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SPRING BREAKERS

About the Production
In previous works like KIDS, GUMMO and TRASH HUMPERS, writer-director Harmony Korine forged an evocative world of low-lifes, lovers and holy fools, gleaning unexpected textures from everyday outcasts whose lives verge on the oddball or surreal. "I never cared so much about making perfect sense; I wanted to make perfect nonsense," Korine famously quipped. But with SPRING BREAKERS, Korine explodes into bold new terrain with a no-less visionary take on the time-worn tradition of American college kids going wild on spring vacation.

"I think everyone can identify with teenage debauchery, getting in trouble and meeting bad people," Korine insists. "But really, spring break is a kind of metaphor. The movie only touches on it before it heads in another direction, and the criminal element starts to take hold."

With a singular image in mind -- girls in bikinis with guns -- Korine set about conceiving the ultimate spring break movie, centering on a group of bored college students aching to cut loose from their restrictive lives for a week of hedonism on the Florida coast. But Korine was adamant about not placing his heroines in traditional vacation destinations like Miami, Daytona Beach or Fort Lauderdale. "I liked the idea of girls coming down to Florida," Korine explains. "But my vision moved to the fringes and became something darker, more sinister and dangerous."

During the pre-production phase Korine traveled to St. Petersburg, Florida, the second- largest city in the Tampa Bay Area, affectionately known by its denizens as St. Pete, and awash in sunshine for an average of 360 days a year. Located on a peninsula between Tampa Bay and the Gulf of Mexico, it's considered the dividing line between mainland Florida to the north and metropolitan Tampa to the east.

Korine's work has always exuded a strong sense of place, from the rural squalor of Xenia, Ohio in his debut feature GUMMO to the menacing back alleys of Nashville, Tennessee in TRASH HUMPERS and the lush Scottish Highlands of MISTER LONELY, where his oddball assortment of celebrity look-alikes assemble in communal retreat, far from the conventional world. For SPRING BREAKERS, Korine was seeking a very specific Florida as well as a certain kind of vacation destination -- far from the travel brochures that draw millions of tourists to the central coastline.

"The spring break I'm interested in is the really hard-core kind, where kids go way, way out of their element for one week, disappearing basically, and then returning to their world of books and bad jobs and shitty parents," Korine admits. "I didn't want to shoot in places that seemed common or familiar. It's more the back roads, when you leave the main strip. Those are more interesting to me. The bad neighborhoods, the houses that are falling apart on the beach -- there's a kind of strange feeling to a lot of that part of Florida. It seems like everybody is running or hiding from something."

Korine spent a few months scoping out authentic locations, going so far as to rent grubby apartments used by actual spring breakers and filming in the spaces as they were in their existing condition. At night, he would drive around and explore parking lots and back alleys, occasionally jumping over fences to seek out locations far removed from the tourist's eye. "A lot of this comes from being in a place for a while and just observing, letting one situation take you into the next," Korine explains. "That's how a movie gets built. I like making movies that start from the inside and build out."

When it came time to cast SPRING BREAKERS, Korine opted for marquee stars over his usual preference for unknowns and non-professionals. Korine and James Franco had discussed working together for years, on a film about glue-sniffers. In the interim Franco began work on a collaborative art project called Rebel, inspired by James Dean in REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE. He brought in Korine for a section of the project inspired by the switchblade fight in that classic film and they shot a short film together in one day. "It was great, I already got along with him, but I think we realized that we worked really well together on set too," Franco recalls. "One day he said, we're going to do SPRING BREAKERS together. I'm going to go write it, and I'll be back."

Korine's typical method is to write a script first and then cast the parts after it's been circulated and read by potential cast members. But for SPRING BREAKERS he wrote a treatment during the Christmas holiday and then sent it to Franco, inquiring whether he was interested in playing the specific character he wrote for him -- Alien, a corn-rowed rapper and regional crime-lord who deals drugs and arms. Franco replied with an immediate yes. A few weeks later, Korine flew to Florida, where spring break was in full swing, completing the script in a St. Petersburg hotel, "while a bunch of kids were vomiting on my porch," according to the filmmaker.

