That's really amazing actually. It's like "Beasts" is kind of a natural extension of both of those pieces, in content and theme as well, so the fact that these two processes were happening simultaneously and kind of birthed this new film is really crazy. As far as filmmaking, did you ever have any inclination that that was a field, or even an art form, that you were interested in?
It is now. Going through the Sundance labs and seeing all of the possibilities as a storyteller was a wonderful time. The adventure with "Beasts" was making something with 100 of my best friends and now it's about - I mean, I still love the theater and it's still very close to me. But I am really excited about, in April, I'm starting to work with Guillermo del Toro on "Secret Garden." I'm really enjoying adapting this play ["Christmas and Jubilee Behold the Meteor Shower"] for Todd Black from Escape Artists and writing a movie all from the point of view of young girls again. It's a really sweet movie about little girls. I think each one is an experience and really cool and interesting. I don't know if one form is more of a love than another.I'm curious about your own filmic vocabulary going into "Beasts" though, because while it's obviously a very original vision there's kind of a longstanding tradition of Southern-set films that are kind of the spiritual forefathers of "Beasts" that Benh sort of quotes. Were you familiar with "Days of Heaven" or David Gordon Green's "George Washington" for example?
No, it's funny I hadn't seen any of those until we made the move to go make the film, and then he gave me a list of some movies to watch.What were some of the movies?
Well, "George Washington" and "Days of Heaven." It's so funny, because those were the first two. He tends to get really into directors and then have me watch everything by a certain director because that's what he did. "Days of Heaven"... It's hard to say, Terrence Malick is easily my favorite director so it's hard to say what film of his is my favorite. It's like choosing a child. But "Days of Heaven" is special.
Fincher's "Curious Case of Benjamin Button" was another one that I kind of picked up on too, but that might be more the location and the sort of magical realism in both.
'The Curious Case of Benjamin Button'
I think that may have came out more when we started shooting. I actually haven't seen it, but that's not to say Benh hasn't. It's funny, because I remember seeing the logline for Benh's next film, which has something to with aging, and aging differently, so that paired with the sort of cross-pollination of themes and ideas between "Beasts" and "Benjamin Button" made me wonder if Benh was a fan. That film seems to attract a lot of filmmaker fans.
Oh, right! I'm actually not allowed to talk about that, unfortunately.
Fair enough. So film in general was a new experience for you; was it tough to kind of give yourself over to putting your story in Benh's hands?
I really love working with either my friends, who I respect and trust, or people who are almost mentors to me. That's why I'm so excited about the opportunity to work with Guillermo del Torro. I learned so much watching his movies, even before any of this. So this is the way I'd love to keep working, either with my friends or with mentors like Guillermo.
And "The Secret Garden" is kind of an interesting companion piece to "Beasts" thematically, as well as being a very Guillermo story. "Pan's Labyrinth" is another film, which, in a way, shares that kind of childlike, magical realist quality with "Beasts."
They are similar. They both use children's point of view and imagination in this very specific way, and Benh and I used it as a reference. I actually saw "Pan's Labryinth" before he did and I made him watch so we could have the discussion about the reality of it, the reality of our world.
You said you moved down to the Bayou while all this was happening. What was the on set experience like? Was there a lot of rewriting happening on set?
Oh yeah, for one thing we never expected our Hushpuppy to be so young. We were thinking maybe an eleven year-old. They looked at four thousand kids to be Hushpuppy and Benh sad he wasn't going to shoot until we found her.
In the play, Hushpuppy's gender is kind of fluid, and shifts back and forth between being a boy and girl, which you said was a way to kind of distance yourself as the playwright from the character. At this point, had you and Benh decided that it was definitely going to be a girl?
There came a point when it did. By the time the script was finished that was the decision. Certainly I wrote it knowing I would have to do a pretty significant rewrite. And Quevenzhane has this incredible transparency and this incredible spirit.
In many ways she was very easy to rewrite for. She made a lot of the text irrelevant because she could just show it. And then there are words that just sound weird coming out of a five year old, as opposed to an eleven year old.