Destin Cretton, Director/writer of "Short Term 12"
Ron Najor, Producer of "Short Term 12"
Beth Accomando, KPBS Arts and Culture Reporter
Related Story: Midday Movies: 'Short Term 12'
TOM FUDGE: Coming up KPBS arts reporter and film critic Beth Accomando tells us about the indie film short term 12 and the filmmakers who created it. They are graduates of San Diego State, so stay with us as midday continues. You are listening to Midday Edition on KPBS I am Tom Fudge filling in for Maureen Cavanaugh. On this month's edition of the midday movies, KPBS arts and culture reporter Beth Accomando looks to an indy hit with local ties. Short-term 12 recently won the grand jury and audience award as the South by Southwest film festival. It opened in Los Angeles and New York last month. It will open in San Diego September 13th. Its director Destin Cretton and producer Ron Najor are both SDSU graduates. Beth has been following the progress of these young filmmakers for almost a decade and she showed the short film that inspired short-term 12 that her 2008 film school confidential student showcase. Beth sat down at the filmmakers SDSU studios to talk about their latest success. Here's that interview.
BETH ACCOMANDO: It is not often that I get to follow the evolution of a filmmaker from the very beginning but with Destin Cretton I actually had a part in helping him get started. It was on my film school confidential showcase in 2001 that Cretton saw a film by SDSU professor Greg Durbin. Cretton wanted to make a film but did not know where to start so he contacted Durbin, invited him over for an impromptu introduction to filmmaking. The following year Cretton had his own film long branch in my showcase. Mexican greens urge the feature short term 12 opens in San Diego. 2008 I had the privilege of showing the short film that inspired the feature. The tech for short-term 12 at that time read a film about kids and grown-ups who hit them. Focused on Denim the supervisor in a residential facility housing 15 kids who are all affected by child abuse or neglect. Here's a scene from the 22 min. short that won the jury prize and a short film prize at Sundance in 2009.
>> This will tell you everything you need to know the background of the catheter tester on the first day to see what they can get away with so just saying. Not everything you have to be before you can be different.
>> Help them. 10 min. till and for breakfast.
BETH ACCOMANDO: Destin, short-term 12 became a film more than 12 years ago what is the process of turning it into a feature?
DESTIN CRETTON: It was a long process the response to the short film was actually my first clue that a lot of the scenes were really universal and connecting with more people than I expected. I thought initially it was going to be a story that would only connect with a small group of people who were familiar with this world, but that was kind of the initial inspiration for wanting to explore it even further and it was a long road. I wrote the initial draft of the feature and that screenplay ended up winning the Academy Nicholl Fellowship and with the money I got from that calls another dramatic feature and that was kind of what finally allowed us to get the funding for short-term 12.
BETH ACCOMANDO: Let's hear a scene from short-term 12 Grace, played by Bree Larson, is a supervisor to foster facility for at risk teens here and she introduces the newest resident to the group.
>> Okay everyone I think everyone has already met her but we have a new member of our community. Jayden was you introduce yourself?
>> Please don't be offended if I'm not very friendly, but I'm going to be living with A my Dad and I don't like wasting time on short-term relationships, so it's nothing personal.
>> Wow she seems like a really nice girl.
>> And I think we all can respect her space, okay
BETH ACCOMANDO: Destin this is based on some of your own experiences, right?
DESTIN CRETTON: Yeah my first job out of college was working at a group home for at-risk teenagers and it was by far the most difficult job I've ever had, but also a section of time where I learned so much about myself and the world and how complicated things are.
BETH ACCOMANDO: So would you say there's a little bit of you in the main characters?
DESTIN CRETTON: Yeah I think there's a big man every character I've ever written going to the process of writing this and directing and editing it and now talking about it, et al. I think personally helps me to work through questions and organize thoughts that are not just from that experience, but also more broader questions about parenting and what type of parent I might want to be when the time comes and questions about what residue is still left over from my childhood, so, I can act on certain levels of both characters in the feature.
BETH ACCOMANDO: It seems like some of the changes you make going from the present to the future reflecting more optimistic tone, would you agree
DESTIN CRETTON: Yeah I think the optimism in the future comes from two places. One is that through the research that I did outside of my own experience, which was just into a few different people who have worked in this environment for quite a while it balanced in the stories they were telling me between very tragic difficult situations that they were telling me about, but also very hopeful optimistic hilarious stories that they were telling me, so I wanted to make sure to have both of those stories in this movie it would have been really easy to do a very dark, tragic story that was difficult to watch and that would have shown one part of this world but I think it is a more optimistic portrayal to show that the highs are just as real as follows.
BETH ACCOMANDO: Ron, you were waiting to make Short Term 12 you released another new title I am not a hipster you produce also the film. What was the difference between the two in terms of getting distribution and getting support?
RON NAJOR: As I think Destin said, I'm not hipster was a little bit more us just kind of pulling all our resources together and self financing financing or making an independent film and getting out of the world which on one hand was a huge accomplishment I think for both of us and basically kind of coming off the back of that and basically us getting into Sundance helping to kind of push a short-term 12 into getting made. Was a huge difference in terms of us having a more of a support group. I actually was more with I am not a hipster Destin and I pulling our resources and he was actually, Destin was helping us with I'm not a hipster. Our composer, Joel P West, a lot of people that came from I'm not a hipster, moved on to short-term 12. So I was sort of a family coming from one smaller film moving on to a larger project.
BETH ACCOMANDO: Do you see these films as a progression in terms of getting more attention and better distribution and actually getting your workout into the public?
