Huffpost Entertainment

Behn Zeitlin, 'Beasts Of The Southern Wild' Director, Explains Why He Pitched His Film As 'A League Of Their Own'

Posted: Updated:

By now, you've most likely heard the ever-escalating hum from buzz surrounding "Beasts of the Southern Wild." Directed and co-written by Benh Zeitlin, "Beasts" premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January and -- after winning the Grand Jury Prize there -- has never looked back. Now, finally, "Beasts of the Southern Wild" has opened in select theaters.

"Beasts of the Southern Wild" is a hard movie to describe. It follows a father and daughter (played by Dwight Henry --who we spoke to in an interview published earlier this week -- and Quvenzhané Wallis) who live in flooded Louisiana community called "The Bathtub." Here, Zeitlin discusses the excitement around "Beasts," the worthless classes he took on "how to pitch a movie," and why he also has a hard time describing what "Beasts" is about.

I'll admit, I had some problems coming up with questions about this movie. All I want to say is, "Just see it."
Yeah, I experienced that. The early stages of a project are all trying to pitch it before it exists -- and it was totally impossible. We went to some sort of pitch junket, you know, where you practice pitching your movie.

What do they teach you?
Nothing! I mean, you just try to get people interested. And, eventually, we just quit and started pitching "A League of Their Own" instead. It's like, that makes people happier.

You actually told people that this movie would be about women playing baseball during World War II?
We were just like, "OK, 1942, all the men are away at war. Who's going to play the baseball?" Because, you know, you can pitch that movie. There are some movies that are pitchable and this one is impossible to do.

Did they teach you to combine films? Like, "It's 'Die Hard' on a bus"?
I mean, no one could literally understand it well enough to even give us advice, early on. Until Sundance, where they helped us be able to tell the story, but we were never able to pitch it.

I'm assuming that Sundance wanted the movie right away after seeing it?
Well, we showed them a rough cut. We finished the film, actually, two days before the actual screening. And it was still in progress, in some ways.

Were you aware of the building buzz as Sundance went along?
That does get to you -- you hear that. But I had just never been through anything like that before. That first screening at the Eccles, we got a huge standing ovation. But I didn't know that was special. I just thought that maybe every premiere gets that. But it started to dawn on me with some of the early writing that came out -- it was so in sync with the way we talk about the film. I mean, we screened the film many times as a rough cut and it never fully spoke -- people never reacted to it in the way that I wanted them to. And the first press from Suncance started to fully understand the film.

So you didn't even realize that you had something until that happened?
No. I was way too inside of it to be thinking that way. I was just trying to get it to where I didn't feel like I wanted to kill myself when I watched it. So, that was the motivation.

The stars of the film had never acted before. Why did you go that route?
I mean, they were the best people we saw. For her part, we didn't have any thought of trying to cast an actor. We wanted a six-year-old. If you've acted, you've been in like a TV commercial. I mean, who has their kid acting before she is six years old? That just wasn't the girl that we're looking for. For her, we looked at 4,000 kids trying to find that part. And she just kind of emerged. So, for both her and Dwight, they were just meant to play these roles and no one else could have done it. For him, he was working in the bakery across the street from our casting office. So, it happens in all kinds of ways, but it was never a principle that we wanted to work with non-actors and that will be our schtick.

Do you worry about the hype? That people are now seeing this movie with very high expectations?
No, I'm very confident in the movie.

So that's changed since Sundance?
Yeah. Well, I was just still making the film at Sundance. But like we were talking about pitching, as much as you try to explain it, there's no way to explain it. So, people are going to go in and be surprised by what it is, no matter what. I don't watch trailers, I like to go into every movie fresh. So, it does kill me when we have to put a scene on the internet -- because I want that scene to come in fresh. I think I worry more that things will be given away more than I do that I'll respond to some sort of critique of it.

What's next for you? Or is it too early to talk about that?
I always have a backlog of like seven movies that I want to make. And I know which one that I want to do next, but I have to keep it a secret right now.

Will it be a stark contrast from this film?
No. We don't think of this as a culmination of a style, or something. It's really just this is sort of how Court 13 makes movies. And, so, it's the first one. And we'll tell totally different stories -- it's not like it's all going to be like "Beasts 2" coming out. It's going to be totally different. But, it's an approach to filmmaking -- and we're going to keep that.

So there are no superhero movies coming up.
Or, if we did, it would still feel like this.

Mike Ryan is senior entertainment writer for The Huffington Post. You can contact him directly on Twitter.

Close
'Beasts of the Southern Wild' Photos
of
Share
Tweet
Advertisement
Share this
close
Current Slide

Around the Web

Review: 'Beasts of the Southern Wild,' Directed by Benh Zeitlin

In Theaters: 'Beasts Of The Southern Wild' & 'Magic Mike' Will 'Take This ...

Now Showing: "Ted," "Magic Mike," "People Like Us" & "Beasts of the Southern ...

Beasts of the Southern Wild

Film review: 'Beasts of the Southern Wild' boasts lavish atmosphere but little ...

REVIEW: Beasts of the Southern Wild Lives Up to Its Moral Universe