Spring Breakers

Spring Breakers, a movie starring Selena Gomez and Vanessa Hudgens among others, was filmed at a Sarasota Florida art college just a couple of blocks from my home.  I’ve worked in films, on TV and in theater.  I was curious to see how this major motion picture would be made.

The day filming started I drove over to the art school expecting to see large trucks rolling up unloading dollies filled with equipment, large scaffolding being set up covered with lights, rails being laid for the cameras.  To my shock, I didn’t see any of that.  There was nothing that looked like a serious or major motion picture was being made.  I saw very little equipment.  I saw very few ‘go-fers’ or any real looking crew.

There was a small table upon which was placed a modest computer arrangement.  Outside one classroom was a pole with a few cheap lights attached.  In a wooded area adjacent to the campus was parked a couple of small trucks and trailers and a generator.  Nothing amazing.  Everything seemed more appropriate for a cheap video shoot.  I’d read somewhere that the film’s director, Harmony Korine, was given five million dollars to make Spring Breakers.  As I looked around at ‘low budget’ everywhere I wondered, “What did the director do with all the money?”

Their first day our local paper printed a headline about how a thousand fans had gathered to see Selena Gomez.  The paper attached a photo to it’s headline showing less than ten people.

I would frequently drive by or visit the set.  About five of the people in the photograph I would recognize as film crew who posed as if they were fans.

The remaining four, a mom and her three young teen daughters, were more interesting.  Over the next four days, for at least 16 to 18 hours each day, I would see this mom pushing and pulling her daughters all over the edges of the campus in the hopes of their catching a glimpse of Selena.

Because I live close by I would frequently drive by to buy groceries or do some errands.  Sometimes I would walk over on foot just to watch.  Whenever I was there, which was often, other than myself, the only other ones there were this mom and her three young teen daughters.  That was it.  There were no other fans that I ever saw.

I did see about five paparrazzi.  I would chat with them.  I found them pleasant and, considering the obstacles that were placed in front of them to get their shots, quite talented.  That made at least one more paparrazzi standing around than actual fans or interested parties.

Within a short radius are at least a dozen high schools and middle schools filled with thousands of teens.  This event was well publicized by the local media.  Despite having Selena, Vanessa and a couple of other teen stars in town, no one, other than this mom pulling her three young teen daughters around, I saw no one else showing up during the entire time this filming took place.

Maybe, when I wasn’t there, another mom along with her teen daughter may have briefly stopped by.  But to suggest there were a ‘thousand’ defies logic and logistics.  Where would a thousand screaming young fans have parked all their cars?  And, if they had slipped in and then gotten away during an hour when I wasn’t there, the sheer practicality of such incredible mobility is incredulous.  But then I guess I’m saying that our local paper lied to its’ readers.  That won’t be the only lie that would be generally spread about this film.

On the fourth evening this mom and her three young teenage daughter’s long and, I felt, exhausting wait paid off.  A bit after 10PM Selena stepped out from behind a school gate toward a waiting van.  The mom pushed her three excited daughters toward Selena, who did pose with them – for one very brief ‘group shot’.  Selena noticed a young female adult standing close by and said, “I want to pose with her.” and very quickly slipped away from the three young teens.

The young adult female Selena clearly preferred to pose with was normal in height.  I noticed how she had to bend her knees in order for the top of Selena’s head to be at least up to her nose.

From inside the van I could hear Ashely Benson, a co-star, sounding frustrated and tired, say to Selena, “Hurry up!”  And Selena, as if Ashley was her boss, hurried into the van, which drove the two of them over to where their trailers were parked.  This mom, pushing her three young teen daughters, ran over to the trailers, clearly hoping for another chance for one more photo with Selena.  When I drove by a little later I saw this mother and three young teen daughters still there, looking longingly over at the trailers, hoping Selena might step outside one more time.  She didn’t.  It was at least past midnight by then.

One of the three young teens would later create a website in which she describes that moment as the most amazing experience of her life.

During an interview well after filming was completed Selena spoke about the thousands of fans who daily came to see her while she filmed Spring Breakers.

One afternoon while walking by the campus all four main actresses in Spring Breakers walked right by me.

I’m a tad over six feet tall.  The four actresses were amazingly short.  Each seemed to be wearing an oversized extreme blonde or reddish wig.