RON NAJOR: We were really proud of I'm not a hipster and it definitely got out into the world and I think it helped set the stage for short-term 12, which I think has been received very well. And it's even played in Locarno and that's made an amazing press worldwide. So it's sort of like helping push to the next level and it is something that I think that we are really proud of and it's been a great progression
BETH ACCOMANDO: I'm speaking with you about the new Indy film short term. Destin, you change the gender of the main character from a male in the short film to a female in the future. What made you do that?
DESTIN CRETTON: Honestly because it really scared me was frightening to try to write from a female perspective because I'd never done it before and what I found through the processes that it is not so foreign to me and that I thought I was going to be writing the grace character as an outsider, but what I found is that I am so much of grace and I completely relate to everything she does and every insecurity that she has and her fear of being left. I know what that can feel like. When it feels like you are not worthy to be loved and I think in the end, it was kind of a nice realization that I'm not so different from my sisters or my girlfriend. And the complicated character is a complicated character.
BETH ACCOMANDO: I had the privilege of showing early student films and from the very beginning a main theme of yours has always been a sense of community and how we connect with others. This comes through in a scene where graces by Fred Mason played by John Gallagher Junior makes a toast to his foster parents.
>> I think I speak for everyone here when I say thank you for taking us in. For taking me in when I was just a punk kid who was scared of everything. When I had no one else, you accepted me and showed me what it was like. What it was like to be loved. And none of us would be here if it weren't for you. I mean, just look at this beautiful family you made. So let's all lift our glasses to our king and queen, happy 30th you guys.
BETH ACCOMANDO: So, Destin, tell me what community means to you.
DESTIN CRETTON: Community is something that is so important to me and something that I think the longer I live the more I realize how important it is to my sanity to be connected to other human beings who see me, who see the real me that is not trying to be something. And I feel like there are pieces of that in everything that I've done whether it's a character who is completely in isolation and what that means to the person and what it means to see them connect with somebody else. I mean I'm not consciously trying to I'm going to do another movie about community, but I feel like it is just something that is very personal to me and it means a lot to me, so maybe it just comes out. I don't really know. Great observation, though.
BETH ACCOMANDO: What do you think audiences are connecting within this film?
DESTIN CRETTON: The movie is about family. It's about the incredible human ability to create family and community in situations that it seems like almost impossible to have that. Even though the movie takes place in a group called short-term 12 I think all the things the characters are dealing with are very relatable to anybody even if you have wonderful parents and a wonderful upbringing I think the struggle that these parents are, these characters are dealing with are things that most people have tapped into at least at some point in their life stifling people connect with that so many different levels and the conversations I have with people afterwards are very personal and very sincere, and that is my favorite part.
BETH ACCOMANDO: Your films have a very naturalistic feel to them, they flow very easily. How do you get that as a director to work from your actors.
DESTIN CRETTON: First of all you get very good actors and I could not be more happy and proud of the performancesin this film and these performers are just wonderful humans and very professional, and they took their job very seriously. And I think what they all had, which is kind of difficult to find especially with young kid actors, but what they all had was empathy for the characters and they really wanted to discover what the motivations of their characters were, what the back stories were, and a lot of the kid actors were just very curious. And we are able to get together with a supervisor who had worked in a place like this for 15 years and they just flooded him with questions and talk to them about their characters and ask them if there are other kids that he's come across that might be dealing with certain things that there characters were dealing with and they just tore that in your head and it came out on screen. With Bree and John they are awesome, they are doing so great. What people are really connecting with on-screen is this feeling of, the people they are knowing each other and interacting with each other and to an extent that Israel because we created a community amongst the actors that was very real and a lot of that had to do with Bree Larson and John Gallagher Junior and the fact that their job didn't stop when I said cut the continues to be the leaders of the kids and interact with them and create an environment onset that felt very free and relaxed and safe, so nobody felt ashamed to try something and to be stupid and to make a mistake because it was just a very excepting apartment and I think that environment is why the performances are so good.
BETH ACCOMANDO: You are both San Diego State graduate so how do you feel about your experience here in the film department tend to do that help you in any way getting her careers underway.
DESTIN CRETTON: Totally. I would not be making movies if I did not go to San Diego State. It created a structure that allowed me to just create and make things and it also just posted my self-esteem. I was not, I wouldn't even be able to call myself a filmmaker. I still have a hard time saying that. I knew that I like the process. I didn't think I was any good at it but professors like Greg Durbin, he was so encouraging to me when I know that he did not see any talent, but he was still selling purging and it takes a very special, not a special teacher, it takes a special human to do that to just encourage somebody just for the sake of encouraging them. And it really meant a lot to me at that time. And I'm almost certain I would have quit, if I had been, had not come to school here.
RON NAJOR: And I think just the atmosphere at San Diego State I've heard from other film makers you know there is a much more competitive attitude I think at some other film schools which I think works for some people but for myself I just like at San Diego State there was this sort of feeling of we are all going to help each other out and everyone would grew up on everybody else's film and everybody was extremely excited to see what everybody else did and be a part of that. San Diego State for me was just a very special time and a time for me to build just a great family of people to collaborate with.
BETH ACCOMANDO: I've been speaking with Ron Najor, producer of short term 12 as well as I'm not hipster and Destin Cretton, writer and director of both. Thank you both for being on the show.
RON NAJOR: Thank you for having us.
DESTIN CRETTON: Thank you for helping us spread the word about our little movie.
TOM FUDGE: Short-term 12 opens in San Diego on September 13. Look for Beth's evening edition feature on the film coming up this Friday. Have a good Labor Day. You've been listening to Midday Edition on KPBS. I am Tom Fudge filling in for Maureen Cavanaugh.