Josh Penn’s Beasts of the Southern Wild, a new film produced by the 29-year-old whose family owns a home on quiet Hayes Pond in Otis, took this year’s Sundance grand jury prize. More recently, it made its way to the big screen and has received the type of acclaim that indicates an impending Oscar nomination. Here, Penn talks about the Berkshires, Beasts—and explains what a film producer actually does.
How did you get involved in the film business?
I got a phone call from a childhood friend of mine to come help on this movie in New Orleans. At the time I was working more in the music business, but producing films turned out be similar to the kind of things I had done before. I drove down to New Orleans and started helping on the film as an associate producer, production assistant. By the end of that movie, I ended up producing it.
What exactly does a film producer do?
I think every producer takes the job to mean something different. I consider my job to be fundamentally melding the creative, the logistical, and the financial. A lot of problem solving and planning—the design of the movie, hiring the crew, figuring out the budget. Every time there’s a huge problem, finding a way around it.
How long did the Beasts of the Southern Wild project take?
We took our time. We wanted to make sure we got it right. It was all of our first features and we were trying to do a lot of things that were ambitious and not necessarily straightforward to do. Since we didn’t have a ton of money—$1.5 million to make the film—we felt that time was a good substitute to come up with smart, creative solutions.
Have you been surprised by the response?
It’s tremendously energizing seeing people having such an emotional, personal reaction to the film. We’d hoped people would fall in love with the movie as we did when we were making it.
When did you start coming to the Berkshires?
My whole life. My parents have a house in Otis and have been going there since before I was born. So as long as I can remember, we’ve spent weekends there and I would love it and look forward to it.
What do you most like to do when here?
Swimming in the lake by the house is probably my favorite thing.
How has this place influenced you?
I think growing up in Brooklyn, having a place where you have so much quietness and peace was important. The hustle and madness of the city—I love it, but it’s really nice to escape and get to a place where you think a little clearer. It allows you to be a different type of person coming up there. That balance in my life has influenced me a lot. That’s a little bit abstract. But I do think it was an important thing to not just appreciate the city life but to appreciate waking up in the morning and just jumping in the lake.
Originally published in the September 2012 issue of Berkshire Magazine
by Chris Newbound