At the 2012 Sundance Film Festival, I was somewhat put-off by the fact I was assigned to review a movie with the title “I Am Not a Hipster.” Not only had I never heard of the film, I had no clue who made it and no idea who was in it or what it was about. Plus the title just screamed that not only was the lead character most definitely a hipster, but that the movie was probably dripping with them. And look, I’m no elitist or snob, I even love Lena Dunham’s work and the band Vampire Weekend. But if I never saw another skinny jeans wearing, ironically facial-haired, PBR tall-boy drinking jackass again, it would be too soon.
So needless to say, I settled into my seat for Destin Cretton’s feature with a bit of a chip on my shoulder. Little did I know that not only would that chip be smashed into smithereens, I might’ve also just seen the underdog, break-out film of Sundance 2012. While the film never caught fire as I thought (and, hoped) it would, it remains my favorite film of the 2012 Sundance Film Festival.
Now, almost exactly a year to the day from the time I saw the film, it’s coming to theaters in limited release as well as on all your favorite view-at-home platforms. I took the opportunity of the film’s release to do a much overdue interview with “I Am Not A Hipster” writer/director Destin Cretton.
Let’s get the boring stuff out of the way. When did you shoot the film, how long was the shoot and what camera did you use?
We shot in July of 2011 for 19 days, shooting on the RED MX.
What was the process like for submitting to Sundance and getting in? Did you have any connection to the festival prior to HIPSTER getting in?
I had a short film that played at Sundance in 2009, so I met a lot of the shorts programmers through that. But it was still a completely different beast sending them my first feature. I was equally as shocked when they called and said we got in.
Talk about your debut at Sundance. Not to drum up controversy or pat myself on the back, but I was really surprised more people didn’t get behind HIPSTER. I loved it and it was probably my favorite film at Sundance ’12. I was in a press screening and everyone loved it, but I saw very few reviews even though the ones I saw were mostly positive. Am I wrong or was this the experience from a press point of view?
It was our first time with a feature so we honestly didn’t know any better. We had really great screenings and were pretty stoked anytime we read anything good about the film (your review made me smile for 3 straight days). I honestly can’t complain about anything that happened at the fest, cause I had zero expectations.
If you had the film premiere at Sundance to do over again, knowing what it was like, what would you do the same and what would you do differently? What advice do you have for filmmakers who get their film into Sundance?
We didn’t spend a lot of money on this one, so we didn’t have the pressure to sell, which allowed us to just be happy to be there, sharing our film with people for the first time. I don’t think I would have changed anything about that. But if I were to do it over again, I would try to set at least one day aside to get on the slopes.
You hail from San Diego and HIPSTER is set there. What’s the film scene like in SD? I know the music scene is always strong but is there a community of filmmakers creating down there as well?
There’s a really special creative community based in San Diego. It’s a lovely mix of musicians, painters, sculptors, designers, and filmmakers. Whenever someone needs help with a project, or is showcasing something they just completed, everyone comes out to support. That’s the only way we could have made this movie.
Having seen the film a few times now, I’m so impressed by how real and natural the characters are, particularly Brook/Dominic. Did you write the film with Dominic and Clarke in mind? If so, where does Destin end and Dominic or Alvaro begin? That is, do you and/or Dominic share the kind of artistic angst Brook shows in the film?
I guess what I’m asking is, do you feel the DJ’s and those who mix music are musicians? Are goofball creative types like Alvaro/Clarke really artists worthy of paying attention to or should they just keep it to themselves? Is there room in the creative hot tub for everyone or do these newbies or wannabe’s muddy the water for those who are truly talented?
I ask because I constantly find myself feeling like Brook does when he freaks out in the film at Clarke’s art show opening. Even in the film review “business,” anyone can start a WordPress site , start writing movie reviews and call themselves a critic. There’s no paying of dues, no real work put in and you can present yourself as a “critic” or “artist” or “musician.” Do you feel this way too or did I just respond too well to Brook as a character?
Great question, one we could probably discuss for days. I honestly feel like I have a little bit of Brook and Clarke in me. There’s a part of me that’s really excited to see so many people having the tools to make stuff and throw it online for the world to see. Another part gets a bit frustrated because I often have to wade through a lot of mess before I find something truly interesting and honest. But I must say, I often wish we could all just go back to the days when art was nothing more than the pure joy of smearing water-based paint and Play-Doh onto construction paper. So what do I know?
