'Beasts of the Southern Wild' Making of Demonstrates the Benefits of Collective Filmmaking

If like me you're drawn to films which experiment with narrative form, presenting strong characters making their way in worlds that are slightly off kilter from our own, then I'm betting you also have Benh Zeitlin's Beasts of the Southern Wild pretty high on your must watch list. Following the film's Sundance premiere (where it won the Narrative Grand Jury Prize and Best Cinematography) and Camera d’Or Cannes screening, the project has drawn accolades for both its story and six-year-old Quvenzhané Wallis' central performance. Here's a taste of the Beasts' world in the trailer:

Video is no longer available: www.youtube.com/watch?v=z5d4IanzDG8

A limited release indie film project to get excited about is all well and good, but of much more interest is the means of its production. Created by Court 13 a self proclaimed ever growing Independent Filmmaking Army based in New Orleans, their collective approach to production seems to be the antithesis of creation by committee for which Hollywood is sometimes lambasted, but rather a demonstration of filmmaking as performed by community.

We took a look at Beasts of the Southern Wild from a script evolution perspective last month, but a few days ago The Creators Project released a making of video which highlights not just the normal challenges the production overcame in getting the film made, but also the inclusive philosophy behind Court 13's filmmaking and how they transferred their working methods of living the extremes of the stories they depict from shorts to their first feature:

Video is no longer available: vimeo.com/47603340

The Beasts of the Southern Wild budget reportedly sits somewhere between $1-2 million sourced from various sources. However with New York non-profit foundation Cinereach picking up the majority of the tab ($1.3 million) after being impressed with Zeitlin’s 2008 short Glory At Sea!, the production found itself also classified as a non-profit which brought its own freedoms such as full casting control, an up to two year editing period and final cut for Zeitlin:

Profits are going to go back into other movies, which is pretty incredibly,” said Zeitlin. “If the movie does well, the actors and filmmakers have points, but as far as the production company goes, the money is going to get turned over and put into more projects like this one.” He adds, “There was no fiscal motivation for production decisions, which allowed us to cast non-actors and do this in the grassroots way that we did.

Do you see Court 13's 'all inclusive' approach to filmmaking as sustainable over the long term? Is this a way you've worked on your own projects?

Beast of the Southern Wild
Court 13

[Via The Creators Project]

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Your Comment


They have already established a reputation for themselves so they will likely receive more money from other non-profit and organizations. I don't think their path is viable for many (especially those looking to make a profit).

Something tells me a lot of people are going to see this for the beast, but will be disappointed.

August 18, 2012 at 5:00PM, Edited September 4, 7:54AM


I love everything about this project. Have not seen a more inspiring work. Thanks for another great blog on it.


I'd be very surprised if people missed the context of what kind of film this is. Though I remember how much derision M Knights Village got because so many people thought they were going to see some kind of werewolf film. But that was marketed very differently to this.

As to the question" Do you see Court 13′s ‘all inclusive’ approach to filmmaking as sustainable over the long term?

I think these guys real "approach" is not essentially "film making" but creativity. With film making being the medium used. They really seem to understand and cherish the value of creativity and see their own responses to life as guided by their own inner compasses as the primary thing of importance in their process. It's fantastic. And for me it's what it's all about and very inspiring. That is definitely sustainable, and with more money will hopefully become even more so, though you could of course move more towards processes which may limit for the lure of more and more dollars. But I doubt they will.

Is this a way you’ve worked on your own projects?"

I have done a similar collective and creative process with a theatre company we founded man years ago. Formed a company. Packed up and moved to a different place together, developed shows and toured them etc.... And since I've been constantly thinking how to achieve this similar spontaneous more organic process again with my film company. The battle has been trying to find that right marriage of creativity with the practicalities of "life' and bills and existing norms etc. Some great successes but I've made a lot of mistakes. And most of them were in relation to stepping away from a "creating and being creative at all costs" approach and looking for coin. Which is why again I find everything about this film and the making of it really resonates and think their approach is about the most important thing to grasp and live by.

August 18, 2012 at 7:15PM, Edited September 4, 7:54AM

Lliam Worthington

That collaborative peace love thing is all good till money has to be paid.

August 19, 2012 at 3:27PM, Edited September 4, 7:54AM


Sadly, very very true.

August 20, 2012 at 4:02AM, Edited September 4, 7:54AM

Lliam Worthington

If it's really a collective it will be interesting to see if Zeitlin continues to get writer-director credits on the films or if other filmmakers in the collective get to tell stories their way...surely a non-profit in New Orleans would have more diverse representation for women and minorities to lead productions...that's not something I'd expect from a profit-based film company but for a non-profit with less commercial pressure...absolutely.

August 19, 2012 at 5:48AM, Edited September 4, 7:54AM


Mar Belle, thanks for posting this article with the illuminating BTS video. This is a very inspiring project! This is the type of collaborative work environment that I aspire to. We all want to make good films - but the story of how this film got made is an excellent reminder of how important the "process" is. It's too easy to focus on just the result - the end product. The process of how a film is made and how people cooperate and create together is just as important as the finished product. After all, this is how we choose to spend our valuable time and energy. Shouldn't the collective struggle to make "art" have meaning and resonance for the participants as well as the audience they are serving? The ability to inspire and lead a cast and crew to work together passionately on a shared vision is a magical gift. The beauty of collective creating is this: Collaborators feel honored and respected and do their best work. The quality and artistry of such a film can only be enhanced.

August 20, 2012 at 7:36AM, Edited September 4, 7:54AM


this is awesome movie saw it in june in american black film festival in miami the movie is very deep and moving performances it will not break any box office records and it will be way off the rader by the fall but if u see it as a filmmaker or actor or writer it will be a joy to watch filmmaking at its best its a delight for the senses

August 21, 2012 at 7:10PM, Edited September 4, 7:54AM


I saw the film a couple weeks ago. Would have loved it but the big Hollywood soundtrack totally killed the film for me. What was the director thinking! He could have used a composer who wrapped the film around a magical sonic ambiance influenced by Cajun and Blues but instead a boring mainstream soundtrack was chosen that was completely out of character with the film.

August 23, 2012 at 9:04PM, Edited September 4, 7:54AM


What pretentious crap...

August 23, 2012 at 10:15PM, Edited September 4, 7:54AM