All things entertaining in Westchester, Rockland and the Hudson Valley
BloggersChris Serico Kirthana Ramisetti Georgette Yacoub Kristin Taveira Anne Machalinski Estelle Lander
'Beasts of the Southern Wild': Benh Zeitlin's parents on their Oscar-nominated son
“Beasts of the Southern Wild” and the film's Hastings-on-Hudson-raised director, 30-year-old Benh Zeitlin, scored four Oscar nominations last week, including nods for best picture and best director.
On Sunday, his proud mom and dad shared behind-the-scenes tidbits with friends and neighbors following an afternoon screening of "Beasts" at the Andrus Senior Residence auditorium in Hastings. Post-show, everyone had a chance to meet the parents -- Amanda Dargan and Steve Zeitlin -- and hear about their son during an hour-long talk.
“Our official title is producers of the director,” Steve Zeitlin joked.
Trailer: 'Beasts of the Southern Wild'
| Quvenzhane Wallis takes fame in stride
| Buzz about "Beasts of the Southern Wild"
MORE: Benh Zeitlin and 'Beasts of the Southern Wild' | Oscar predictions: Will 'Beasts' win best screenplay? | 'Beasts' director's parents share 5 fun facts
Here are five fun facts shared with the audience:
1. Benh Zeitlin learned a lot about storytelling from his parents, who are folklorists. They founded a group called City Lore, which celebrates New York City and America’s cultural heritage via educational programs, exhibitions, poetry workshops, music, movies and more. As a child, Benh and his kid sister Eliza hung out at the organization’s film festivals, met artists and musicians and even helped edit some City Lore documentaries.
2. Quvenzhane Wallis, the Oscar-nominated 9-year-old star of "Beasts," lied on her application when trying out for the role of Hushpuppy. The cutoff for the audition for the leading actress role was 6 years old, and Benh Zeitlin was open to a child up to 11 years old. Quvenzhane, then only 5, really wanted to try out for the part and eventually beat out 4,000 other contenders. After casting Quvenzhane, Benh called his own mother with the news. She recalled the conversation for the Hastings crowd:
“Benh, you’re going to let this entire film rest on a 5-year-old?” she asked incredulously.
“You haven’t met this 5-year-old,” he responded.
3. Every actor in the cast was a nonprofessional. “Real” actors were auditioned but they were either “too serious” or too skeptical of the project, Dargan said. “They realized that if they brought a professional actor in, they were not going to want to take direction from a bunch of kids who had never done this before.”
With a set filled with “real” people, a sense of community was critical. To win the part of Wink, the dying father, Dwight Henry, had to prove he could establish trust with his young co-star. Benh Zeitlin found Henry across the street from the production’s New Orleans studio where Henry ran a bakery. For his first meeting with Quvenzhane, Henry brought her some goodies from his shop. “He was famous for making these doughnuts,” Dargan said.
4. Wesleyan University graduates are at the heart of this production. Benh graduated from Wesleyan, where he majored in film studies. The production team was staffed with school buddies, including best pal Crockett Doob, also of Hastings, who edited the flick. The production company, called Court 13, refers to an unused squash court that was awaiting renovation on the Middletown, Conn., campus where Benh and his friends worked on the animation for his senior thesis. That last student project also showed how close the Zeitlin siblings are -- younger sister Eliza, who works as a visual artist, helped her brother with his thesis, a short film called “Egg." For "Beasts," she helmed the art department.
5. The "beasts" of the film are aurochs, a breed of wild cattle that became extinct in the 1600s. For the production, the stand-ins are potbellied pigs that were dressed up in costumes made from the pelts of nutria, a type of rodent. While pigs generally tend to scurry around, they are shown galloping in herds – a trick achieved by having them run on a treadmill.