Beast of The Southern Wild Panel Discussion
Since winning the Grand Jury award at this year’s Sundance film festival the buzz around Ben Zeitlin’s “Beast of the Southern Wild” has been growing bigger than the hair of it’s lead actress, Quvenzhane Wallis. The film has played twice here at Cannes to two full audiences, and has been the talk of the festival. The poetic film shot on a very low budget with a cast of non-professional actors got a distribution deal through Fox Searchlight shortly after it’s Sundance premiere and should be released later on this year.
Yesterday, the American Pavilion hosted a panel discussion with the main creative team of the film, about their journey to get the film made. The panel consisted of the two producers Dan Javney and Josh Penn, the film’s cinematographer Ben Richardson, the film’s co writer Lucy Alibar, and the writer/director Ben Zeitlin. John Cooper director of the Sundance film festival moderated the discussion.
The group began the discussion with the beginning of their journey. The idea for the film came from Ben and Lucy who had been collaborators since meeting in a playwriting contest back in high school. Ben had met Dan Javney in college and the two collaborated on the short film “Glory at Sea” along with Penn and Richardson. Once the script was complete the creative teams went up to the Sundance lab to develop the project even further. The producers were members of the producer’s lab while Ben and Lucy were in the writer’s lab.
After the completion of the labs Ben and Lucy went to the delta region (Louisiana specifically) to further develop the story and build relationships with the people of the area. Ben decided early on that he wanted to shoot a film with non-union actors, using the people from the region in the film. This included looking at over 3,500 kids before landing on Quvenzhane to play the role Hushpuppy.
During the course of the film the team dealt with numerous production issues but felt that they were able to get through them because the had a team that respected one another and were not afraid to be honest with one another. Ben had even said that the best thing he could hear from a crewmember is “I don’t know”. Not to mention the fact that they were all friends helped them make it through the tough hurdles of their production. Once the film was wrapped they spent about two years editing the film before it was ready for Sundance.
The team let us know during the discussion that the path should be the story itself, and that the intention shouldn’t be to get into a great festival but to make a great movie. That philosophy seemed to guide the team in all major decisions as they took 52 days to shoot, and over a year and a half to edit the film. Not letting a strenuous schedule or deadlines drive the film, but taking the time to tell the best story possible. This is a rare in today’s movie business because films are made to meet a release date that can determine how much money a film can make.
As an emerging filmmaker stories like “Beast of the Southern Wild” serves as inspiration that it is possible to make good films in a non-traditional way. Having a strong core team, a good script and a good cast is all you need. The tragedy with a lot of filmmakers today is that we forget that fact, and we overwhelm ourselves with what is not essential to telling a powerful story. If there is anything to be learned from the Beast crew it is that fact, and we should all take notes.
Ben Talking about the creative process:
Trailer to Beast of the Southern Wild