Set in a short term care facility for at-risk youths, the film approaches the micro-tales of each guest (and those of their equally unsettled adult supervisors) which sometimes seem familiar but remain fresh; the plot is never too calculated. A lightness shows through the cracks in the characters, off-setting the potential for sad stories of emotional damage to weigh things down. Stars Brie Larson ("Scott Pilgrim," "21 Jump St"), John Gallagher Jr. ("The Newsroom"), Kaitlyn Dever ("Last Man Standing," "Justified") and Keith Stanfield each deliver the nuanced heart-and-soul required to make "Short Term 12" a surefire festival hit.
My interview with Cretton is below.
Sophia Savage: I didn't see your Sundance-winning short "Short Term 12" until after seeing your new SXSW feature version of the story. A lot has probably changed since you made the short film; how has the root of the story stayed the same?
Destin Daniel Cretton: Most of the characters and story-lines are pretty different, though many of the core themes are still stuck in the feature. That said, I wouldn't consider this feature a direct adaptation of the short. At its root, it's still a film about a person learning how to face the adversity in her life, to love herself so she can begin to really love those around her.
Do you consider your films works of fiction, or are they heavily inspired by your own experiences?
These first two films are definitely works of fiction, but they are also very much inspired by my own experiences. In the case of "ST12," I worked at a place very similar to that before going to film school. So I really do connect with these characters and their situations, and we did our best to portray things authentically. But in the end, it's still a movie, and we're all just trying out different ways to play make-believe.
When you cast a film, what are you looking for in actors? Do you find the process is different casting adults vs. children? And given "Short Term 12"'s heavy subject matter, there must have been some parental convincing involved?
Casting is such a strange process, and I never know exactly what I'm looking for until an actor walks in the room and begins to talk. As a writer, the casting room is often the first time I'm hearing my lines read out loud, which can be tough. But every once in a while, an actor will come in and put so much of themselves into the words that I forget who wrote them. That's usually when I know we found the right one. And yes, casting for children can definitely be crazy, but by some miracle, we ended up with a group of the most mature, fun, genuine teenagers I've ever met. And their performances were blowing my mind daily.
In the film, I found that maturity and age did not necessarily go hand in hand. Although the adult characters are the on-the-ground caretakers/supervisors of the children in the short term facility, it's the raw vulnerability of the children that helps spur change in the adults. How intentional was your use of this dichotomy?
I'm sure a lot of that stems from my own immaturity and feelings of inadequacy during the time that I worked at a group home. I honestly didn't feel much further along the road of life than the kids I was supposed to be in charge of. It was pretty common for me to leave at the end of the day feeling like I learned more from those teens than they'd ever learn from me.