Some of the biggest Hollywood blockbusters were initially proposed as “proof of concept” films hoping to get a big studio to produce and distribute them. Such films are created on a low budget to merely give an idea of the final feature and what can be accomplished by the production team. Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, 300, Sin City, and District 9 are all part of this elite crew.
A critically acclaimed film
Sin City is one of Hollywood’s most critically acclaimed films. It wouldn’t have been made had director Robert Rodriguez not convinced Frank Miller to adapt his graphic novels to the screen. But did you know the opening scene was a proof of concept film pitched to writer Frank Miller? Miller was unwilling to transition his novels because of the negative experience he endured during the making of Robocop 2 and Robocop 3.
Titled “The Customer is Always Right”, the short film features actors Josh Hartnett and Marley Shelton. The 3-minute film involves a rendezvous between two characters, “The Customer” and “The Salesman”. Both characters interact briefly and kiss, with a narration in the background. The film ends with the Salesman shooting the Customer. The film was shot in front of a green screen with most of the background computer-generated.
Image credits – Pixabay
The fake trailer
Rodriguez, whose career beginnings lie in comics and graphic novels, aimed to persuade Frank Miller with the film packaged as a fake trailer. Miller was impressed with the short and gave his approval to make it. Dimension films backed the project and released the film to acclaim and accolades. The proof of concept short was so good it was used as the opening shot of the actual feature film. The quality of the image and sound of the film was enhanced to make it more appealing on the silver screen. Rodriguez even used the short to convince many actors, including Bruce Willis, to join the project.
The success of Sin City has led many directors and writers to first pitch their ideas through shorts and hope that they get picked up for production. While not all proof of concept films get the green light, some do pass the acid test and go on to become commercial hits.
Rodriguez has used “proof of concept” regularly in his other films, such as “Grindhouse”, and describes it as a scripting process. He states that as a visual medium, such “fake trailers” are far better than a script.