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Q&A: Behind the Scenes with Twelve’s Cast and Crew

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Claiborne Smith

Twelve is about a coterie of super-rich teens in Manhattan whose ambition is blunted by their vanity and overweening social climbing. They go around the city saying things like, “My dad told me if I don’t get into Harvard, I have to go to Dartmouth” and “Dad’s so pissed I totaled the Porsche.”

Among this crew of largely non-likable little twerps are Molly (Emma Roberts), Chris (Rory Culkin), and White Mike (Chace Crawford); White Mike is the protagonist, a once-promising kid who now supplies his friends and acquaintances with the drugs they can easily afford, except for the vicious cocktail of drugs named twelve (so dangerous he refuses to sell it).

Molly, Chris, and White Mike struggle, to one degree or another, to emerge from the moral vacuum of their upbringing. A healthy showing of 11 cast members, including Crawford and Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson, joined director Joel Schumacher and Nick McDonnell, the author of the novel Twelve the film is adapted from, after the film’s closing-night premiere at Eccles Theatre.

Q: Is the drug a compilation of many drugs?

Schumacher: We’ll be selling it in the lobby (laughter). It’s a fictional drug Nick [McDonnell] made up. You can make it up to be whatever drug you want, but obviously it is instantly addictive and kind of like liquid crack, I guess you would say. But anyway, I won’t go into my extensive drug history.

Q: Why did Nick McDonnell write this at the age of 17?

McDonnell: I was an extremely pissed off 17-year-old. And that was really the reason. But this [premiere] is really about the movie. The book is a very different thing; it’s minimalist—it’s not this huge opera. I mean, look at this (pointing to all the cast members onstage).

Schumacher: He was 17 and really pissed off, and I was 70 and really pissed off.

Q: You kept the narration from the book—why?

Schumacher: The most poetic, the good stuff, is Nick’s. We tried to stay very true to the book; most of the narration is from the book and Kiefer [Sutherland, who narrates the film] did a very good job.

Q: Is the death scene at the end based in reality?

McDonnell: No. The book is based on the mythology of the high school I went to. There is this mythology of privilege and violence and greed and drug use that circles around that prep school world, and the book came out of that but there are very few direct correlations.

Schumacher: I think unfortunately it’s really a story in high schools and towns and groups of young people. We know it’s not only the privileged. This is actually a movie about bad parenting (applause). Hence you rarely see them, and their solutions to problems are not helping and it’s a world where celebrity is valued above accomplishment and materialism is valued over humanity and that’s unfortunately going on a lot in our Western culture. Certainly not everyone in the film is damned.

Q: Do you prefer to work with a big budget or a small one?

Schumacher: The problem is this—when you have a very big budget, it’s never as much as you should have. The problem when you have a very big budget is they expect huge audiences. So you’re carrying the weight of what’s called a tentpole movie at a studio, which means that they’re projecting incredible numbers that are attached to your movie, and that’s a really, really big weight to carry around and I’ve been lucky that it got pulled off several times.

But you get all the toys, you get all the things to play with, you get all the time. The problem with smaller films is you don’t have much time, you don’t have much money, but you can do much riskier projects, because the larger the audience the studio wants, usually the more vanilla they want the material because they’re afraid to offend you. They want all of your money. You came here to see danger.

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Sundance Institute Piloting Direct Individual Support for Mediamakers Through the Sundance Institute | Humanities Sustainability Fellowship

Long before the COVID-19 pandemic upended life in general, and halted production and distribution for many creatives, the nonfiction field was plagued by issues of sustainability. For several years, sustainability has been an urgent and vigorous topic of study, debate, and organizing, as more and more filmmakers find it difficult, if not impossible, to make a living solely on the basis of their creative work. 

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A singular force within the documentary film world with a global reach, Diane Weyermann passed away at age 66 after battling cancer. Over the course of her 30-year career as a funder and an executive, her work elevated the documentary form and expanded its cultural impact.

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