Six Things to Know About 'Short Term 12', This Summer's Hottest Indie Drama


When Short Term 12 premiered at the SXSW Film Festival back in March, director Destin Daniel Cretton had no idea that his indie drama would be met with overwhelmingly positive reviews. It went on to win the Grand Jury Narrative Feature Award and the Narrative Audience Award. But there's a reason why the film's so buzzworthy.

The film tells the story of Grace (Brie Larson), a stern and emotionally-withdrawn twenty-something supervisor at a foster care facility for at-risk teens, and Mason, her loving boyfriend and co-worker (John Gallagher). With the arrival of troubled teen Jayden (Kaitlyn Dever), Grace begins to spiral out of control and is forced to confront her similarly difficult and abusive past.

The film's success, however, stems not from the the emotional-driven storyline, but by Cretton's ability to bring humor, love, compassion, and a wide-range of human experiences, no matter how tragic or troubling, to the big screen. Although the kids of Short Term 12 aren't alright, it's through their relationships with Grace, Mason, and each other that they find inner strength.

Zimbio sat down with Brie Larson and Destin Daniel Cretton to talk about the challenges of working in group homes, exploring darker human experiences, and some key things you should know before you sit down to watch the film.

1. Unsure line staff newcomer Nate (played by Rami Malek) is loosely based on Cretton. According to Cretton, who worked at a group home in San Diego immediately after graduating from Point Loma Nazarene University, Nate represents the "terror and fear" he felt the first few months of his two-year stint.

"Nate is a bit of the eyes of the audience who aren’t used to this situation," Cretton said. "His experience was very similar to who I was and the emotions I had. I felt like a complete fish out of the water and constantly wondered what gave me the right to be in charge when I wasn't much further along the road of life than these kids were."

2. Brie Larson forced herself to manage her emotions and avoid the "dark place" when it came to tapping into Grace's dark and abusive past. Larson made sure to brush her part back to the side, watch The Simpsons, and eat ice cream at the end of each day to avoid constantly feeling Grace's personal hell.

"As important as it is to dive in, you also have to be the upper puppet master to the whole thing and keep a perspective," Larson said. "Two years ago I filmed Rampart for only two weeks, but it took my four months of therapy to unravel the knot I had created."

3. Short Term 12 is filled with scenes that can be very difficult and emotional to watch, especially when Marcus tries to commit suicide with a piece of glass. For Larson, that was one of the harder days for her to film.

"I have a big aversion to blood," Larson said. "I once broke a nail at The Grove in Los Angeles and fainted. I have a personal issue with it."

4. Although the film deals predominantly with emotional and physical abuse (i.e. broken homes, drug dealing, sexual abuse, etc.) and the loss of innocence, it also weaves love and humor.

For example, there are tender moments between Grace and Mason at home cooking, snuggling, and crafting creative drawings of each other. Mason also tells heartwarming (and extremely hilarious) tales of past group home kids.

"It’s almost impossible to talk about this world without also talking about really hilarious things that happen all the time in that situation," Cretton said. "The stories I hear from those who have worked in group homes longer than I have are both really tragic, moving, inspiring, but also really hilarious. The kids are dealing with a lot of horrible things that were forced upon them, but they’re kids and they’re funny and witty."

5. The very talented Keith Stanfield delivers a killer rap as Marcus, the nearly-18-year-old who will soon be leaving the foster care system. The rap started as a very basic rhyme penned by Cretton, but ultimately received some major TLC from Stanfield, who is also a rapper.

6. Larson hopes that audiences come away from the film focusing more on the film's sense of hope and love between Grace and Mason, the kids and themselves.

"I'm proud that the film brings up a lot of big eternal questions and that there are a lot of different types of characters people can relate to," Larson said, adding, "Everybody is going through some sort of transition or struggle. They're coming becoming adults as they come to terms with themselves. It’s hard but it’s also loving and hopeful and that’s what I hope people walk away with."

Side Notes:

  • Short Term 12 was originally a 20-minute short of the same name that Cretton directed for   his master's thesis.
  • Keith Stanfield was the only returning actor from Cretton's initial project.
  • The drawings in various scenes of the film were created by Cretton's girlfriend Nikki Chapman.
  • Both Brie Larson and Kaitlyn Dever appears in the coming-of-age drama The Spectacular Now.

Short Term 12
opens in theaters August 23rd.

I'm the managing editor of Zimbio. Instagram: @anela_bella Twitter: @laniconway