Harmony Korine's "Spring Breakers" marks a significant shift in exposure for the 39-year-old filmmaker, but nobody can accuse him of selling out. The movie, which premiered in Venice and made its North American premiere in Toronto last week, stars Selena Gomez, Vanessa Hudgens and Ashley Benson as a trio of young woman who rob a diner to fund their trip down south. After a series of depraved party experiences, they eventually encounter the absurdly self-involved gangster Alien (James Franco), who manages to seduce most of the girls with his materialistic obsessions.
If there's anything tame or familiar about the spring breakers' initial exploits, Korine tears it apart with a gloriously surreal deconstruction of pop imagery. Having secured distribution with Annapurna Pictures (but still attracting interest from larger studios in the wake of its positive reception), "Spring Breakers" has already brought Korine onto a level of popularity that the director never could have achieved in the day of "Gummo" and "Julien Donkey-Boy." Even the filmmaker had a hard time believing it when he dropped by Indiewire HQ on Sunday to discuss the movie.
You've said this was the hardest production of your career. How did the experience differ from your other movies?
It was the most difficult shoot in the sense that I had very little time. The look of the film was very central to it, so there were certain things I needed, like various equipment and cameras, so I could make the visuals the way I wanted them. I had to compensate for that, which affected the schedule, which affected the pace. And then you had these girls shooting on location, mostly in real places with people around them who weren't actors. We put them in an environment they weren't used to being in. Obviously, very quickly people found out about that. Sometimes there were more paparazzi than crew members. It can get weird very quickly. It was a whole set of problems I had never dealt with.
Nevertheless, it's not like you sold out and made a conventional narrative feature. Where did the concept for "Spring Breakers" come from?
Early on, I had wanted to make a film in this style, and had been trying to develop in other ways -- through short films and advertisements -- this idea of microscenes. The movie to me is closer to electronic music. My idea for the film is more music-based than cinema-based. Music now is mostly loop and sample-based. A lot of stuff I like is more tracey and physical. I was hoping to develop a film style with this movie that could mimic that in some way. That's where the liquid narrative comes from, this boozy-jazzy thing.
It's an incredible soundtrack that combines compositions by Cliff Martinez and Skrillex, but sometimes you can't tell which is which.
That was the idea. I love them both and wanted to take a certain element of what each does best and have them merge. I wanted the music to have a physical presence.
There are also a number of big pop songs. How on earth did you get the rights to Britney Spears music?
The movie was always meant to work like a violent, beautiful pop ballad, something very polished that disappears into the night. Everyone was really cool about it. I've gotten to a point in my life that's pretty cool where musicians are accepting and wanting to be part of what I do.
Even more impressive is the cast. What did it take to cast these young women, who are best known in teen-oriented fare, in a movie so subversive?
When I was thinking about the cast, I was thinking about who could play these parts, and was wondering who the girls are in this generation that best represent a certain ideology. There was something intriguing about the idea of using girls primarily known from a Disney-type reality. Immediately, instinctively, I said it would be great if Selena Gomez would do this. It's pretty crazy that they were all pretty receptive to it.
Why do you think they were receptive?
A lot of them knew my films, which always surprises me. I got an email that Selena was going to hop on a plane and come to my living room in Nashville to audition, and that her mom was coming with her, and that she would be there the next morning. It was pretty crazy. Her mom is younger than I am and she had grown up watching my films and said she had been a fan of them.