Watch Debut Short Films Directed by Former Child Actors Ron Howard and Joseph Gordon-Levitt

By  · Published on September 28th, 2013

This is another edition of Short Starts, where we present a weekly short film(s) from the start of a filmmaker or actor’s career.

This weekend sees the release of two major films directed by former child stars. There’s Rush by Ron Howard, who got his true start as a boy on TV shows like Dennis the Menace and The Andy Griffth Show, and Don Jon by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who got his true start as a boy on TV shows like Family Ties and Roseanne. So, given the link, I thought it would be worth it to double up on the latest column. Both actors eventually became directors (Howard made the full switch while Gordon-Levitt is actually still a rising screen star), and before the made features they directed a few shorts. Howard’s are more like home movies made with his brother Clint and friends. Gordon-Levitt’s are mostly animated collaborative works produced through his hitRECord company.

Let’s look at Howard’s first. In 1969, he shot three amateur Westerns, which he also appears in. Maybe he directed others in those teen years, but we only know about Old Paint, Deed of Daring-Do and Cards, Cads, Guns, Gore and Death because they were included on the DVD of The Missing. Because of the genre. Cards, etc. is the only one I can find online, and man is it adorable. And very bloody. The plot is your basic cliche card game that get out of hand when someone is accused of cheatin’. Young Ronny shoots the culprit. Then little Clint kills his brother before being shot in the back by another man for some reason. It may not be the best film Howard has directed, but it’s still a thousand times better than The Dilemma. Watch it after the jump.

Now for JGL. As far as I know, his very first directorial effort (until we find out he and his late brother did home movies as kids) was a three-minute art film (or “fartsy” film as he labels it) called Escargots. Featuring animation and black and white footage of the actor/director plus a bit of news clips, the French-language short is an adaptation and reading of Jacques Prévert’s poem “Chanson des escargots qui vont à l’enterrement.” The credits show that he got help from his friends, filmmaker Rian Johnson, actor Noah Segan and 3rd Rock From the Sun composer Jeff Sudakin, who also worked on Gordon-Levitt’s first “official” (as in IMDb-credited) directorial effort, Sparks. Watch Escargots here:

As for Gordon-Levitt’s shorts since then, Sparks is the most live-action and narratively conventional short. Running 24 minutes and based on Elmore Leonard’s short story of the same name (an adaptation opportunity that came from Gordon-Levitt starring in The Killshot), the cartoonish noir stars Carla Gugino as a woman being investigated for possible arson and insurance fraud by an insurance agent played by Eric Stoltz. JGL can just barely be seen in a cameo as rock drummer, and there’s a bit of 3rd Rock reunion in Kristen Johnston lending her voice to one scene. After premiering at Sundance in 2009, Sparks was released on an anthology DVD via Wolphin. That appears to be out of print at the moment, so I don’t think it would hurt to share a copy I found online:

The rest of his shorts are more hitRECord stuff, which you can easily find on the site in various incarnations. There’s Morgan M. Morgansen’s Date With Destiny and the sequel Morgan M. Morgansen Eleventeenth Date: The Zeppelin Zoo. I’ve linked to the Sundance/SXSW premiere cuts, though I’m not a fan of the silly narration so I recommend the silent versions instead. And there’s Strawberry Bootlaces, which is more cute animation with sort-of-live-action JGL mixed in. And there’s his They Can’t Turn the Lights Off Now animated PSA in collaboration with the ACLU. Those are just what IMDb lists, however, and you can find a whole lot more on

Christopher Campbell began writing film criticism and covering film festivals for a zine called Read, back when a zine could actually get you Sundance press credentials. He's now a Senior Editor at FSR and the founding editor of our sister site Nonfics. He also regularly contributes to Fandango and Rotten Tomatoes and is the President of the Critics Choice Association's Documentary Branch.