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Why studios are making more short films around big-budget movies

It’s more than an advertisement

Jared Leto as Niander Wallace in Blade Runner 2049 short film Warner Bros./YouTube

Blade Runner 2049 will close the gap between the year 2019, when the original Blade Runner took place and 2049, the year Warner Bros.’ followup is set in. Much has happened in that time, including society’s reintroduction of replicants following their prohibition and the dawn of a new era reliant on the technology of one creator, Niander Wallace.

To help understand the size of Wallace’s contribution to the dystopian, neo-Los Angeles of Blade Runner 2049, Warner Bros. teamed up with 3A and RSA Films to create an explanatory short film called “2036: Nexus Dawn.” Director Luke Scott worked closed with Ridley Scott on Alien: Covenant. The two spoke about how to bring Ridley’s ideas for the short films to life. The shorts played an important role in setting up Covenant and Luke Scott believes all short films and features should go hand-in-hand. Scott told Polygon that audiences will see more of these short films appear alongside big studio blockbusters. Scott added that this does more than just help the fans who want to know everything about a character or setting before going into the film, but it also helps the filmmakers themselves.

Scott considers this method of marketing a form of cheating for directors, but a necessary, almost unavoidable one.

“It helps evolve original scripts of movies,” Scott said. “It’s sort of cheating. It fills in the gaps where the narrator doesn’t have to worry about the genesis of the narrative. You could rely possibly on these short films and other assets that roll a few weeks before the main event to do that part of the storytelling for the director.”

Scott points to his Covenant short films that helped introduce the main cast and characters. While working as a second unit director for Ridley Scott, Luke directed three shorts based on Covenant’s world. The first acted as a prologue that identified the Covenant’s main crew and their android, Walter. The second was an “advertisement” for Walter and the the third helped explain what happened to Dr. Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) after the events of Prometheus.

Each of these films, Scott said, helped prepare the audience for what they were going into. It also helped relieve director Ridley Scott of the pressure cover the same narrative ground and, because this is a business, the marketing team was able to sell the short films.

“It is a revolution and I think this particular film [Blade Runner 2049] and the next one coming up,” Scott said, “I think they are not only a great way of marketing these kinds of movies, it fills in the gaps and gives more background on a character.”

One would think that because of how much information the short film needs to provide, Scott would be privy to the entire movie. He would have to know where to start his story and where to end; what he could include and what was off bounds. Scott told Polygon that’s rarely the case. Unlike the Covenant shorts, which Scott said he worked closely with Ridley Scott on producing, he was given very little information about Niander Wallace, the film or what director Denis Villeneuve wanted.

“This was a particularly difficult project simply because so much needed to remain hidden,” Scott said. “Not much could be given away. In fact, they were very protective of what they had been doing. We are kind of going into the dark a little bit. You have this incredible performance and character that Jared [Leto] presents. And this is a really interesting scene. There’s a lot to protect. So going in, you have to think about what would Denis do.”

Scott still hasn’t seen Blade Runner 2049, despite having contributed to the movie’s expansive story. He trusts that Villeneuve will be able to tell an interesting story set in the world of Blade Runner, but he’s happy that he was able to contribute his piece of storytelling.

“This is an extension of the entertainment in and of itself,” Scott said. “I hope that my short is as close to imagining what Blade Runner 2049 turns out to be. I think that as a fan myself, ‘huh, these are really cool.’ This is It makes the fans celebrate, and I love being a part of it.”

Blade Runner 2049 will be released on Oct. 6.