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Interview with 2009 Student Academy Award Nominee Destin Cretton

Destin Cretton at Sundance 2009.Destin Cretton at Sundance 2009.
Sundance-winning short filmmaker Destin Cretton.  

At least one Student Academy Award Nominee is preparing for more than just short term success.

Destin Daniel Cretton was born and raised in Maui, Hawaii, and later moved to San Diego to get his Masters in film from San Diego State University.  He's written and directed four award-winning short films, including the 2009 Student Academy Award Nominated film “Short Term 12.” 

The film, which also won the Jury Prize for Short Filmmaking at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival, tells the story of a day in the life of a worker, played by Brad William Henke (“Lost”) at an at-risk youth facility. 

Cretton also has feature-length filmmaking experience as well as the director of the documentary “Drakmar,” which premiered on HBO in 2007. 

DVDs of the Student Academy Award Nominated film "Short Term 12" and "Drakmar: A Vassal's Journey" are available now. 

Cretton did an interview with, discussing his style of writing and directing. 

Where did the story for “Short Term 12” come from?

About a year after I got my undergraduate degree, I started working at a place similar to the one shown in the film (a short term facility for at-risk youth).

I couldn't really find any other job. I sort of stumbled into it and worked there a year full-time and a year on-call. 

“Short Term 12” is actually my first time writing something based in reality. I'm used to writing in straight fiction – kind of absurd fiction that doesn't even take place in any type of reality. And I'm used to trying to piece together ideas into a common theme.

Writing “Short Term 12” was a mixture of my past of creating complete fiction and mixing that with scenes that actually happened to me (at the facility). 

The first part of writing was just collecting characters and scenes that I actually experienced or heard of while I was working there. And I worked at finding some connections between those –  which was kind of natural for me. It was just like putting together a puzzle. 

Everybody says you should write about stuff that you know, and, in this case, it was the best thing I could have done. And that was sort of the way the entire project came together – naturally. 

Where do you begin when you write?

Everybody writes differently. I can never force out an idea. I've tried that before.

The most important thing is that I fall in love with the character I'm writing. And the story comes out of that. But if I don't every get to a point where I connect with the character I'm writing then the story comes out being really forced and it's really difficult for me. 

When the characters become a by-product of the plot, it creates a dead story, even though the plot is interesting. For me, it's really difficult to write that way. 

Where did the naturalistic feel for “Short Term 12” come from? 

From the very beginning, before I even sat down to write the script, I knew that I wanted to try to tell a story that felt as real as possible. Originally, I wasn't concerned with plot at all. I almost purposely didn't want to connect the dots, which is what I naturally try to do. Originally, I wanted it to feel like an actual day inside the facility – although I did veer away from that.

“Short Term 12” ended up being a lot more dramatic than I had originally intended. 

Every decision, from the writing process to our short rehearsal – every decision was to help create a sense of reality, cause it's set in a world that most people won't ever get to experience and I wanted them to be able to experience a little bit of it. 

This interview is a part of the Film Industry Insiders series by Andrew Neel, Indianapolis Film Examiner.

For more info: Visit and to learn about Cretton's films.