is the first evidence of this aesthetic, lensed by cinematographers Vincent Baldino and David Phillips.

  Shot on handsome color film, the short is a far cry from the washed-out analog video of THE DIRK DIGGLER STORY (1988).  At least, I think it is—the only copy available to view is sourced from a rather degraded VHS tape, and I have no idea if a pristine transfer is out there somewhere.

The first thing I noticed about CIGARETTES & COFFEE’s visual presentation is somewhat of an abstract, intangible thing—but there is such precision to Anderson’s compositions in the piece.  Every shot is thoroughly considered, telling the most amount of story with minimal force.  This is echoed in his camerawork, which glides on dollies and Steadicam rigs fluidly and flawlessly.  Like his peer Tarantino, Anderson uses punchy insert shots sparingly, using them as bold punctuation rather than detailed cutaways.

Furthermore, there’s a distinct California vibe here, despite the story itself possibly being set in Nevada.  Having lived his entire life in the state, Anderson’s work examines the nature and psychology of California more so than any other contemporary director.  Almost of all of his work is set in California—specifically the San Fernando Valley where he was born—and explores the weird and wonderful characters that inhabit it.

This part of his style is better realized in his features, but CIGARETTES & COFFEE has elements of California-ca (?) in its dusty diner setting, beat up muscle cars and sunshade-wearing mystery men.

The early period of Anderson’s career was heavily influenced by Robert Altman.  Both men made ensemble films that followed a variety of colorful characters instead of a traditional plot with a singular protagonist.  While these characters initially seem very disconnected from each other and thrust into a sprawling narrative, Anderson pulls the various story threads tighter together to form a coherent mosaic centered around a singular theme or idea.

In CIGARETTES & COFFEE, we have three separate sets of characters who, on their face, are completely uninvolved in each other’s affairs.  However, they are each united by a particular twenty dollar bill that has passed between them.  Possession of this bill brings different fortunes to different owners—some lose everything, some gain only a little, and for some, it’s simply a routine business transaction.

CIGARETTES & COFFEE is undoubtedly the work that launched Anderson’s career.  Its selection into the Sundance Film Festival’s shorts program brought him to the attention of the industry’s best and brightest.  The Sundance Institute even invited him to develop the short into a feature at their directing labs, a program that also helped Tarantino launch his first feature.

In the labs, Anderson got a film education much more valuable than the one he sought and failed to find from Emerson College and New York University.  In Park City, Utah, he learned from the best and honed his skills—all while developing his first full-length feature he liked to call SYDNEY, but we’d come to know as HARD EIGHT (1996).

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Coen Brother’s Blood Simple Investor Pitch Trailer

blood simple pitch trailer, coen brothers

We all have to start somewhere and the Coen Brothers are no different. When they were struggling filmmakers trying to get their first feature Blood Simple off the ground they had an idea, why don’t we shoot a pitch trailer to show investors what we can do.

The Blood Simple pitch trailer starred unknown actor Bruce Campbell. Joel Coen discusses the trailer’s origins on the Criterion Collection’s 4K Restoration of Blood Simple.

“Sam Raimi taught us that if you call on the phone and ask people to invest in a movie they’ll tell you to go hell. But if you tell them ‘I have a piece of film to show you,’ then some of the would let you come into their living room and set up your little projector and show it to them.”

I had the pleasure of speaking to director and cinematographer Barry Sonnenfeld who light and shoot the trailer.

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Sean Baker’s iPhone Short Film: Snowbird

Between making remarkable features writer/director Sean Baker directs commercial and short films. Back in 2016 Sean directed a fashion short film called Snowbird. It was shot entirely on an iPhone for Kenzo SS16 starring supermodel Abbey Lee, with music by Jack and Kitty Norton.

A little about Sean Baker:

Sean Baker is a graduate of NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. He is an award-winning writer/director/producer known for Take Out (2004), Prince of Broadway (2008), Starlet (2012), Tangerine(2015), and The Florida Project (2017). Sean’s latest feature, Red Rocket, premiered at Cannes on July 14, 2021. Red Rocket was acquired by A24 for theatrical and home entertainment release.

Baker is also the co-creator of the long-running comedy show Greg the Bunny (2005) which had incarnations on IFC TV, FOX and MTV Warren the Ape (2010).

Listen to his exclusive interview with IFH below.

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Steven Spielberg’s Micro-Budget Short Film: Amblin

Amblin’ is a short film made in 1968. It is the first completed film shot by Steven Spielberg on 35mm. The film is a short love story set during the hippie era of the late 1960s about a young man and woman who meet in the desert, attempt to hitchhike, become friends, then lovers, make their way to a beach, and part ways. It later became the namesake for Spielberg’s production company, Amblin Entertainment.

A young man carrying a closely guarded guitar case meets a free-spirited young woman while hitchhiking across the Mojave Desert, she befriends him, then he hauls both of their luggage, they play an olive pit spitting game, she shares a cannabis joint, he becomes her lover, and they accept various rides, en route to a Pacific coast beach. At the beach, the man runs, fully clothed, into the surf, and splashes about, while the woman with daisies in her hair, hesitatingly opens his guitar case and lays out its contents: a tie, wingtip shoes, Thrifty Drugs mouthwash, a paperback of Arthur C. Clarke’s The City and the Stars, a white shirt, Right Guard spray deodorant, a suit, a roll of toilet paper, white crew socks, Phillips’ Milk of Magnesia, and toothpaste. The woman smiles in bemusement, perhaps sensing that her companion was not the free-spirit that she assumed that he was. She frowns in sad disappointment and climbs back up the beach stairs without him. – Wikipedia

There is no spoken dialogue in the film aside from the lyrics to the opening and closing theme song. There is an ambient soundtrack featuring bird sounds, wind, passing car noises, popping noises made by the characters, fire sounds, and laughter, along with instrumental music.

Download Steven Spielberg’s Screenplay Collection in PDF

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Jason Reitman’s Short Film: Gulp

Jason Reitman, Jason Reitman short film, Jason Reitman Gulp

We all start somewhere and Ghostbusters: Afterlife writer/director Jason Reitman is no exception. Check out his 2001 short film Gulp.

Synopsis: Francis has just changed his new fish’s water, and the fish is freaking out. Francis calls a pal who tells him the fish needs salt water, not fresh water, and hasn’t long to live; so Francis sets out, fish in fresh water in a plastic bag, to save it.

He must first find his car, deal with an unsympathetic vet, tape a leaky bag, get to a pet store where he confronts the manager and the manager’s bouncer, stare into the eyes of a helpful clerk who offers ocean salt, and then hightail it for the beach. Luckily, Francis lives in L.A. Will the fish drown before Francis gets it to the sea? Wave good-by.

Read Jason Reitman’s Screenplay Collection in PDF

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Edgar Wright’s Unreleased 1st Feature Film: A Fistful of Fingers

edgar wright, A Fistful of Fingers

We all have to start somewhere and writer/director Edgar Wright is no different. Many believe that his first film was Shaun of the Dead. Well, there is another feature he made that was never released called A Fistful of Fingers. The film was shot in 1995 and is a western comedy. As the poster says:

“The greatest western ever made…in Sommerset!”

The film was never commercially released by Edgar said he’d hope to finally release it with a commentary track. Alex also had the pleasure speaking to Edgar Wright on the Indie Film Hustle Podcast. He discuss the making of the film and much more.

Also make sure to watch Edgar’s newest film Last Night in Soho. You can see he’s grown a bit as a filmmaker since his Fistful of Fingers days. Enjoy.

Download Edgar Wright’s Screenplay Collection in PDF

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