In the newly released “Harmony Korine: Interviews,” Indiewire deputy editor and chief film critic Eric Kohn collects more than 20 years worth of interviews conducted by the “Spring Breakers” director, starting a year before the premiere of his provocative screenwriting debut “Kids” and concluding in the aftermath of his biggest success to date.
The book also contains a new interview with Korine conducted at his house in Nashville. In this exclusive segment, Korine recalls his teenage experience with making his first short film and the major impact it had on him at the time. The excerpt is courtesy of the University of Mississippi Press. The book is currently for sale on Amazon.
What did you make of the early interest in your work?
It seemed like a game for me. It was way pre-Internet. It seemed like nobody even read it. It felt like it wasn’t much different than doing some interview with a high school newspaper. It was fun. At the very beginning, with those interviews, you have to remember: A year earlier, I was getting grounded, wrecking cars, running stop signs. It wasn’t like not knowing what you’re in store for. It was just a game.
How did your family feel about the early stirrings of your career ambition?
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They were definitely supportive of me wanting to be a director. When my dad found out I wanted to make movies, it wasn’t a big surprise to him. He probably helped me. I made my first film when I was a sophomore in high school.
How did that come about?
I was a sophomore or junior at Hillsborough High School taking a creative writing course in 1990. My teacher’s name was Miss Bradshaw. She’s still around. She’s still teaching. Until that point, I was a pretty mediocre student. I had never been given any type of encouragement by a teacher before. In public schools, teachers really don’t have that much time to pay any attention to you. It’s more like you’re cattle. At schools before that, I went to a place where if you were late teachers would smack you. So I was coming out of that whole thing, so I didn’t trust teachers so much. They were the same thing as police or something.
But in this class, I wrote a short story and she said she liked it. She thanked everyone for their assignments but said there was this one special piece of writing. I was falling asleep, dreaming about girls. Then she said my name and I was like, “What the fuck?” And she asked me to read it. I thought it was completely retarded but she saw some merit in it. She asked me to stay behind after class and asked me what I wanted to do. I said I really wanted to make movies. She gave me this story I wrote and asked if I could turn it into a script. I said, “Of course,” but had no idea what it took to write a script. She said, “I could probably get you a grant, a couple thousand dollars from the school board.” I somehow broke down the story into some type of shooting script and she took it and got something like $2,000 from the school system. Then my dad showed me how to work a 16mm Bolex film camera. He showed me how to edit. And this guy named Coke Sams, who [worked on] all the Ernest movies, like “Ernest Goes to Camp” — my dad knew him and I see him all the time now [in Nashville]. My dad asked him if we could use his machines to edit and he was cool with it. So we would go in there at night.
What was your script about?
It was called “A Bundle a Minute” and about this kid, a runaway. If you saw it, I think you could probably see a type of thematic relationship to what I’m doing now. I had this jazz soundtrack and me talking on top of it. It was only five minutes long, this Cassavetes, Woody Allen thing, except shot in the South. I put on a fake accent and sounded like W. C. Fields. So I finished this thing and it was a surprise to everyone. My dad helped on the technical side and then I played around with the equipment and figured the rest out. I’d watched movies so I thought I knew what I was doing. I probably had read a couple of things. I don’t remember at that point what was available, even.
When did you see the results?
I shot some of it in New York, where we finished it, where my grandma lived. My dad and sister acted in it. We shot in Manhattan, on the Lower East Side. I remember I had it processed at Duart. I was like fifteen or sixteen at this point. I went to go pick up the film and the guy there — I’ve never said this to anyone, but I’m remembering it now — the guy handed me the roll of film and said, “You’re pretty young.” He thought I was just a runner. I said, “No, this is my thing, I can’t wait to see it.” He asked me if I wanted to see it projected. I was like, “What?” And he said, “Let me show you what it looks like.” He was encouraging me. He said, “I saw it. It looks really beautiful.” And this was just some guy there. So I saw it in some screening room all alone as he projected it.
This was the first time I had ever seen any footage I had ever shot. It was unbelievable. I couldn’t believe it was even in focus. It was the greatest. I asked him to rewind it three or four times. I sat there for like an hour. This was raw footage. I don’t remember how long it was, maybe forty-five minutes, but it was just unbelievable. I saw the camera moving. Things were working. There was no sound, no sync, but I remember thinking, “I can do this.” It didn’t look too far off from other movies I had watched. It didn’t look too far off from “She’s Gotta Have It,” which I remember seeing recently. It’s pretty crazy to think about that now. It just blew my mind that it worked — I could somehow translate my ideas visually.