An audacious, gorgeously stylized doc-fiction hybrid premiering at Sundance, where it was acquired by The Orchard and MoviePass for a summer release, Bart Layton’s American Animals continues its successful journey along the festival circuit this week at SXSW. Based on a true story, the film follows four men who, mistaking their lives for a movie, attempt one of the most audacious heists in U.S. history.

For Layton, who stopped in today at Deadline’s SXSW Studio, the story at the film’s core was a “fun yarn” which required deeper understanding, leading the director to reach out to the real individuals involved with a Transylvania University art theft. “I thought it was interesting enough to want to try and understand more—understand a bit of the motivation behind the crime, especially given that the perpetrators were not your average group of criminals,” Layton said. “They seemed to be well brought up and from good families, with plenty of opportunities, and that sat oddly, in terms of what the crime was about and how audacious it was.”

Corresponding with the young men throughout their extended prison sentence, Layton found that the motivations behind the perpetrators’ crimes were different than he expected. “What came back from them in their letters was so honest and unexpected. That was the thing that for me turned it from a good yarn into something that felt it was about slightly more than that,” the director told Deadline. “It was really about their search for identity, in a way.”

To view Deadline’s conversation with American Animals director Bart Layton, click above.

The Deadline Studio at SXSW 2018 is presented by MoviePass.