"Beasts" comes to Oscars with tiny budget, first-time director

Fri Feb 22, 2013 1:28pm EST
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By Ronald Grover

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - "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 another's projects.   Continued...

Director Benh Zeitlin and actress Quvenzhane Wallis react as they arrive at the National Board of Review Awards in New York January 8, 2013. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson