“Short Term 12″ Interview: Destin Cretton On Duality of Characters, Writing A Female Lead, Shooting On Handheld, And Music

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Many have praised Destin Cretton‘s Short Term 12 for being so brilliant and yet so simple as well. You may have heard of the numerous film festival awards the film has won throughout the months it has been screened, or just the overwhelmingly positive reactions from people who have seen it. Whatever the case may be, Short Term 12 is just one of those films you have to see to believe, because words cannot describe how heartfelt and emotional it really is. You can read my review here.

Brie Larson (Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World and 21 Jump Street) and John Gallagher Jr. (Newsroom) play Grace and Mason, respectively, two twentysomething year-old short term care facilitators who provide the kind of care the despondent children deserve while also trying to put their own personal problems aside. I had a chance to talk to the Destin Cretton, the director of Short Term 12, about the film, how he successfully captured the emotional feel of the film with handheld cameras, the duality of characters, writing for a female lead, and the simplicity of the music. Hit the jump for the full interview.

MovieViral: Did you intentionally focus on the duality of the wounded healers in Short Term 12?

Destin Cretton: That was definitely something that I think was important to me as a writer and director of this film, but it was also something important to me as a person. I feel like the most substantial type of healing is always mutual to a certain extent. It’s not a teacher student relationship that is so clear cut. There’s more of a two people learning from each other. That was also my experience when I was working at a place like this. I initially started with a false and unhealthy outlook on it, that I was there to help people, and I was there too be a savior. I was there to make this place better. I was going to save these kids. There was something unhealthy, I think, in that thought. And I quickly realized how much more complicated it was than that. I found that I was most effective when I was both simultaneously keeping my role as the person who is creating a safe environment for everybody and not backing down from that role, but also not being afraid to be vulnerable and to let these kids see that I’m not much different than they are. That was kind of a big learning experience for me. Like when I look back at the person that I was before I started working there, it’s kind of shameful, and I was very naïve I think. So yeah, that’s a huge theme in the movie. No body really gives advice in the movie, there’s a couple of times in the movie where advice is being given, but most of the time, it’s the kids giving the advice to the Grace. Usually it’s the other way around. Typically when Grace is giving advice, she’s really just thinking out loud, talking about things that she shouldn’t be thinking about, and she’s giving advice to herself, while simultaneously giving advice to herself.

Which one of the characters, the counselors, do you relate to the most? Or do each represent a different stage of your experience?

Cretton: Yes. The later. Later? Latter. I relate so much to Nate. I was so clueless and said inappropriate things and had what I thought was the right attitude, but it was very much the wrong attitude when I was working there. I relate so much to Mason. I also relate so much to Grace. I have both those personalities in me. Myself, and my whole family, comparing to Mason, we definitely use humor as a way, a toool to deal with heavy things. That’s also very common among the workers in a place like this. They’re incredibly great story tellers, they’re incredibly great at using humor as an effective tool to uplifting people’s spirits a little bit. Or cracking a joke at a moment that might seem inappropriate when a kid is about to blow up or fight, humor can kind of dissolve that sometimes. So I do really relate to Mason on that level. And I also really relate to Grace. I can sometimes have a tendency to get so much in my head that I forget the importance of just spewing it out to somebody.

short term 12 interviewWhat was writing for a female lead like?

Scary. Frightening. And that was the reason I initially started writing, it just felt forced. I initially was trying just to stretch the short. I didn’t even put words on the paper. I just couldn’t even start. It just felt forced. As soon as I changed the lead to a female, it scared the crap out of me, because I have never done that before. But I do have three sisters, it was kind of a nice excuse to bounce things off them, and get into that mindset a bit. I have thought about this, writing from a female perspective, a male perspective, like writing the screenplay, but the lines are so blurred to me. I don’t see Grace as a female. I am so much Grace. But I am also so much Mason, and I think Mason as a lot of what you might consider feminine qualities, and Grace has what you might consider masculine. But there are also feminine qualities and there are also masculine qualities. I know a lot of very macho guys who are very much like Mason, underneath that little crust they’re soft like softies, their just cuddly bears. I think anyone can relate to Grace. It’s just more of personalities.

Can you talk about the cinematography of the film, and where the decision came from to shoot the film in a semi-documentary style? And can you also talk about the music?

Yeah. Brett Pollock is my DP. The esthetic of the movie is very practical. We wanted to create the best environment for performances. Not just for actors, I mean there are certain actors who are used to having lights and big things around, and still getting great performances. But did have a lot of kids, first time actors. We did a lot of our lighting from the outside, through the windows, so the environment felt like their bedroom, or the character’s world. We kept lighting very simple. We did handheld, it’s quicker, you don’t have a lot of set up, but it also allows Brett to be one of the players in the room, and you could react to things the actors were doing, and pushing on something if it’s feeling really intimate, without fully preplan it. The give and take is that you get a shaky image, but I think the benefit of it is that you also get a human reaction to things. Like the push in on Marcus when he is rapping, that wasn’t storyboarded, that was just something Brett felt as he was slowly creeping in right on his eyes.

Music was done by Joel P. West, a friend of mine, who was a singer/songwriter who did my first movie I’m Not A Hipster. We just wanted to create something that was not really telling you what to feel, but something that was beautiful, something that we wanted to listen to, but also something that wasn’t making you feel like too down or too up, something that could be taken either way, and something that was also as simplified as possible. I just love his music, and I wanted it to be there, and I wanted to be pretty and something I wanted to listen to. But it was definitely a process of we started out here with all these instruments and things, and we keep bringing them down, down, down, down till we found a place where it was small.

Short Term 12 opens in limited theaters August 23.

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