Lucy Alibar's Beasts of the Southern Wild could be called the most successful independent film of the year. Through the eyes of 6-yr-old Hushpuppy, we learn about love, loneliness and the magical interconnectivity between nature and mankind. First time filmmaker Lucy Alibar struck gold with her script, and we are all dying to know how she did it.
TSL: So the film is based on your play “Juicy and Delicious.” I studied playwriting and know it’s a very different medium. What was the process like adapting the play?
Alibar: Well, there was a lot of work in terms of me learning. But Ben talked to me about the characters and themes in the play and this metaphor between the death of the father and the end of the world. He wanted to set that in Louisiana. We sort of drew up this scientific approximation of about 300 pages. We threw together everything we wanted to tell, and it was really huge and really epic. But I had to learn technical things like the amount of time you give supporting characters and efficiency of language. Every line has to move plot forward. In theatre you can get away with not doing that and the story being smooth. In film you just have to have incredible economy and restriction can work with you.
TSL: There are some incredible lines from the film that really stick with you, particularly, “The whole universe depends on everything fitting together just right. If one piece busts, even the smallest piece… the whole universe will get busted.” Were these pillars of the film that you built the story around, or did they just spring from within the moment?
Alibar: These lines are definitely about establishing the rules of the movie. Hushpuppy believes everything is interconnected and when her dad gets sick, the ice caps melt and the world falls apart. The story is rooted in her point of view. I felt like because it is this “magic realism,” that audiences shouldn’t waste time asking questions about this world. You need the story to stand on it’s own.
TSL: You’ve said the play is originally about you and your father. Did you distance yourself from writing you by creating this new protagonist?
Well, when my dad died, I felt completely powerless. Even in the play, Hushpuppy is a boy. I had to make that character because I couldn’t even talk about it. After my dad had the stroke, I couldn’t eat, lost weight, and I was scowling all the time. I’m a private person, and it’s difficult to talk about something I’m confused about. Then developing Hushpuppy as a girl, I had to grow up a bit. In the end, it was liberating, I learned about myself. I was interested in fact that there’s no real road map for father/daughter relationships and the role of the father has changed so much. Fathers make it up as they go. My father raised me like a boy. I had two brothers, and we all wore the same clothes and would get our haircut from this guy nicknamed “The Butcher.” I remember my brothers had rat-tails, like junior mullets.
TSL: I’m from the South too! I know them well!
Alibar: Yes! They’re awful, but my brothers were allowed to have them, and I wasn’t! I was like why are you discriminating?! It was a strange thing.
TSL: I know the casting process for Hushpuppy was grueling. But when you finally found Q, did she become somewhat of a co-writer?
Alibar: My first impulse is always to say, “No, the script didn’t change.” But the language of 6 year old uses is different from a 10 year old, who we originally wrote the script for. We had a long rehearsal process, almost like a play. It felt very organic. Many of the actors hadn’t acted before. But the language didn’t change that much.
TSL: This is your first feature film; what other directors or filmmakers did you draw from for inspiration?
Alibar: Ben gave me a movie list. This huge list sorted by director. I guess the main ones were Cassavetes and Terrence Malick. I learned a lot more about technique with Cassavetes.
TSL: What about writers?
Alibar: I love Jose Rivera! He has this world where magic happens in it. Things don’t happen in kitchen sink logic. Everything is evocative and just stunning. I guess I just read a lot. I binge on good writing.
TSL: What’s on your writing desk? Any gold placard quotes or mantras?
Alibar: Oh, gosh! My writing space is on an airplane or in a hotel room! Clean and well lit? I’m just traveling a lot right now and waiting on a permanent environment.
TSL: It’s definitely hard to find your writing nest.
Alibar: Yes. I do think I’ve formed the talent to write anywhere. It took me a few flights to learn. I don’t have to sit in a middle seat or by the window or anything in particular. I can work anywhere. I’m very proud of that.
Beasts of the Southern Wildis currently out on iTunes and DVD!