Have you heard of Destin Cretton? For those who haven’t, that may not be the case for long – the director has been enjoying some well-deserved spotlight lately for his feature film Short Term 12, even making the cover of the summer issue of The Academy Report.
Destin was kind enough to spend some time chatting with us recently and our discussion was engaging to say the least. He’s a very humble guy, and his insights on character development, life, and what to do when things don’t go according to plan were all quite fascinating. There’s even a neat little easter egg at the end – I’m just one degree away from knowing him in real life! Not to say that the bewitching communication matrix we like to call the telephone isn’t real life, but you’ll see what I mean.
Anyways, be sure to check out our talk below, and keep your eyes peeled for Short Term 12’s release on August 23rd (Update: See our review as well!).
So I saw the film last night, Short Term 12 — I really liked it, by the way. My first question has to do with the character Nate, because, in the first couple minutes of the film, it seemed to me that he was actually going to be more of a main focus. By the end, though, I kind of realized that he’s mostly comic relief. How did that come about, and are you Nate? Or is someone else Nate?
Destin Cretton: Yea, I mean Nate is definitely modeled after how I felt when I first started working at the place that’s similar to this. I was just as scared, awkward, and uncomfortable, and feeling as completely inadequate and out of place as Nate did, and so Nate was kind of like the initial window into the world. And I think when I talked to Rami about that character, we always were looking at him as the eyes of the audience, or the eyes of most people who have no idea what’s going on in a world like this. So yeah – I completely understand every emotion that he was feeling.
Yeah, because at the beginning when he walks in and says “I’ve always wanted to work with underprivileged kids,” it’s almost– well, depending on who’s watching, that could either be a facepalm, or it could be, they don’t know what he did wrong.
DC: Right, exactly.
Ok, so speaking about character development. I thought the way Grace was developed was really tactful, because information was revealed slowly but surely, without ever stepping on the toes of the previous information. For example, at first she’s a strong willed individual who would do anything for her kids, and though this holds true you later find that she can actually, truly relate to what they are going through. So I was wondering how you go about layering new information without contradicting or undoing previous information.
DC: Well, the entire story is about– I mean, one of the things that I really enjoy about films but also just about life, is when a person proves me wrong about my preconceptions of them. And that’s not just with Grace, but with a lot of the characters in this movie, I think they start off as characters who are easy to pre-judge, and have some kind of idea of what you think they are, and we hope that at some point in the movie you’re caught off guard and you see them in a completely different light. And so that does happen with Grace.
Going with how Grace or any of these characters might develop in unexpected ways, when you’re working with actors and actresses, I guess Brie Larson in this specific case, do you have what the character will become specifically hashed out in your mind? Or does the actor/actress often bring a new aspect to the character that you hadn’t ever really considered?
DC: Oh, always. The actors always bring something new and fresh, and that’s what I hope. And everything is a discussion. As soon as Brie came onboard, even our first discussions, the character began to transform from what I initially thought. Which is exactly what I hope, I hope that when I get the words on the page of the script, I hope that by the time it gets to the end it’s improved quite a bit because of the other talents that are jumping onboard, and that’s — for me as a director – that’s the most exciting part.
Yeah, and going along with that, it’s interesting because I think for a film like this, the audience perception is more what you just described, with kind of an equal exchange between the actor and the director. Whereas with extremely popular and/or mainstream directors, it seems like it’s all about the name — oh, Chris Nolan — and audiences don’t always give the actors as much credit. Do yous see that at all as directors start to blow up, so to speak?
DC: I mean, I don’t know, I feel like some of my favorite directors who definitely have made names for themselves– when I hear actors talk about the process of working with them it is still very collaborative, and very open and free. To me, I feel like that’s what makes a really great director, is somebody who is not so into themselves that they’re not going to also tap into the talents of other people. I think the best directors are ones that are extremely supportive and encouraging of other people’s talents. I mean, we’re not actors. So I think there’s a certain amount of guidance that needs to happen, to make sure that everyone feels safe, and that the ship is being steered in the right direction, but there also should be a lot of freedom to trust actors in doing what they do. I have no idea how they do the stuff they do, but it’s so– it’s mesmerizing for me.
