Gene Hackman turned down this movie at first, because he doesn't usually do comedies. Barry Sonnenfeld said that's exactly the attitude he wanted from him on-set. Play it straight, and let the audience decide if it's funny.
MGM didn't want to extensively use Elmore Leonard-inspired dialogue in the film, and pushed Barry Sonnenfeld and Scott Frank to make many passages more generic than the book's, but once John Travolta signed on to the film, he successfully pressured the studio to leave Frank's original draft (which had a lot of colorful dialogue) intact for filming. A specific example of this end result came during the sequence where Chili Palmer (John Travolta) goes to retrieve his coat from Ray "Bones" Barboni (Dennis Farina).
A scene with Ben Stiller as the director of one of Harry's low-budget B-movies was cut from the film, because it didn't suit the flow of it. Even though Barry Sonnenfeld thought it was funny (maybe the funniest scene in the movie) it did nothing to advance the plot, so it had to go.
Barry Sonnenfeld was very eager to work with Danny DeVito on this movie. Eventually, DeVito bought the book, and although he hadn't finished reading it, he said he got it. He wasn't referring to the novel. He was referring to the film rights.
When Rene Russo first met with Barry Sonnenfeld and Danny DeVito at a restaurant, she had an allergic reaction to the sesame in her tuna sandwich. She broke out in hives and had to go the doctor, sure she hadn't gotten the part. Sonnenfeld felt sympathetic, and assured her the role was hers.
When people in West Hollywood first saw the billboard with Danny DeVito dressed up as Napoléon Bonaparte credited with Martin Weir's name, they thought it was a real one, and DeVito might have changed his name. The film crew had to explain to residents it was just a prop in DeVito's latest movie.
Almost every one of the magazine covers on the rack behind Chili Palmer (John Travolta) at the airport have Martin Weir (Danny DeVito) on the cover. Even the issue of Playboy Magazine lists an interview with Martin Weir on its cover.
(At around one hour and nineteen minutes) A newspaper article is momentarily shown on-screen with the headline: "Horror Film Producer Questioned in Shooting". Although shown too quickly to read without pausing the scene, the second paragraph of the article reads, "At a morning press briefing, LAPD Sergeant Edward Randall disclosed that Wingate, owner of a Los Angeles Limousine Fleet and a sometime investor in Zimm (Gene Hackman)'s films was shot five times. Four wounds were in the chest area, a fifth in one of his feet. Sergeant Randall refused to disclose which foot."
The original scene with Penny Marshall's cameo had her getting into her car and driving off when the shoot was finished, but she hadn't driven a car in many years, so it was changed that her assistant drives her off.
The title "Get Shorty" from both the film and the book title refers to Orson Welles' chauffeur George 'Shorty' Chirello. That in part was recited by John Travolta's character from Welles' film Touch of Evil (1958).
Even though he turned down the Chili Palmer role, Michael Keaton did another film based on the Elmore Leonard novel "Rum Punch". The movie was Jackie Brown (1997) and the role was A.T.F. Agent Ray Nicolette, which was originally made for John Travolta, due to the fact that Quentin Tarantino was directing, and that he worked with him before on Pulp Fiction (1994). Travolta turned it down, due to Face/Off (1997), and Keaton got the part. Keaton reprised the role in Out of Sight (1998), another Elmore Leonard adaptation.
Harvey Keitel plays himself filming a movie where he portrays Ray Barboni, a man who is set up by Chili Palmer (John Travolta) to get arrested. In the sequel, Be Cool (2005), Harvey Keitel plays Nick Carr, who is similarly set up by Chili Palmer to get arrested.
In the exterior scene at LAX, professional tennis player Todd Martin can be seen carrying his racquets & glancing back towards the camera. He was returning from his Finals appearance at the Australian Open.
Dennis Farina (Ray "Bones" Barboni) and Alex Rocco (Jimmy Capp) shared a scene together, and shared a birthday together as well. What makes this extra special is that both are one of few people in the business who shared their birthday on February 29.
Quentin Tarantino had been planning to direct a prequel to Reservoir Dogs (1992) and Pulp Fiction (1994), called "The Vega Brothers". Michael Madsen played Mr. Blonde (Vic Vega) in Reservoir Dogs (1992) and John Travolta played Vincent Vega in Pulp Fiction (1994). Madsen and Travolta became too old to reprise their iconic roles, so Tarantino abandoned the project. Gene Hackman co-starred with "The Vega Brothers". Hackman with Madsen in Wyatt Earp (1994), incidentally, Madsen turned down being Vincent Vega to be in Wyatt Earp (1994), and Hackman with Travolta in this movie.
Gene Hackman and James Gandolfini appeared in Crimson Tide (1995). Coincidentally, in Crimson Tide (1995), Hackman's character has a pet dog named Bear, same as Gandolfini's character's name in this movie.
When this movie received its premiere in 1999, Radio Times' Adrian Turner reviewed it as "Film of the Week". Among what Turner wrote in his review was, "Released in the wake of Pulp Fiction (1994), Get Shorty was an attempt to cash in on the success of Quentin Tarantino. Hence the plot is almost nonexistent. Indeed it seems to be little more than a series of vignettes, as Director Barry Sonnenfeld's mordant sense of humor makes light of the violence. But unlike Tarantino, he doesn't let it run on forever. There are no sliced ears or bloodbaths here." John Travolta also starred in Pulp Fiction (1994), written and directed by Quentin Tarantino.
The trivia items below may give away important plot points.
As a nod to his short but memorable role in The Godfather (1972), Alex Rocco (Jimmy Capp, Ray Bones' boss) is only seen in this film receiving a body massage in a similar manner as the character he played, Moe Green, in his final scene in The Godfather (1972), before he is assassinated.
Regarding Orson Welles, Chili (John Travolta) says "Sometimes you do your best work when you got a gun to your head." Later in the movie, he does indeed do some great work when he has a gun pointed at him, the second time right up against his head.