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Programs Wed 12.17.2014

CASE STUDY: The Making of Short Term 12

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SHORT TERM 12 is an award-winning drama about a young woman who works as a supervisor at a teen group home and struggles to care for her teenage patients while desperately avoiding the residue of her own dark past. Based on his short film of the same title, the film is written and directed by filmmaker Destin Daniel Cretton.

SHORT TERM 12 won both the Audience Award for Best Narrative Feature and the Grand Jury Prize for Best Narrative Feature at the South by Southwest Film Festival (SXSW) in 2013. The film was nominated for three Film Independent Spirit Awards in 2014, including Best Female Lead for Brie Larson, Best Supporting Male for Keith Stanfield and Best Editing for Nat Sanders.

Producer Asher Goldstein talked in depth with Film Independent to provide the following detailed case study on how he and his colleagues got SHORT TERM 12 made and into theaters.

Dramatic Feature

Director: Destin Daniel Cretton
Producers: Maren Olson, Asher Goldstein, Joshua Astrachan, Ron Najor
Budget: Undisclosed
Financing: Equity Financing, Grants
Production: 20 days, September 2012
Shooting Format: RED Epic
Screening Format: DCP/HD Cam
World Premiere: SXSW Film Festival, 2013
Awards: Grand Jury Prize & Audience Award – SXSW, Los Angeles Film Festival Audience Award, Best Actress – Locarno Film Festival
Website: www.shortterm12.com

Official Synopsis

Short Term 12 is told through the eyes of Grace (Brie Larson), a twenty-something supervisor at a foster-care facility for at-risk teenagers. Passionate and tough, Grace is a formidable caretaker of the kids in her charge – and in love with her long-term boyfriend and co-worker, Mason (John Gallagher Jr.). But Grace’s own difficult past – and the surprising future that suddenly presents itself – throw her into unforeseen confusion. This confusion is made all the sharper with the arrival of a new intake at the facility, a gifted but troubled teenage girl with whom Grace has a charged connection. While the subject matter is complex, this lovely realized film finds truth and humor in unexpected places.

Development & Financing

The project started with the director Destin Cretton, who had worked for a number of years at a foster care facility.

Cretton had directed a short thesis film of the same name during his time at San Diego State, winning the Jury Prize at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival. The short was a launching point for the feature project and one of the reasons Olson and Goldstein’s production and sales company, Traction Media, first contacted the director. “He sent us an early version of the script,” remembers Goldstein, “and we sent him notes and ended up working closely on the development of the script.”

In 2010, Cretton’s screenplay won the coveted Academy Nicholl Fellowship. Bolstered by this, the team went to IFP Film Market to meet with possible financing partners. In the meantime, Cretton used the cash grant from the Nicholl Fellowship to support himself while he wrote another screenplay, one of the requirements of winning the Fellowship.

Goldstein was told by many that the subject matter was a hard sell; other financiers who seemed more keen on the project had an issue with Cretton being a first-time feature director. They’d be willing to consider backing the project if Traction would be open to other directors tackling the project, but that was a deal-breaker for Goldstein.

With no other leads forthcoming, and Cretton itching to make a feature, the filmmakers decided to fast-track I Am Not A Hipster. Cretton had scaled back his living expenses and had enough money left from the Nicholl Fellowship grant to use as seed money for the film.

With funds from the Nicholl grant and additional private equity financing arranged by producer Ron Najor, Hipster was shot in the summer of 2011 for less than $100K, in time to make the Sundance submission deadline. I Am Not a Hipster was accepted into Sundance 2012 and the filmmakers planned to capitalize on the world premiere of Cretton’s debut feature to raise money for Short Term 12.

“Destin made Hipster to simply direct a feature, he just wanted to make something” explains Goldstein, who also produced the director’s debut. “It was made for a modest amount and when it did well, it provided proof that Destin could handle ninety minutes behind the camera.”

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Although Sundance is not an official film market, Goldstein adds that Sundance does “work as a market in the sense that everyone is there, everyone in the independent space attends. And there is an opportunity to set up meetings and be with colleagues and friends who are able to introduce you to the right people..” In this way, Sundance seemed an organic place to push forward with Short Term 12. Adds Goldstein of the fest, “it is a place that begets enthusiasm about independent film.”

