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LAFF: Destin Cretton Talks SXSW Grand Jury Winner 'Short Term 12,' Immaturity and the Mystery of Indie Film's Future (TRAILER)

Thompson on Hollywood By Sophia Savage | Thompson on Hollywood June 16, 2013 at 1:11AM

Destin Daniel Cretton talks his "Short Term 12," from Sundance winning short to SXSW Grand Jury prize-winning feature...
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'Short Term 12' Director Destin Cretton Introduces Cast at LAFF
'Short Term 12' Director Destin Cretton Introduces Cast at LAFF

I first encountered director Destin Daniel Cretton via the brilliantly titled (and very well done) "I Am Not A Hipster" when the Sundance NEXT entry played at the 2012 Seattle International Film Festival. His short film "Short Term 12" won Sundance's short filmmaking award in 2009 and was then developed into his second feature thanks in part to Cretton winning the Academy's Nicholl fellowship. The feature "Short Term 12" debuted at SXSW to rave reviews--and won the fest's Grand Jury Award. (Here are reviews from ThePlaylist and Indiewire.)

Cinedigm snapped up North American and Latin American rights to the film starring Brie Larson as a troubled foster care worker. The company is releasing the film on August 23, and is planning an awards push for its breakout star.

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.

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?

Short Term 12

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.

This article is related to: South By Southwest Film Conference and Festival (SXSW), SXSW, Festivals, Festivals, Interviews , Los Angeles Film Festival, Short Term 12, Brie Larson


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Thompson on Hollywood

Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.