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Interview: Destin Cretton and his TLC project

December 10, 2009 - 11:28 pm

About a year ago, I interviewed San Diego filmmaker Destin Daniel Cretton and the actor Brad Henke about Short Term 12, the movie he had made that had been accepted into the Sundance Film Festival. It’s a great film, and I was thrilled for him when it won the Jury Prize for Best Short in Park City. Cretton’s still based in San Diego, and has just directed a documentary project, Born Without Arms, which debuts on TLC on Sunday night. It’s about three different individuals, including San Diego musician Mark Goffeney, and it debuts on TLC this Sunday, Dec. 13, at 10 p.m. Set your DVRs, or join Destin and the other filmmakers at the Pearl Hotel in Point Loma, where the bar will open at 9 p.m., and the show will be broadcast an hour later on the huge poolside screen.

I conducted a short email interview with Destin about the project. Read on.

CityBeat: You have a history of making documentaries, but what was the impetus for Born Without Arms? Did it come to you, or did you come to it?

Actually, the guys at Figure 8 Films (who are responsible for such TLC hits as John & Kate Plus 8) watched a screener of Drakmar, the last doc I did with Lowell Frank, and really liked it. So they asked me if I wanted to direct a character-driven piece for them on people born without arms. As soon as they told me one of the girls they were thinking about (Jessica) had a black belt in taikwondo and flew a plane with her feet, I told them I was in.

You’re profiling different people who all share a very unique condition. What were you surprised to discover about them, collectively and individually?

I was pretty surprised to discover what an incredible outlook they all have on life. Mark, Jessica and Nadia are three of the most self-confident, content, and grounded people I’ve ever met. After hanging out with them for a few days, I’d often forget that they don’t have arms, because they can do everything with their feet, and quite often better than I can with two hands. Mark Goffeney, a San Diego-based musician, not only kills it on the guitar (which he plays with his toes), but also makes time to raise his 3 kids. Getting to hang out with all of them and tell a piece of their story was actually really fun for me.

You won that big award at Sundance last year. How have things changed for you as a result, both personally and professionally?
It’s pretty strange that it’s almost been a year since Sundance. It’s hard to say how much has changed. Sometimes it feels like a lot, sometimes like nothing at all. I’m still an independent filmmaker, just trying to figure out what to make next and how to go about making it…without any money. But, last week we did find out that our film is on the shortlist for the Academy Awards, so who knows?

Am I right in assuming that this was your first experience doing a project specifically for a commercial enterprise?


How was the process different from your previous films?

It was actually kind of nice to work on a project that had some guidelines already set-up. I had to do a piece on three people born without arms. It had to be 44 minutes long and broken into six acts. But other than that, they were really great at letting me do whatever I wanted to. I was able to recruit some other great San Diego talent to help me: Singer/songwriter Joel P. West composed all the music, Andrew Glendinning illustrated all the graphics, and filmmaker Brad Kester was my Assistant Director. At one point, all four of us were working together out of our little house in South Park, smiling at the fact that we were being trusted to put together a nationally televised show. I’m pretty relieved it turned out the way it did.

You’ve said that you’re working on a feature-length script based on Short Term 12. What’s the status of that, and do you have any idea what your next project will be?

I’ve actually finished the feature-script that’s loosely based on Short Term 12. Most of the characters have changed, but the main themes and settings are still there. Investors are somewhat difficult to find for an indie film about child abuse, especially in this economic climate. If anyone out there wants to help remedy that, I promise to use your money for the betterment of humanity. But even if we don’t find anyone to help financially, we usually figure out some way to tell the stories that we’re passionate about. And sometimes, figuring out how to make a movie with no money is more fun anyway.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Crystal White permalink
    December 13, 2009 - 11:40 pm 11:40 pm

    I had no idea this show was on.I turned on my tv at midnight to TLC,and after about 5 seconds of watching it i burst into tears and have yet to stop.My son is 9 years old and was born with a disability leaving him unable to use his hands or arms. He uses his feet for everything.I have never seen anyone like him untill now.I am touched by this show.

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