The Amer­i­can An­i­mals di­rec­tor on heists gone wrong and de­con­struct­ing movies based on real life...


How did you first hear about the heist that forms the ba­sis of Amer­i­can An­i­mals?

I read about it on a flight and thought it was a great yarn. I got in touch with the guys in­volved in the heist, who were then serv­ing a pretty long prison sen­tence, and we started writ­ing let­ters back and forth. It was what they were telling me in their let­ters that made me be­gin to think there was some­thing more than just a good heist movie in their story, and that it was more about these lost young men search­ing in all the wrong places for iden­tity and mean­ing.

The film cuts be­tween be­ing a based-on-fact heist film and a doc­u­men­tary by talk­ing to the real-life crims. Why that ap­proach?

I was look­ing at whether there was a new way to tell a true story that you haven’t seen be­fore, and by in­clud­ing the real guys you’re go­ing to have a dif­fer­ent kind of emo­tional con­nec­tion to the story. We’ve all seen those movies that start with “based on a true story”, and then you sus­pect that most of it has been wildly fic­tion­alised. This story was so out­landish that it didn’t need a lot of wild em­bel­lish­ment. I wanted to keep the au­di­ence sucked in by re­mind­ing them that it’s true and that these are real peo­ple and that the con­se­quences were real.

Un­like other heist films that glam­or­ise crime, this ac­tu­ally shows the real-life cul­prits show­ing re­morse for their ac­tions…

It’s kind of the anti-heist film. What would it re­ally feel like if you or I tried to com­mit a rob­bery like this? In most heist films it’s this re­ally slick op­er­a­tion, whereas the re­al­ity here is any­thing but that. That’s what I wanted to de­pict – what did it re­ally look like when the wheels come off? In their mind these guys thought they were in Ocean’s 11; in re­al­ity it’s more like Dog Day Af­ter­noon.

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