Franco has long being a fan of Korine's work, discovering KIDS in high school, and considering it a rite of passage among his peers. "It was such an important movie for me and my friends," Franco says. "It felt like there was this really interesting new voice, and I've followed Harmony's work ever since."

Franco describes Korine as someone who is interested in people and art and forms of expression that are way outside of the mainstream -- "but he is also interested in popular culture, or a version of it, that is pushed to the extreme so that it becomes something both flashy and attractive, and at the same time distorted and very ugly," Franco explains. "Harmony is all about exposing the darkness in his characters, but he never judges them. All the strangeness, anything that is unexpected about a person, or something that people maybe want to keep secret about themselves -- he wants to show us that."

To prepare for the role of Alien, Korine sent Franco hip-hop music and performance videos by the likes of Gucci Mane (who also appears in SPRING BREAKERS), Lil Wayne, Riff-Raff and the underground Florida rapper Dangeruss, who became something of a blueprint for Franco while he was developing Alien. After Korine sent Franco some of Dangeruss' songs, Franco met with the little-known regional rapper before filming began, discussing the performer's life and how he was trying to make it as a rapper in the music business. "I think the key is not creating a character out of someone you've seen before," Franco explains of his character. "Alien has this other side to him, this kind of quasi-mystic quality to him. He has the gangster side on the surface, but also this weird beach-bum aspect to him that makes him mysterious."

Franco sums up SPRING BREAKERS' intoxicating sensory overload as a collision of beauty and darkness reflecting a deeper cultural message. "On one level the movie embraces pop culture and this very 'poppy' side of today's youth," Franco explains. "But it also reveals how deadening this can be -- how much popular media can dull our humanity so that empathy for other people is nullified, and one's actions almost don't seem to have consequences. It's as though people don't understand the magnitude of what they are doing."

During the actual filming of SPRING BREAKERS, Korine used a combination of natural and staged locations, casting A-list stars alongside unknowns and extras to see what played out. During the pool-hall sequence, Korine filmed real-life denizens who regularly frequent the space, alongside the bikini-clad stars best known for their work in Disney sitcoms and musicals. For Alien's spring-break performance scene with the internet- famous ATL Twins (playing versions of themselves), he dropped Franco, almost unrecognizable in his Alien garb, into an MTV-style beach rap show populated by actual spring break revelers. "I'm more interested in documenting things," Korine says of his unconventional approach to casting. "I don't come in with an agenda so much. I'm drawn to certain types of characters and I try not to pass judgment."

After casting Franco, Korine set about finding actresses to portray the four young women who form the centerpiece of SPRING BREAKERS -- bikini-clad college students who want to cut loose from their humdrum worlds of college exams and church youth- group meetings on the Florida coastline during spring break. Instinctively, he went for young actresses with good-girl images. "I like the idea of putting people in certain places they've never been before," Korine says. "Everyone is familiar with Selena Gomez (The Disney Channel's The Wizards of Waverly Place) and Vanessa Hudgens (Disney's High School Musical franchise) because they have this specific image," Korine explains. "It's really fun for me to push them into some kind of other reality, something more sinister and insane. It's cool to see them spread their wings. One of the great joys of SPRING BREAKERS will be to watch people's reactions to that."

Selena Gomez became aware of SPRING BREAKERS through her mother, a fan of Korine's work as well as her daughter's manager. Her mother was able to procure a copy of the script before Gomez auditioned at Korine's house in Nashville. "I wasn't too familiar with Harmony's work," Gomez admits. "I remember hearing a lot about KIDS but I was really young when it came out. But after we read SPRING BREAKERS, I watched his films and I loved the way he shot them, I was so excited. But I was also a little scared, because this was totally different than anything I'd done before."

Gomez looked upon her role as Faith, the moral center of SPRING BREAKERS, as a unique step forward in her still-blossoming career, informed by her work as Alex Russo on the popular Disney Channel sitcom The Wizards of Waverly Place, which ran from 2007 to 2012. "Obviously I have a younger generation that looks at me, and I really appreciate that -- and I still want to do things that will earn me their respect," Gomez says. "But I also want to do things that challenge me and put me out of my element. When I met Harmony I completely trusted him. I felt like this was a safe place for me to try and become a better actress."

