Posted by Valentina Valentini on August 23, 2013 at 12:00 pm
When I saw Short Term 12 at SXSW back in March and wrote my review, I was doing so with bated breath, hoping that the rest of the world would see the beauty and sadness I saw come off that screen in the Alamo Drafthouse theatre.
The pickup for writer-director Destin Daniel Cretton’s freshman feature I Am Not a Hipster back at Sundance 2012 was slow. But I was sure that injustice would be rectified, and kept my eye on this group of renaissance filmmakers. Here they are now with a movie that moves, and critics are paying attention.
Producer Ron Najor – one of the many crossover members of the original crew from Hipster including DP Brett Pawlak, composer Joel P West, associate producer Asher Goldstein and one of Cretton’s three sisters, costume designer Joy Cretton – says that Cretton really cares about the people he works with and builds an extended family with his collaborators.
“Originally, a lot of people didn’t want to get behind Short Term 12 because Destin was a first-time feature director,” says Najor. “Hipster was made because we self-financed on a modest budget and didn’t have to get anyone’s approval. But this time, as a second-time filmmaker, I think more people were encouraged to get this film made. And since this wasn’t our first go at a feature together, there was this wonderful shorthand that we all had which made for such a friendly and collaborative set.”
On the eve of Short Term 12’s release in New York and Los Angeles, I talk with the self-aware and ever-humble Cretton about the ease and joy of using the same crew on his two features, his fear of the foster care community’s reactions, and how he chose to leave out the more extreme group home stories because audiences would just think he was manipulating their feelings. Which is ironic, since not one critic yet that I know have has accused the Maui-native of forcing the emotions in this story.
VIV: How would you describe these last months since SXSW?
DDC: It’s been exciting and surprising and exhausting. But mostly, the conversations I’ve been having after every screening have been very moving, very personal and really touching. I’ve learned a lot more about the film than when I started.
When the glowing reviews started coming in, did you breathe a sigh of relief or start jumping for joy?
If I believe the good ones then I have to believe the bad ones. Honestly, I try not to get too caught up in the reviews. I do enjoy reading good reviews whether they’re positive or negative; I enjoy smart, interesting interpretations of the movie, ones that teach me about a different perspective of the film.
They’ve been really great so far, but there are still a lot of reviews to come. I’m so happy with the outcome so far, but I’m also wary of what is still ahead. General hype doesn’t do any good for any artist.
Was there ever a hope that the foster home/at-risk youth community would jump on board and champion the film as they have been?
That aspect was really scary for me, actually – to show the movie to people that are really familiar with this world, the people that are working 50 hours a week in it. But hearing that [positive] feedback was such a relief. In one of the first screenings we had, a kid came up to me after the movie ended. He was about 20 years old and had been living in the system, in a group home very similar to the one in the movie, throughout most of his young adult life and just got out two years earlier. He came up to me and he thanked me. He thought he was going to watch another really bad portrayal of his world and was really grateful that we showed it in a way that he was able to identify with.
The movie was not created with any type of social agenda behind it, but I do hope it can be used as a tool to start conversations around the foster care system and its issues by people that are much smarter on that topic than I am.
Did making another feature first inform or change your shooting script for Short Term 12 at all?
In countless ways. The best part of doing Hipster before Short Term was that a lot of the same crew went from one project to the next, shooting almost exactly a year later. Collectively, we learned so much about how to work together, how to communicate, simple things like what each others pet peeves are, when somebody is getting irritated and it’s time to back off on the jokes. All those things carried over into the next movie and made for a really productive and enjoyable work environment.
A lot of the stories that made it in to the film are from real life stories. What was one that didn’t make it in that you would have loved to get in there?
There are so many stories that I collected in interviews from people that work in [group homes], and also from my own experiences, that there’s enough material to fill up five feature films. So there are a lot of stories that didn’t make it in. But also, a lot of them were too dark or too outrageous that I knew I couldn’t put it into the movie because people just wouldn’t believe it or would see it as a way to pull on their emotional strings or manipulate them. There were even things we shot that didn’t make it in to the final cut because of time constraints, but I’m happy to say that they’ll be available on the DVD extras when that comes out.