Interview with Harmony Korine for SPRING BREAKERS

We talk to director Harmony Korine about his controversial and colourful new film

SPRING BREAKERS has already stirred up controversy in the US for casting Tween Queens Selena Gomez and Vanessa Hudgens in a violent and drug addled film, and James Franco’s performance as a morally bankrupt drug dealer named Alien. caught up with director Harmony Korine to find out what all the fuss is about…

Where did the story come from?
Harmony Korine: I just made it up, really. I had been collecting spring break imagery and photographs of that world for a while, and then I started looking at it and thinking it was an interesting backdrop, a uniquely American cultural phenomenon, it is something that is actually pretty common there. I thought it was a nice metaphor and an interesting backdrop for this kind of crime story.

How did you approach writing the characters?
HK: I thought about girls in the situation, girls who were weaned on pure pop and in some ways, seeking ultimate transcendence and becoming more gangster than the most gangster… Almost like gangster mystics or something.

How did you research the film?
HK: I went down to spring break and wrote it during spring break two years ago. I was pretty familiar with the whole thing from growing up down South. It was something that everyone did. At the same time, I didn’t want the film to be an essay or a documentary on spring break. I am not even saying that this film is necessarily the truth; it’s more of an impressionistic reinterpretation of that world. It’s a hyper poetic reinterpretation.

SPRING BREAKERS is quite an aggressive film, did you ever think during writing or filming, that it was going too far?
HK: I felt like I needed the film to be aggressive, it’s an aggressive story and I wanted to make a film that was more like an energy or more like a physical experience, or even a drug experience, and it needed that type of aggression and that type of sensory bombardment. That’s what I was working towards.

Some of your leading actresses – Selena Gomez and Vanessa Hudgens in particular – are best known for their sweet and clean-cut roles. Was this part of the decision to cast them?
HK: I thought they were perfect for the part, and at the same time, there was a conceptual connection that was interesting to me, in that they were representative of a current pop mythology that was connected to the storyline in some ways. It’s always interesting to see people play against type in that way.

And Gucci Mane was in prison when you cast him…?
Yeah, that’s correct. I called him while he was in jail and asked him. I had wanted to work with him for a while and I said ‘If you can get out and not re-offend, I have a part waiting for you’, and six months after he got out, he was in the film. He’s back in jail now though.

How much room did the actors have to improvise in the film?
HK: It’s a combination of scripted sequences and sequences that we developed in rehearsals and things that were also more improvised on the day.

Can you talk about the strong part that colour plays in the film?
HK: Colour was a big thing. I wanted the film to look like it as lit with candy; like we had Skittles for lenses. It’s very much about the culture of surfaces and the way things look and feel. All the pathology and meaning of the characters and storylines is more like a residue, like a bleed from the surface.

There seemed to be a theme going through the film with Britney songs, why did you decide to use these songs?
HK: I wanted to do a montage sequence with a Britney song for a while, and this was the right movie for it. I liked the idea; there are a lot of ways that Britney is tied in, culturally. She’s like the forebear to a lot of that. I just felt like it made sense.

The film has a lot of contrasts in colour, tone and music, was this a conscious choice?
HK: I wanted to make a film that was almost like a drug experience; something that was trance-like and the sequences were almost like micro-scenes; these short bursts of images and sounds coming from all directions. I never really wanted the audience to feel a sense of comfort or ease. I wanted things to be constantly shifting in tone and physicality. I wanted the music and the images to be always shifting gears in that way, so the audience is always feeling it in their gut.

The film seems to confront the audience with uncomfortable truths about society, was this something that you set out to do?
HK: It’s difficult for me to say that because obviously I wanted the film to work in that way. You try to make two films at once; one film that works on the surface and you are just following these characters and the storyline, and you are taken by this world. All that stuff that you are talking about is in the film was in the film as well. I tried to put as much of that in there, at the same time it is difficult for me to comment as the person who makes it, it is almost best to let people dream on that.

A line that stands out in the film is ‘Pretend like it’s a video game’. This seems to be something that we, as people, do to get through the darker times in our lives. Was this the inspiration for the line?
It felt like these kids were weaned on cartoons and rap videos and video games, and that’s all they know. ‘Pretend like it’s a video game’ is repeated so it almost becomes like a mantra and it’s the idea that sometimes watching and viewing, and then doing almost becomes an abstraction.

Finally, what’s next?
HK: I don’t know. I am going to go back home and have a think. I have been thinking about other ideas… I have been making paintings and artwork and hanging out with my kid.

Words: Brogen Hayes