American Animals director Bart Layton discusses walking the line between dramatic + documentary filmmaking, the mythological way we talk about crime + how the form of a film can illustrate the state of its characters. See some notable moments below!
1. Working with actors vs. working with non-actors
American Animals is positioned between documentary and drama. Layton, who is also known for the thrilling documentary The Imposter, is well acquainted with the nuances of switching between the two. While an actor is subject to direction, a contributor needs the space to authentically relate the story according to his or her own account.
The last thing you want to do is turn your documentary contributor into an actor, because then you lose the thing they're there to do.
2. Showing the spinning cogs of storytelling
[I wanted to] slightly pull the curtain back on how stories like these get fictionalised.
The story behind American Animals is almost too strange to be true; the boys' recklessness + complete lack of planning were borne aloft by their dogged determination + single-minded dedication to making something out of their lives. How did that narrative come about? Layton wanted to look closer at the way these stories become almost mythic...+ how they might perpetuate the mindset that engendered them in the first place.
3. Illustrating the characters' mindset as the film goes on
Spencer, Warren, Eric + Chas quickly lose control of the situation, barrelling toward the finish line with an ever-loosening grasp of reality. Layton notes that portraying this transition is a creative act in American Animals.
The form of the film mirrors their descent into fantasy + them losing track of reality.