I was reminded, seeing all of them, of the movie, E.T., when the tiny little alien wore a floppish blond wig to leave the house on Halloween.  Or maybe of Munchkins dressed in drag.

When I was fresh out of college I actually taught at this Art College for about two years.  Later I would teach for several years at Parsons School of Design.  I’ve also guest lectured across the country.  Never during my entire teaching career have I ever seen a single student who looked like these four tiny girls.  The wigs they wore or the make-up they bore that night.  They, Selena Gomez, Vanessa Hudgens, Ashley Benson and Rachel Korine,  looked fake.

As I stood there, these four teeny tiny little bodies with oversized wigs having just walked by me, a guy pushing a cart covered in dry snacks and warm bottles of water approached, asking, “Did you see where they went?  I’m their caterer.”  On his tray were the cheap snacks one can buy at a local 7/11.  He continued, “Do you even know who’s in this film?  Because I don’t recognize anybody.”  And I reflected, as he pushed his flimsy metal cart away, that his name would be on the film’s credits for everyone around the world to read.

There was one more local shoot in Sarasota.  A church scene.  I would learn that Selena, grateful to the leaders of the church for allowing them to film there, donated some of her used clothes.

One day a local article with photograph appeared about Selena visiting a nearby Walgreens.  Inside a young guy was searching for medicine for his girlfriend, who was home ill in bed.  Selena saw this guy and began touching him, hugging him, saying how cute he was.  While Selena was openly flirting at a local Walgreens her celebrity boyfriend, Justin Bieber, had, that very same day, just announced he’d purchased a very large and very expensive house in California for him and Selena to share.

The film crew then relocated up to St Petersburg, about an hour north of Sarasota.  St Petersburg is famous for retired old people.  Not much else happens up there.  It’s a very quiet town.  It has definitely never been a destination for college kids to experience a ‘spring break’.

A very run down section along St Pete beach was chosen as the site to create the ‘spring break’ party scene.  The hotel that was used was an abandoned dump.  Normally this area – all year round – only sees a few elderly and homeless people.

A ‘cattle call’ was announced on the web.  Teens and young adults were invited to show up in their bathing suits to be in the film’s party shoot.  No one would be paid.  The reward would be the glory of being in the film.  Plus some cheap food and a free sunburn.

Attached to the film’s general cattle call was a solicitation for girls who would be willing to appear topless.  $250 was offered to any girl who would show her boobs for a day.  I reflected how the Tampa Bay area, which includes St Pete, is filled with strip bars that are filled with girls who do a lot more than that, for a lot more money than that, which they can earn in a lot less time.  When photos were leaked to the internet I saw the few girls who were photographed on-set with their tops off.  I could see they were not professionals and suspected that $250 plus a brief moment of fame being given their boobs was just too irresistible.

Photos of the party shoot up in St Pete leaked on the internet looked like well over a thousand showed up in their bikines and swim trunks.  I studied the photos for anything that elevated this large people shoot to the level of a serious motion picture being made.  Other than a single hand-operated cam that allowed a single camera to drift over the crowd of people, this film still looked strictly “low budget”.  I wondered, yet again, where did all the money given to make this film go?

When Selena would later comment how thousands of her fans showed up each day to see her film Spring Breakers I recalled the mom in Sarasota who pushed her three young teen daughters around for four days.  And in St Pete, the only ones surrounding Selena were the unpaid ‘extras’ that answered a ‘cattle call’.  Otherwise her film shoot was completely cut off and isolated from the general public.  No ‘fans’ were allowed.

Is Selena unable to tell the difference between thousands and three?  Or the difference between fans and actors?

I’ve since read some reviews and comments about this film, and have a few observations of my own:

The director as well as most, or maybe even all, of the leads have all shared that none of them have ever in their entire lives been to a ‘spring break’.  The director even poignantly shared that while he was a student in college he would see his fellow school mates go off on spring break, but he would remain on campus by himself.  That seemed sad to me.  I can remember how empty my Florida campus was during spring break.  He must have felt awfully alone.

Considering the movie he has made, a truly dark vision of healthy looking young teens going to the beach to have fun, could this be his belated outlet for the loneliness, bitterness and frustration he felt back in college?