In the months following Sundance, the team met with financing partners and began the casting process. They also returned for second meetings with many of the possible partners who had been reticent to finance a film by a first timer. Within two weeks of Sundance 2012, the team had several financing offers, and continued working with agents to put together a casting package, including Chris Fioto, a colleague of Goldstein’s at Gersh who repped actress Brie Larson. Once Fioto became aware of the project, he pursued Goldstein to consider her for the part. Cretton spoke to Larson on the phone while she was filming The Spectacular Now and offered her the role.

Meanwhile, a financial offer came in from film financing/production company Animal Kingdom via executive producer David Kaplan and producer Joshua Astrachan. While other offers were on the table, the team showed Kaplan and Astrachan their first feature, and as Goldstein says, “they wanted to make this film with us not because of the cast, but because of the filmmaker and the story he was telling. Destin had a specific vision, and my job was to make sure that vision was protected with whomever we ended up working with.” Goldstein explains that Traction Media and Animal Kingdom gave Cretton the freedom to make his own creative decisions.

Traction entered into financing talks with Animal Kingdom in July and by mid-August the company had agreed to finance the film under an equity deal (terms undisclosed). On September 9, Short Term 12 began shooting.

Goldstein adds that it is important when pushing an independent film forward to decide on a specific date to shoot the film, even if you don’t make that date. The team had originally pushed to have the start date be summer of 2012, but as financing and cast fell together, that date was pushed into September of that year.

Production

Short Term 12 was shot entirely on location in the Los Angeles area. “Egos were checked at the door,” Goldstein says of production, “we were very prepared and knew the amount of time we had and what we needed to do. No one was a yelling maniac. It was a very focused process, but also a very comfortable creative environment. It is difficult enough to make a film, so it is important to surround yourself with personalities who are in it to do good work”.

“Production was very fast but went quite smoothly,” admits Goldstein, “in part because the core creative for the film was already in place. For example, our DP Brett Pawlak had shot the short and Destin’s first film, amongst other projects with Cretton. I had already started scouting locations before we had a start date. In fact, the location where we shot seventy-five percent of the movie, I had already been pursuing for six months before we began production. It needs to be said that the crew (and cast) that we built around the film were just stellar, I’ve never been around a harder working, not to mention positive, group of people—we have all become quite the family.”

In addition to monies from Animal Kingdom, the team worked with the San Francisco Film Society to apply for their Kenneth Rainin Foundation post-production grant. SFFS had been tracking the film since they’d met with the filmmakers at the IFP Market back in September 2010. In November, 2012, the team received the news that they’d secured the grant—worth $79K. The film was picture locked at the beginning of 2013, with the team using the grant funds for post sound work at Skywalker Ranch.

Festival Preparation and Strategy

The filmmakers had missed the Sundance deadline, but they had South by Southwest (SXSW) in their sights. Although Goldstein points out that Sundance had been a huge help to the filmmakers and the film, SXSW is a great platform to introduce new independent voices, he adds that it felt creatively and culturally like the perfect fit for the film. They submitted and were accepted into the 2013 festival.

The team went to SXSW with Goldstein and Olson (as Traction Media execs) co-repping the film with Cinetic, who already had a relationship with Animal Kingdom. For publicity, they brought on Brigade, who positioned the film with journalists, strategizing PR for the festival and positioning the film with buyers.

The Release

The filmmakers had numerous offers at SXSW, with Traction Media and Cinetic working together to ultimately sell Short Term 12 to Cinedigm. The sales negotiations began during the SXSW festival with Cinedigm buying North American rights. Memento also came on to serve as foreign sales agent.

Advice from the Filmmaker

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“There are a few things that are very important,” advises Goldstein, “knowing clearly the film that you want and really fighting to make that film, while understanding which compromises are necessary and which can be detrimental to the film’s creative, and thus financial, success. It is not everyday you get to make a film. And while your idea is always worth fighting for, it is also worth strategizing intelligently for and reaching out to those who know more about parts of the process than you do: sales/packaging agents, other filmmakers, line producers, casting directors, etc.  Find your audience early on and build a foundation for those early adopters well before you premiere, if possible. Understand the constraints you might have financially- in terms of money but also in terms of content, cast, and production logistics, and how those pieces can factor into the sale and the overall financial life and the release itself. Most films have investors who want a return, so you need to prove that there will be a return.  It’s important to have a sober view of the project’s various strengths and weaknesses, financially understanding the viability of the film, the level of cast, etc. You have to make an informed decision on budget and festivals and what kind of a cast you want vs. the cast you can get and really define what your goals are, from the very beginning, and then work backward from there.”

Posted December 17, 2014

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