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I watched an interview you did with a YouTube Channel called the Pretentious Film Majors, I don’t know if you remember doing that specifically.
DC: I do remember that! [Laughs]. That was for Hipster, that was like a while ago.
DC: Didn’t I do that with Adam Shapiro?
Yeah, that’s the one. Anyways, one of the things you said in that interview was, that once everything finally all comes together — production is over, audiences are out seeing the film and it’s hopefully resonating with them — that you consider that to be a “minor miracle,” just because so much has to come together. So I was wondering if you’ve ever had an experience where the “minor miracle” didn’t kick in, and that’s your frame of reference, or if that is just a belief you hold in general.
DC: Um, you mean like, other productions that have just fallen apart? [Laughs]
Well, not necessarily fallen apart, but where you didn’t feel this amazing positivity at the end.
DC: Well I mean, there are always ups and downs to making the movie, because it lasts so long and it’s impossible to actually retain a high for that long, so you just have to trudge through the shit as well as go through the really high, blissful moments. But I mean for me everything, I preplan pretty meticulously, along with my DP, and we know exactly how we will shoot something, and how we will piece it together if everything else goes bad. We hope that when we get there, the actors will be inspired, and the set is going to create better angles and shots than we originally perceived, and that we won’t have to cut around things too much. But, if everything doesn’t work out, which does happen sometimes, if scenes just aren’t working and we have to just push through it, we fall into this backup plan that is usually foolproof in having a way to piece together something that will at least be OK. For this project, that did happen a few times. But most of the time, I was so blown away by the actors and what they were bringing, it inspired so much more than what we had originally planned for.
So it’s kind of like, you have a safety net in place, but fingers crossed to not need it.
DC: Yeah, exactly. I mean, that’s how I used to be, when I first started making movies, everything was so pre-planned and structured, including the exact lines that I wanted the actors to say, and the exact facial expressions that I wanted them to do, and you know, it makes a watchable movie, but it doesn’t feel like an inspired, exciting, living organism, you know?
Yeah, definitely. Actually, I wanted to talk about the character Mason. My main observation about him was that he’s probably the only character in the film who has experienced an actual loving upbringing. That kind of results in how patient he is with Grace, and his genuine affection for her. So I was curious, did that come from any real life inspiration? Do you know a Mason?
DC: Yeah, I think everyone knows a Mason. I think most people know somebody where you know what they’ve gone through, and they shouldn’t be as positive as they are, they should be more cynical towards things, but somehow they have found a way to rise above the path or circumstances that they’ve been through. And for Mason, a huge part of that does have to do with the family that took him in at the right time in his life. But it was really important for the story, I think, to have one character who is an example of a healthy outcome to what all the other characters in the movie are trying to do, which is just deal with the shit in their past. And here we have one character who has successfully done that, and it’s obviously through the help of other people and through the help of this idea of creating a family wherever you can and in whatever means possible. And I think– I think we can do one more quick question, I may have to get off the phone I’m being told!
Ok, well I do have kind of a funny bonus question here. Do you know someone named Jacob Morrison?
DC: Oh yeah, totally! That’s my old student!
Yeah, in San Diego, right? My brother goes to Emerson College, and Jacob is his best friend basically.
DC: Oh, no way! [Laughs]. Do they make movies together?
Yeah, they did this movie Disorder, I don’t know if you saw that.
DC: I saw that! No way, tell them I said hi.
Yeah, that’s actually part of why I volunteered to do this interview [Laughs].
DC: Wow, that’s so cool. Well definitely tell them hello for me.
I will – anyways, thanks so much for taking the time!
Short Term 12 is out tomorrow, so be sure to schedule it into your weekend plans! Big thanks again to Destin for chatting with us.Previous