(Corrects name of production company in paragraph 8 and of
actor in paragraph 9)
By Ronald Grover
LOS ANGELES Feb 21 "Beasts of the Southern
Wild", nominated for four Oscars including Best Picture, is one
the most unlikely contenders ever for Hollywood's top honors.
Produced for just $1.5 million by a collective of first-time
filmmakers who bunked in a fishing shack during the shooting, it
is considered a long-shot to win the top Oscar, but it has
already set a new standard for thrifty filmmaking in an industry
that routinely spends 100 times more for a major picture.
"It's the perfect combination of art and commerce, but the
commerce was made a lot better because of that price," said Fox
studio chairman Jim Gianopulos, whose Fox Searchlight Pictures
unit distributes the film in the United States.
The film, set in the swamps of Louisiana near New Orleans,
portrays the fierce pride and intimate, if dysfunctional,
culture of a community on the furthest margins of society.
The stars are a hard-drinking father and his young daughter,
played by the now nine-year-old Quvenzhane Wallis, whose
performance made her the youngest-ever Best Actress nominee.
The film was created by Benh Zeitlin, a 30-year-old
first-time director who set up his studio in the abandoned
Connecticut racquetball court that he had used for his senior
thesis film at Wesleyan University.
"I'm not sure they knew what we were doing in there when we
set up to make the film," said Zeitlin. "I think they thought we
were just making short films."
The crew he assembled became Court 13 pictures, named for
the court, and it describes itself on its website as a
collective of "madcap artists and animators" who work on one
Zeitlin also ranged far outside the usual list of Hollywood
names in casting the film, using first-time actors, including
Wallis and Dwight Henry as her father.
The crew were all paid the same salary as the director, said
producer Paul Mezey, and will share in whatever profits the film
makes. So far, it has generated $12 million in domestic ticket
sales and is not yet profitable, he said, after Fox deducts its
marketing and other costs.
The crew traveled Louisiana to shoot the film, where they
stayed in what they called the "Crash Pad", a fishing cabin
behind a gas station with 12 bunk beds.
Zeitlin said the group "became scavengers" to make the film.
They used lumber from houses that were being torn down, and
changed the script where needed to make props out of things they
found on the streets.
The lead financier of the effort was Cinereach, a non-profit
organization that mostly backs documentaries.
"They usually give out $30,000 to $50,000 grants for an
artist's exploration and discovery of his gifts," said Mezey.
"When they read the script, they paid for nearly all of it."
Cinereach had become interested after seeing Zeitlin's
thesis film, an eight-minute short called "Egg", and "being
blown away by Benh's vision, his touch, the almost poetic way he
crafted the film", Mezey said.
"Beasts of the Southern Wild" won the Grand Jury Prize at
the Sundance Film Festival in 2012, and then lured Fox
Searchlight to distribute the film in the United States. The
production retained the foreign rights, and has sold many of
"It was surreal, like something from 'Alice in Wonderland',"
Zeitlin said of the Oscar nominations. If he wins, he would be
the youngest director every to lug the statute home.
(Reporting By Ronald Grover; Editing by Jonathan Weber and