The director used as his main actresses four very teeny tiny girls.  I’ve observed, when he stands next to them, that he is still physically shorter than at least three of them.  Maybe those three girls are wearing high heels.

Did he hire such diminutive bodies because they are on his eye level?  If he is making a movie about college girls, in bikinis no less, why didn’t he choose young actresses who were more developed?  More ‘womanly’?  More representative of the types of ‘babes’ one actually sees at a spring break?

If he really needed ex-Disney girls gone-bad, such young stars as Lindsay Lohan, or possibly Hillary Duff (who did a three-some on Gossip Girl) come to mind.  A third bad-girl could have been Megan Fox.  The three I am suggesting not only boast attractive female bodies, they can also act.

Selena has repeatedly stated that she has used this film to break away from her Barney / Disney image.  That she has done this film ‘for herself’.  Did she hate that pink dragon and cartoon mouse that much?  It’s a shame that every review I’ve read says that as soon as she has left the film she is instantly forgotten.  Not quite the review any actor wants to read.

The director has shared that Michael Mann’s ‘movie’ Miami Vice was his main inspiration.  A re-make movie that was pretty much a flop.  But I do see the colorful tone and ambiance of Spring Breakers faintly resembling the dark neon Miami scenes from Mr Mann’s famous hit TV show from the 1980′s.  But that show is now thirty years old!  From the few clips I’ve seen this movie looks like a ‘day in the life’ of some of the run down bad guys and cheap prostitutes Crocket and Tubbs would put away by the end of the show.  But that look and film style is dated.  Not new.

The director shared that he intentionally shot the dialogue using different backgrounds to create a sort of surreal effect.  He expressed pride in ‘his’ concept.  Tyra Banks used the exact same effect months earlier promoting her most recent America’s Next Top Model.

Some articles have said that the director hired an exceedingly talented and professional cinematographer.  Before seeing any of the video clips that are now being released I wondered if that was where all the money went.  But now I’ve seen some clips.  The grainy-ness and weak composing and even the faded neon essence look, at least to me, like the low budget efforts of a first year community college student.

Every effort was made to keep any and all fans away from the set in order to protect Selena (despite Selena’s memories to the contrary).  Yet this director hired, as his male lead’s adversary, a real life rapper with a real criminal history.  He even solicited this rapper to be in his film while this rapper was in prison!  And even included this rapper’s criminal buddies on the set and in the film!

Fans can’t get close to Selena – but real criminals can?

I’ve reflected on how Selena thought there were thousands on the set each day adoring her.  And about the mom and her three young teens hoping to have a special moment with Selena.  I’ve wondered if there wasn’t some cosmic connection between these two.  Perhaps this surreal imagining, a kind of prism coated vision on both of their parts can be a subject for a film in itself.

The male lead talks in the film with a ‘southern accent’.  I’m from the south.  What can I say –  His accent sounds just like those who are not from the south think southerners sound.  A bad fake accent does not make good acting.

The director admits he wrote the entire script in nine days while experiencing, from inside his hotel room, a spring break taking place outside in the hallway.  Critics have commented on the repetition in dialogue and lack of depth to an overall story that eventually bores them.  A weak script.

My comment is on the names he gives his leads: “Faith” for a christian girl?  ”Brit” for the blond, when he admits that Britney Spears was another inspiration?  ”Alien” for the guy who seems out of place?  ”Arch” for his arch rival?

When one writes a script one can use descriptive names for characters as a writer’s tool to remember the type of person one is writing about.  Eventually a ‘good’ writer will replace those convenient names with names that are more clever.

This director wears a devil’s trident tattooed on his forearm.  He has made a very dark film.  From all that I am reading his movie is not doing well at the indie showcases in either Venice or Toronto.  The critics at these indie events are the most tolerant toward extreme and original efforts.  Should this film ever attempt a broad theater release I am personally very doubtful that People Magazine or most of the reviewers quoted in Rotten Tomatoes will be as open minded.

In his film he pokes fun at a certain religious group.  A group that is the antithesis of the trident tattooed on his arm.  His film is flailing.  Perhaps there’s a connection?

I”m saying this last bit just to drive him, perhaps, a little more crazy than he may already be.

All my best,

Big Belly

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