by writer/director Destin Daniel Cretton
On my first day of work, a 14-year-old boy threw a plastic chair across the lounge that bounced off the Plexiglas window three feet from my head. My heart was screaming, pushing blood to my temples, and I was sure every one of those teenagers could see my fear beating through my skin. There were 18 of them, nine boys and nine girls between the ages of 14 and 17. I was 22, only five years older than many of them, and I was supposed to be the one in charge, the one who knew what he was doing, but I didn’t have a clue.
It was my first job out of college, one that I had stumbled into because it was the only place hiring that offered health benefits. The job description was simple and vague: child-care worker at residential facility for at-risk teenagers. Over the year and a half that I worked there, I gained a huge amount of respect for the staff that chose to work in an often-thankless environment just because they felt like it was the right thing to do. I was also consistently surprised and inspired by the kids who, despite the horrifying environment that was handed to them, had figured out a way to not only survive, but also continue to laugh and joke and find nuggets of joy in life.
I remember the first time I opened up the red binder that had the names of all the kids on my unit filed in alphabetical order. Behind every name was a stack of papers that described in detail all the things that the child had gone through, stories of abuse and neglect far too tragic to describe in this letter. It felt like someone was squeezing the base of my stomach, the feeling you get when something slips away from you and there’s nothing you can do to stop it. For the first time in my life, I saw so clearly how much of an effect humans have on each other. I was forced to ask myself questions I’d never thought about before: What kind of parent did I want to be? What residue has been left inside of me from my parents? How have my actions, or lack of actions, possibly impacted someone who looked up to me? These are the questions that I was able to explore and wrestle with through telling this story.
Working with Brie Larson, John Gallagher Jr., Keith Stanfield, Kaitlyn Dever and the rest of the beautiful cast on Short Term 12 was unforgettable, not only because they are all such talented performers, but because they are such wonderful people whom I have grown to love as my own family. The joyful authenticity that has become the spirit of this film sprouted from the personalities of everyone who made it, and eventually spilled itself onto the screen for all of you to see. This entire process was an incredibly moving experience for me, one that rejuvenated my confidence in the human ability to create family wherever we are. And if you take one thing away from our movie, I hope it’s exactly that.