A sitdown with Destin Cretton, the writer/director of ‘Short Term 12’

Posted in Blu-Ray/DVD, Interviews by - February 09, 2015
A sitdown with Destin Cretton, the writer/director of ‘Short Term 12’

Originally published in 2013


I got the chance to sit down with the writer/director of Short Term 12;  Destin Cretton.  We got to talk about what influenced the film, how important it was to maintain a certain genuine feel about the film, the lynchpin performance that he got out of his star Brie Larson and how rewarding the entire process of just talking about the film has been for him.

Dave Voigt: Now a film like Short Term 12 isn’t the kind of thing that you just imagine or come up with out of the blue, it’s the kind of story that you must have experienced either directly or by a degree of separation or two.  How were you ultimately inspired to make Short Term 12?

Destin Cretton: The idea initially blossomed from my first job straight out of college, as I was working at a place that was actually very similar to that one.  That’s ultimately where the short film I made of Short Term 12 came from and that was also my thesis project while I was at San Diego state university and it came out of going through my journal entries at that time, just trying to craft something out of that experience.  Then when it came time to do the feature, it wasn’t just my experiences and it became something a lot more collective because I had done a series of interviews with people who had worked at places like that for a lot longer than I had and based on their stories, it became so much of the back stories of the characters in the film.

DV: Did a lot of the film come from research or was it more observational in nature?

DC:  It really was a collection of both, as the feature really pulled so much from those interviews that I did, almost to a tee really because for example the opening story from Mason was basically almost verbatim from an interview I did with this guy in a bar and almost verbatim made it in to the script! (Laughs)

DV: The film always felt so very genuine from beginning to end.  How important was it for you to be able to capture that naturalistic tone to the story?

DC: Oh, it was very important.  One very specific reason why we wanted to make this film was so that people could just get a taste of what it is like to live or work in a place like this.  Most people just never have an opportunity to go and visit a place like this so we wanted it to feel as authentic as it possibly could.  Thank goodness that a lot of that came to my cinematographer, costume designer and the entire team to be on board to not…show off, if that makes any sense.  To make sure that authenticity was more important than creating the perfect shot or having a really cool outfit.  I told them all that if they just do their jobs really well, more than likely no one is going to compliment them on it… (Laughs)

DV: The movie really has such ebb and flow to it as it takes us down and then brings us back up avoiding any tired archetypes.  Obviously places like the one we see in the film exist everywhere, but it’s never talked about and when it is, it’s just a downer but after the character overcomes his one obstacle, then everything is fine.  This film isn’t like that at all and reminds us how there are really no easy answers in life but still manages to have somewhat of a happy ending.  How did you manage to capture that tone and actually maintain an upbeat ending?

DC: It was so important for me and that came straight from the environment .  It wasn’t like a “Movie Tool” used to try and make people laugh.  I mean when I started working there it was easily the most terrifying job that I had ever had, my heart was in my throat every single day and I just wanted to quit.  But it really became one of the most fun places to work, those intense things and moments didn’t go away but I also never laughed so much and the teenagers I was working with so smart and funny and just fun.  That feeling really came through in all the stories that I was gathering together, it was always full of comedy and tragedy, just that cycle of having intense highs and lows and it is so inherent in an environment like the one in the film.  Even though the movie does end on a high, I don’t necessarily call it a “Happy Ending” just more of a moment of levity.

DV: Brie (Larson) is obviously getting so much attention for her work and she truly does deliver a fantastic performance.  How intense was the casting process for you in order to find the right person to play Grace?

DC: Casting Brie was actually quite easy! (Laughs)  I watched her reel and I was really impressed with how she transformers herself from character to character and it was exciting to me that she hadn’t done a version of her character in  a film like this yet in her career, and for me as a director it was really exciting.  Anyone who knows her work, knows that she COULD do a role like this, she just hasn’t yet and when I got to sit and talk with her and we sent her the script and she responded to it.  I talked with her over Skype about it for an hour and it was just really easy.  That was the first time that I had realized just how smart she was and how mature she was, because she was so good at playing high school type, younger characters and that was the one thing I was really curious about to see how she was in person.  She was just so smart and thoughtful and introspective, everything that I was looking for in Grace, so it was easy to get excited about working with her.

DV: I have always been curious about the difference between working on a short film, which wouldn’t necessarily have a fixed time line to working on a feature like Short Term 12 which was still a quick turn with a twenty day shoot.  How do you find the difference in the process?

DC: I did about 6 short films, before I did my first feature and (pauses)…it is HARD to do a short film and I didn’t realize this until I had made my first feature but you just don’t start to get the really good stuff until about Day 4, 5, 6 once people are at ease and not on edge anymore, while on a short you may not even get to Day 4 and it would just be done by then! (Laughs)   At the end of a short film I always felt so sad because only at that point did I feel comfortable to laugh and joke and be silly with these people that I just spent the past few days with, and at least for me that is probably the biggest challenge. (Laughs)

DV: The film debuted at South by Southwest in March and now we are here in November, how’s the ride been for you so far with the film?

DC: Oh, it’s been great.  For me personally it really has been so fulfilling, as you can imagine talking about a movie for a while can be pretty draining, but for the most part it allows me to talk about things that I really believe in.  A lot of times, my conversations are quite personal and fulfilling because this film tends to touch people in that way and then I get to hear their stories which is so fulfilling for me as well.

DV: And it’s the kind of film that makes people WANT to talk as well, and that doesn’t always happen with movies.

DC: Yeah, that’s been really nice and I think one big reason why this process can be draining because with sometimes with other films you just get to a point where it doesn’t feel authentic anymore, like you have to put on a show.

DV: Oh no doubt, and I’m sure guys like me have asked you similar questions countless times, but you do manage to keep that passion and genuine enthusiasm about talking about the film.

DC: It’s been so nice and I really think that the movie really does introduce me to people who genuinely respond to just like I do and it’s been nice to meet so many nice people who see the world kind of like I do, it’s been great.

DV: Did you have any sort of bar of expectations when you made Short Term 12 or have you already gone past that?

DC: Oh yeah, we blew past that mark a LONG time ago (Laughs) I tend to keep my expectations pretty low (Laughs)


This post was written by
David Voigt, has been a lover of cinema all his life and an actual underpaid critic for a solid 5 years covering everything that the city of Toronto has to offer. He was a content manager in video distribution industry before that and his love of all things cinema goes back to his first moments in awe looking up at the big screen. His 12 years of experience on the home entertainment side of the business have provided him with a unique view on what is worth spending your hard earned entertainment dollars on. Combine that with his unquestioned love of film, David should be your only stop to find out about the best in film, not only in Toronto, but worldwide.