Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 12 December 2019

Short Term 12 makes a drama out of a crisis

At the Abu Dhabi Film Festival, Destin Daniel Cretton talks about the challenges in making his acclaimed Short Term 12.
John Gallagher Jr. and Brie Larson in stills from Short Term 12. Courtesy ADFF
John Gallagher Jr. and Brie Larson in stills from Short Term 12. Courtesy ADFF

After sweeping up awards and accolades around the world, Short Term 12 has arrived at the Abu Dhabi Film Festival.

The drama depicts the mentally disturbed adolescents in a care home, and the almost equally troubled young adults hired to supervise them.

The movie’s writer and director Destin Daniel Cretton was a former worker in one of these facilities. He originally turned his experiences there into a short film, before managing to secure funding to expand it into a full-length feature.

While in Abu Dhabi to attend the festival, Cretton hosted a seminar on how to make the transition from short films to features.

He also talked about other challenges in making the film. For him, one of the most taxing tasks was assembling the cast.

“We had three weeks to cast the movie, so we had to do it pretty quickly,” he recalls. “The casting part is always the most stressful to me because it feels like an impossible task to find the perfect person to play each of these roles.

“Especially working with young actors, I was terrified. We didn’t have enough time to see hundreds and hundreds of people.

“But for every role, there was somehow one teenage actor who came in, into this tiny room with our audition cameras and the producers, and made me forget that I had written those lines.”

One of the most impressive performances comes from the 15-year-old Kaitlyn Dever, who plays a self-harming youngster who may be suffering abuse at the hands of her father.

“When Kaitlyn came and auditioned for the role of Jayden, I was just in tears by the end of it,” ­explains Cretton.

“When this happened, we just grabbed those actors and hoped we would be able to schedule them.”

Cretton says making the film was a cathartic experience, helping him overcome the turmoil of working in the care home. “It was emotionally tough being in an environment that at any moment of the day you’re seeing the results of bad parenting and neglect.”

Because of this, he says, it made him question whether he wanted to have children and whether he would be a suitable parent one day.

“But overall, it was incredibly moving working in that place. It changed my life and with an experience that strong it’s something worth obsessing over and exploring more,” says Cretton.

“The process of this is very healthy for me. The whole creative process was, in a weird way, very healthy for me.”

Now, Short Term 12 is even being whispered about as being a possible contender for the Oscars.

Cretton hints that he is in talks to direct a new film with the A-list actress Jennifer Lawrence, but refuses to divulge more on this.

But if he does go on to achieve mainstream Hollywood success, Short Term 12 will be the moment his talent became evident.

• Short Term 12 screens at Marina Mall Vox 4 at 3.30pm. Visit www.adff.ae for details

hberger@thenational.ae

Updated: October 29, 2013 04:00 AM

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