Spring Breakers, the latest film from director and provocateur Harmony Korine, is not just one of the weirdest movies to open this year but also one of the most commercially successful, pulling in big numbers last weekend on just three screens in New York and Los Angeles. As the booze-and-bikini-fueled crime drama expands into wide release, it's hard to guess what more mainstream audiences will make of its mix of cheesecake, gunplay, and general debauchery — including a gleeful performance against type by James Franco, who plays Alien, a drug dealer with cornrows, gold teeth, and firepower to spare.
Instead of a group of boys at the center of the story, it's a quartet of bored, half-dressed college girls — Faith (Selena Gomez), Candy (Vanessa Hudgens), Brit (Ashley Benson) and Cotty (Rachel Korine) — who intend to escape their bland campus surroundings and find themselves over spring break, but end up facing off with established gangsters. The film mixes arthouse style with the lurid tropes of genre films, underscoring it all with the wistful undercurrents of a coming-of-age story, replete with ethereal music and dreamy voiceover.
Whitehouse Post editor Adam Robinson met Korine in 2009, when he edited a series of spots directed by Korine for Liberty Mutual. One thing led to another, and Robinson collaborated with Korine on more projects — short films for Proenza Schouler, and a film for Rebel, an omnibus exhibit at The Museum of Contemporary Art in L.A. (MOCA) conceived by James Franco as a tribute to Rebel Without a Cause. When Robinson got a call asking if he wanted to come on board Spring Breakers as an additional editor working in the cutting room with film editor Douglas Crise (Babel, Abitrage), he knew his existing rapport with Korine would help him hit the ground running.
"This being my first feature, and especially knowing Harmony well, it seemed like a good, comfortable situation," Robinson says. "And Whitehouse was really cool. They were nice about letting me take four months off to go do the movie — even when I ended up being gone for six months. Whitehouse has been 100 percent supportive, and I feel very fortunate." Robinson spent the time in Los Angeles, cutting with Crise on Avid Media Composers while the film shot on 35mm in Florida. After a month of shooting, Korine returned to L.A. to usher the film through post. "It was a pretty fun process," he says.
Robinson's history with Korine meant more to the project than just establishing a shorthand with the director. He says he noticed ideas from some of those short films making their way into Spring Breakers — like the way that sounds made by guns ominously signal scene transitions. "In the MOCA piece I edited, James Franco is wearing this Sal Mineo T-shirt and he leads a gang of girls against another gang of girls, and they fight with machetes in the parking lot," Robinson explains. "Harmony wanted to experiment with gunshot sounds in that one. I incorporated them into the cut and treated them as little transitional elements, and that inspired the sound design of Spring Breakers."
Those sound elements are like signposts scattered throughout the film, punctuation marks in between sequences that unfold in a fluid, nonlinear style characterized by flashforwards and flashbacks as well as a hypnotic repetition of imagery and bits of dialogue. "The thing I think is best about Harmony is he's a great, pleasant person to work with, and he encourages experimentation," Robinson says. "Every project I've been on, he really encourages you to keep pushing and trying new things. We also do a lot of self-censoring. We'll say, 'All right, we probably went too far with this' and pull it back. But from the beginning, Harmony said he wanted the movie to be an experience, to be something that would pass through you. And that's what Doug and I really focused on — trying to create the mood."
Spring Breakers was made outside of the studio system and on a low budget, meaning the team didn't have to worry about testing the film with audiences beyond small friends-and-family screenings. But everyone on the film was aware that it was acquiring a reputation even while principal photography was still going on, and that knowledge influenced at least one decision made in the cutting room. "Harmony told stories about being on set, when someone would show him, on an iPhone, an image on TMZ from that night's shoot," Robinson says, recalling the atmosphere during the shoot. "Friends would email me pictures [from the shoot] and I'd think, 'We're not going to see these dailies for two days.' So we were aware that this movie was under a microscope.
"One thing that we decided to do in the editing was to kick it off with a huge, bombastic opening and dive into 'Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites,' which is Skrillex's biggest song. We didn't deviate too far [from the script] but we totally got into a different place, kicking off with the Skrillex piece and over-the-top beach insanity," Robinson explains. The film opens with a decidedly R-rated montage of bright, glossy, slow-motion images of real spring-break revelers mugging for the camera as they drink up and strip down.
"The movie was assembled initially without that sequence, but we liked the idea that people were expecting this was going to be sort of a romp. And we thought, 'OK, let's give them two minutes of a romp and then do a gunshot transition into the bleak, dark, depressing college stuff.' It's nice to see a lot of people talking about that opening."
Most gratifying, Robinson says, has been the sense that audiences are responding to the film in the same spirit in which it was made. "I've seen it with an audience four times," he says. "The first three times were in Venice for the world premiere, in Toronto for the North American premiere, and a week ago in L.A. for the L.A. premiere. All of those were a lot of fun for different reasons. But last Friday I went to Union Square [in Manhattan] and watched it in a theater with 500 people, and that was amazing. You're watching with the general public, and they're totally into it and along for the ride. When Alien and Faith are out back at the pool hall [in a tension-filled key scene], in that movie theater you would be able to hear a pin drop. It's nice to see people lock into the tone of the movie."
Spring Breakers opens today nationwide. For more on Adam Robinson and Whitehouse Post, visit them on the web: www.whitehousepost.com