Another big part of the film that I responded to is how heartfelt and passionate it is as a film and also in terms of Brook as a character. However I have a feeling the story may have been born out of some anger or frustration, maybe like I alluded to in the previous question. Was making Brook likable difficult? What were earlier forms of the script like? Were the sisters always a part of the story or were they kind of brought in to soften Brook as a character?
Wow… these are some good questions. Brook was always kind of an a*****e. It was less important for me to get people to like him than it was to let them understand him. Brook Hyde does and says all the things I’ve thought about doing or saying but never had the guts to. But there was definitely a point in the writing process when even I got tired of hanging out with this brooding character. I guess that’s when some of the brighter, happier characters (Clarke, the sisters) began to enter the story.
Where did you get the idea for the sisters? I also was at first taken aback by how close the whole family is as I’ve never seen a family that warm and loose with one another, in life or onscreen. Can you talk about the idea of these sisters and how they tend to bring out the best in Brook?
Like Brook, I actually have 3 sisters (also named Joy, Spring & Merrily). And believe it or not, when they’re all together, they aren’t that different from the sisters in the film. One idea for the story was to start with a main character that would be easy to pass judgment onto, and then slowly show you parts of him that you might not expect to see. The three vibrant, loving sisters are one of those pieces. They’re clues that, under different circumstances, Brook may not be in such a state.
On the flipside, why does Brook lash out and hurt those who care about him? The scene with the DJ is brutal and really sets the stage for how Brook can turn downright mean at the drop of a hat. Is that something you’ve witnessed or is it you and this interview is about to turn ugly? Were people urging you to tone down Brook’s a*****e tendencies? Did you find it difficult to put faith in the audience to stick with Brook and give him a chance?
Ha! I definitely don’t have the temper of Brook Hyde, though, there have been moments in my life when I was so wrapped up in the pain of my circumstances that I definitely felt like exploding the way he does. We definitely talked about toning him down, wondering if audiences will like him, but then just decided to go for it because we thought it was a much more interesting thing to explore. I often find that most a******s have a back-story that may change your view on them (at least a little).
I was pretty upfront in my review and in previous chats with you online about loving the film but not digging the title. Do you think the title I AM NOT A HIPSTER put people off? Did you mess around with any other titles? What does the phrase/title I AM NOT A HIPSTER mean to you and how does it fit the film?
You’re definitely not alone in that sentiment. I’ll be the first to admit that the title kind of sets people up for something a little different than they’re going to get. I’ve had multiple people tell me they came to watch the movie because they didn’t know what the title meant, or thought it was a spoof, or just really wanted to hate it. But as the story unfolds, they’re pleasantly surprised to find something they can really connect to. So yes, we totally get that we’re taking a risk of losing some people with a title like that, but maybe that’s why we never changed. It’s also a line from a scene that got cut from the film. If you order the Bluray, you can watch that deleted scene.
So after the festival circuit, you guys did a bunch of screenings yourself. Now it appears you’re distributing the film yourself as well? Can you talk about the distribution game? Were there offers? Why did you pass and decide to do it yourself?
The only kind of offers that we got during and after Sundance were the kind that make money for the distributor and screw the filmmaker. So, we decided do it on our own, with some help from Sundance’s Artist Services, New Video, and an amazing group of supporters we gathered through Kickstarter. And now, on January 15, we’re going to be releasing nationwide on 7 digital platforms (including iTunes, Google Play, Amazon, Sundance Now) and on cable video-on-demand in over 50 million homes. We can use all the help we can get in spreading the word, so please go to our site to get more information.
I notice you have a new movie called SHORT TERM 12 coming up starring Brie Larson. Can you tell us what it’s about?
The story takes place primarily inside the walls of a group home for at-risk teens, told through the eyes of a 20-something female supervisor for the unit called, Short Term 12. It’s loosely inspired by experiences I had working at a place like that for 2 years before going to film school.
I AM NOT A HIPSTER is playing select cities, as well as online and on-demand, as of January 15, 2013