For her part, Vanessa Hudgens (Candy) was only slightly more familiar with Korine's work, though her father ranks KIDS among his favorite movies. For Hudgens it was the desire to work with Franco that attracted her to SPRING BREAKERS. As each girl was cast, rounding out the gang of friends, Hudgens watched a great ensemble take shape. "The relationships in the movie are such strong bonds," Hudgens explains, "like girlfriends who have been best friends since childhood. It's such an amazing connection that females have. In order to show that on film, we needed to establish a tight connection."

Although Hudgens attended acting school with co-star Ashley Benson when they were young teenagers, their careers had taken different paths. For the most part, the close- knit friendship among the girls had to be developed organically, prior to filming. To prepare as a group, the girls did multiple read-throughs of the script together, "to build an amazing bond so it felt like we'd known each other for years," Hudgens explains. They studied girls who were "hard and rough and tough -- it really is this completely different world," she adds. "They're just living in the moment. Our characters just do whatever they need to do to get what they want. As women, they know they're hot and empowered. Together as a crew, they know they can conquer the world."

For Hudgens it was also Korine's precise vision of the world, and of American youth culture specifically, that drew her interest. "It's a world in teenager's lives that's so familiar," Hudgens says. "Most kids have been there. Everybody has had times in their lives when they were, like, Holy shit, that was a crazy time! When you're in it, there's nothing else better. And you have to experience those times -- in order to get the crazy out. From these opportunities you can grow. I think everybody can take something (from SPRING BREAKERS) and understand it in a way. Whether or not you agree with it is a different story. But it's part of growing up, it really is."

Ashley Benson (Brit) read about the project online and met with her close friend Selena Gomez before reading the script. "It was so different from anything I had read before," says Benson, "it was a very dark and edgy script -- Harmony wanted us to be the weirdest people you had ever seen. Weird girls who don't care about anything except for having fun." For Benson, appearing in her first feature film, the camaraderie on set developed naturally. "Our chemistry really shows on screen because a lot of the movie involved improvisation," Benson adds. "After spending every day together for a few weeks, we were able to finish each other's sentences."

For Benson, accustomed to scripted and often multiple line-readings on the set of the hit ABC drama Pretty Little Liars, working with Korine on the more improvisatory SPRING BREAKERS was both challenging and liberating. "Harmony told me that it was going to be freeing, unlike anything I'd done before," Benson admits. "I told him in my show, people have to repeat everything if they forget a word or flub a line. It becomes frustrating when you're confronted with dialogue you wouldn't otherwise say in real life. On set Harmony told us during a particular scene that we didn't have to talk -- he just wanted to see what we could do with our eyes. The scene was scripted, but we just sat there for four or five minutes and he filmed everybody's facial expressions. Our eyes were telling the story, basically. He never wanted us to seem like actors, because he wants it to feel more like a documentary."

Franco says of his female co-stars. "The actresses are not like their characters -- but I think they understood their characters well enough that they could also relax and be natural on set. I thought it was perfect casting because it really gives it that mix of pop culture and independent filmmaking. I had a blast working with all of them and I think they were hungry to be able to do a project like this."

Like Korine's previous films, SPRING BREAKERS exists in its own unique universe, one familiar to anyone who has participated in spring break revelry, but groundbreaking in the way it looks, sounds and feels. "This one has a kind of lyrical flow, a poppiness to it -- everything from the color palette, the locations, the types of actors that are in the film," says Korine. "This is something different from what I usually do."

To capture the mesmerizing visual textures of Florida during spring break, Korine turned to Belgian cinematographer BenoƮt Debie, whose work on Gaspar Noe's IRREVERSIBLE and ENTER THE VOID, among others, has earned him a following around the world. But where Noe's work is all about maximizing blackness and darkness, the challenge of SPRING BREAKERS, shot entirely on celluloid, was working with as much natural light as possible to enhance the colors -- using sunsets, neon, even the glow of laptops in a college lecture hall to convey feeling.

