Filmmaking collectives are on the rise, but none have managed to generate so much momentum right of the gate as Court 13. The collaborative nature of the group, evident in its appearance as the first credit at the end of "Beasts of the Southern Wild," has allowed them to take a communal approach to the filmmaking process.
"One of our hallmarks is incorporating people who don't come from a filmmaking background," Penn said. "In a college setting, it happens quite naturally. You have theater people, painters, dancers, musicians. There's a lot of cross-collaboration going on." The fruits of that labor were recently on display at the Contemporary Arts Center in New Orleans, which showcased art by numerous people who worked on the production.
Court 13's technique is so grassroots that it almost seemed like a fluke when the team made an Oscar-nominated hit. Rather than using the exposure to go Hollywood, however, they're hoping to remain on the same track by helping to realize visions with similar sensibilities to their last feature. "We are interested in making offbeat movies that are in some ways also very populist," said Penn. "I think we're staying the course we were on before the wild ride of 'Beasts.'"
Led by recent graduate Benh Zeitlin, the filmmaking collective Court 13 started making films together at Wesleyan University in 2003. However, according to producer Penn, "it wasn't until Benh came down to New Orleans in 2006 that Court 13 took on a whole new life." After settling there to make the acclaimed short film "Glory at Sea," the team moved on to Zeitlin's feature-length debut, "Beasts of the Southern Wild," which was eventually nominated for several Oscars -- including Best Director and Best Picture.
Now that the Court 13 team is considering bigger projects, they see the dangers of commercial pressures more often. "The intersection of casting and financing is something we're struggling to deal with as young producers," Penn said.
"Beasts of the Southern Wild" was endorsed by everyone from Obama to Oprah, which is a pretty tough act to follow. "The success of 'Beasts' is a very, very odd thing because we're still at early stages of our work as producers," Penn said. "We're very aware of that."
While already incorporated as an LLC, Court 13 plans to set up a nonprofit company to sustain some of their non-film projects. Additionally, the team is gearing up for three new projects: A mission to Mars story directed by Rooftop Films founder Mark Elijah Rosenberg, the feature-length debut of acclaimed short film director Jonas Carpignano, and the narrative directorial debut of New York Film Festival head Kent Jones.