Three years ago, local filmmaker Destin Daniel Cretton, then a graduate student at San Diego State University, took his 20-minute film Short Term 12 to the Sundance Film Festival, where it was honored with the Jury Prize in U.S. Short Filmmaking. Doors opened for the young director, who took meetings, shot some documentaries and, between then and now, won the Nicholl Fellowship for writing a feature-length screenplay of the same film, one of the most prestigious screenwriting awards.
Next week, Cretton will return to Park City, Utah, with a new feature, I Am Not a Hipster, shot primarily in San Diego and set amid the city's music and art scene. Despite his success since his big win, Cretton says making the new film wasn't so different from making the award-winner.
“I don't want to downplay the award, because it was amazing,” Cretton tells CityBeat. “But this industry really does move on pretty quickly. This project is another one that was just a bunch of friends who are passionate about art, getting together to be creative, with no resources but our own hands and our circle of really creative friends.”
One of those friends is musician Joel P West, a singer-songwriter and the driving force behind the band The Tree Ring. He wrote what Cretton calls an “album's worth” of music for the film, which centers on Brook (played by Dominic Bogart), a brooding singer-songwriter who's enjoyed a measure of success in San Diego but has a hard time staying creative in the wake of his mother's death and in the face of a visit from his three sisters and estranged father. West has collaborated with Cretton on several other projects, but he says this was an entirely different experience.
“The script called for original music performances,” West says. “[Brook's] music is very introspective and anxious about the unsolvable questions and in the spirit of creating what feels important to create, rather than worrying about the rules of genres.”
And that, West says, is similar to what he's seen in Cretton during the last few years.
“Since I started working with Destin, I've seen him grow as a filmmaker without wavering from his humble, genuine approach to filmmaking,” he says. “His hard work has gained him an increasing amount of resources, but he's used them wisely to make art that feels even more raw and honest.”
Cretton, who has moved to Los Angeles, says the recognition his film's main character has enjoyed is more than a little familiar, but a little bit of success is sometimes a good thing to be wary of.
“Awards and that kind of recognition, it always passes,” he says. “The thing that continues is the relationships, the very real relationships that are not based on how great your last piece of art was.”
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