"For Harmony the camera is considered a character in the film, and the lighting too," Debie explains. "He told me I should treat both of them like stars. He wanted a visual pop -- with glowing, fluorescent, hyper-saturated colors. Because the shoot was relatively quick, I decided to seek out locations that were already lit. We only had to adjust or adapt them for the film, with minimal intervention. And shooting on film was the only way to get this color palette. High-definition video can't obtain this richness."

For Debie, St. Petersburg, Florida was an inspiring place to shoot, one that revealed its true magic as the afternoon turned into night. "The most important thing for me is to simply observe the area until I'm bewitched and spellbound by it," Debie explains. "During the day nothing is especially beautiful or fascinating there, but once night falls, the city begins to vibrate and shimmer, with neon colors, signs, old American cars. The sunsets are amazing, too -- all of these elements helped me to develop the specific atmosphere of the film.

Music plays an equally strong role in Korine's work, with specific songs written into the script and ambient music employed in the background to convey texture, like the Norwegian black metal used to memorable effect on the GUMMO soundtrack. For SPRING BREAKERS Korine wanted a more obvious pop feel, citing Britney Spears and Southern rap music from the likes of Lil Wayne and Dangeruss as influences. For the score itself, Korine turned to former Red Hot Chili Pepper Cliff Martinez to find the middle ground between conventional pop songs (in the case of SPRING BREAKERS, the throbbing electronic dance music of Skrillex) and something more angular, ambient and moody for background music.

Martinez has enjoyed a long career scoring the films of Steven Soderbergh, beginning with SEX, LIES AND VIDEOTAPE in 1989 and continuing through 2011's CONTAGION, whose synthesizer-heavy score recalled the '70s heyday of Tangerine Dream, when sound design began to merge with popular music. Martinez's work on Nicolas Winding Refn's DRIVE resulted in a landmark score, eliciting pulsing textures from the Los Angeles cityscape that was the film's setting while taking cues from songs in the movie by the like of The Chromatics, Kavinsky and Desire.

Like DRIVE, Martinez became involved with SPRING BREAKERS after it was shot, with a temporary score already in place. "The temp score was a hybrid of aggressive electronic dance music and my own work," Martinez explains, "so when I first saw the film, the sound was very familiar even though the context was different from anything I'd done before." Martinez's job essentially was to universalize the story, transforming spring break into a metaphor for that magical, special time in everyone's life when things seem perfectly in place -- "When there are no rules and you get to go ape-shit," Martinez adds. "Conceptually, I thought of SPRING BREAKERS as 75 percent a silent film -- and the music got a starring role in telling an enchanted, hallucinogenic fable of greed, lust and excess."

Martinez's initial approach to scoring a film is to figure out why music is necessary in the first place. For SPRING BREAKERS, he did not want to portray the characters as shocking, out-of-control thugs -- but as innocent kids testing the boundaries of morality and good taste. "That led to a kind of feminine, ethereal sound, with instruments like the Baschet crystal, celeste and acoustic guitar," Martinez admits.

Electronic Dance Music superstar Skrillex, and EDM in general, played a large role in defining the overall character of SPRING BREAKERS. But it became Martinez's task to score the areas in the film where beat-driven dance music wasn't required, a challenge for the veteran composer. "I had to weave in and out of a song-intensive soundtrack without interrupting the characters or sounding like an old person," Martinez explains. He compares his work on SPRING BREAKERS to his scoring work on DRIVE in the way that both films are sparse on dialogue, which affords the music a greater role in telling the story. "It's unusual for a director to put his trust in music that way," Martinez admits. "For us composers it's a welcome opportunity because it puts the score up there front and center."

For Martinez, it was the look and feel of SPRING BREAKERS that attracted him to the project more than anything else. "The rowdy, over-saturated color scheme suggested an unreal, dream-like quality that I tried to reflect in the music," Martinez admits. "When it comes to bikinis and ski-masks, I really sit up and pay attention."

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