Casually chatting with indieWIRE back at Sundance in January, hours before his latest feature “Smiley Face” would screen for the first time, filmmaker Gregg Araki warned that the film is a departure from his acclaimed previous feature, “Mysterious Skin.” After watching it in Park City, we referred to the stoner comedy ias a bit of a “creative palette cleanser” that is simply a lot of fun. Anna Faris shines in the day in the life story of an aspiring actress who has a crazy day after consuming a dozen pot-filled cupcakes. Despite a stellar fest run that has seen the film hit Sundance, Cannes, Toronto, SXSW, and L.A.’s recent AFI Fest, the film is getting just a brief theatrical run from distributor First Look Pictures, opening at the Landmark’s Nuart Theater in West Los Angeles for one week only. It is expected to hit DVD early next year.
Shot from a long languishing script by Dylan Haggerty, Araki jumped on the project after its option expired five years after he first read it, shooting the low-budget movie in 22 days.
Araki recently answered a few of indieWIRE’s questions via email. His responses to our inquiries are published below.
What initially attracted you to filmmaking, and how has that interest evolved during your career?
I’ve always been interested in art, drawing, comic books as a kid and music – the creative side of the world. When I was in college, I discovered cinema via the film studies department at UC Santa Barbara and that was it. I’ve been in love with movies and making them ever since.
Are there other aspects of filmmaking that you would still like to explore?
I just feel incredibly lucky to have made the films I’ve made over the years and want to keep making more.
How did “Smiley Face” come about?
After my last film, “Mysterious Skin“, a very dark, very serious movie (which I love and am so proud of), I really was looking to do something completely different. As a filmmaker, I want to continually evolve and grow and challenge myself and do all kinds of different movies and work in a variety of genres – not just make the same film over and over again. I had read Dylan Haggerty‘s script for “Smiley Face” a few years back and I just fell in love with it, much the way i fell in love with Scott Heim‘s novel of “Mysterious Skin”. I loved the characters, the style of it, its sensibility but mostly its wonderful randomness and its incredible sense of authenticity. Plus it was the funniest script I’d ever read – it made me laugh out loud while I was reading it.
Could you elaborate a bit on your experiences making “Smiley Face”?
We did “Smiley” old school indie style on a very tight budget and schedule – 22 days in LA. So that was tough. But the making of it was so much fun – the entire cast, Anna Faris, the two Johns (Krasinski and Cho), Danny Masterson, Jane Lynch, Michael Hitchcock, Marion Ross (!) – everyone was such an amazing joy to work with. No one ever complained, everyone was there because they loved Dylan’s script and the project and genuinely wanted to participate. And i was always laughing my ass off at the monitor take after take. It was probably one of the most enjoyable production experiences I’ve ever had.
How did the financing and casting for the film come together?
When the producer Alix Madigan and I sat down to go through our list of potential “Janes” and Anna Faris’s name came up, that was it. She was my first and only choice. “Jane” is an incredibly challenging role in the sense that she is onscreen virtually every frame of the film and as a character she does a lot of not so bright things. Anna has an absoulutely uncanny likeability about her – you root for her no matter what. I seriously don’t think there’s any other actress out there who could have pulled this film off. It is much much harder than Anna makes it look. I rank Anna right up there with the Lucille Balls and Carole Lombards in her amazing comic gifts and timing. The movie would be impossible without her and I’m forever grateful for her taking on the challenge.
What is your definition of “independent film,” and has that changed at all since you first started working?
I don’t really think about definitions and labels. I leave that to bloggers and critics. I really just focus on making movies that i love and am passionate about – that’s pretty much where all my energy is directed.
What are your interests outside of film?
Only one. Music which has always been a profound influence on my films. Long live cds!!!
What general advice would you impart to emerging filmmakers?
Don’t toe the line and make movies just because you want to be a rock star director. Make movies that are original, different, personal – that are your unique vision and aren’t just copies of all the drek that’s already out there. And study films – all films in the history of cinema that goes back over 100 years. Don’t just watch what was popular last year and follow whatever the current lame fad is.