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INTERVIEW: The Directors Chat Up 'Miss Sunshine'

On the Bus with Valerie and Jonathan

The story behind getting Little Miss Sunshine into theaters is a classic story of perseverance. It's the tale of a bold director fighting through red tape and BS to put something worthwhile out. Hey wait, it's actually the story of TWO directors (Valerie Faris and Jonathan Dayton) fighting through tape and bull and oh yeah, they just happened to be married too. Interest piqued? Mine was so I sat down with them to gab about Little Miss Sunshine (which opens in NYC and L.A. July 28th and wider August 4th). PS- The plot of Little Miss Sunshine (trailer here) is of a family on a road trip in an ancient VW van. Their quest is to get a little girl to the little miss sunshine California pageant. Alan Arkin plays grandpa, Steve Carell the gay and suicidal uncle and Toni Collette and Greg Kinnear round out the cast as the parents of the little sunny girl. Nuff said on that.

I made myself at home in the hotel room, got the recorder hopping and Valerie offered me some tasty baked goods. She clearly knew the way to my heart so I started them off with a softball about their past career of music video directing. Were they tempted at all to work with some of their former clients like R.E.M. or the Red Hot Chili Peppers on music for this film? Valerie answered for the duo in what would become our standard M.O. for the interview, Valerie would speak and then Jonathan would agree in the typical married man fashion. "We kind of pitched Rivers Cuomo (lead singer of Weezer) writing music for it, having a single songwriter's voice. But we realized as we went to make the movie that lyrics would clutter everything because the movie is so dialogue heavy already."

They settled on a song by Devotchka entitled "How it Ends" as the main theme for the film, sans lyrics. You may have heard this haunting melody in the Everything is Illuminated trailer because the producer of Sunshine was the producer on that one too and he pretty much jacked the song directly from Val and Jon. "We were pretty pissed because we introduced them to Devotchka," Jonathan informed me. Never trust Hollywood producers, hard lesson one for these feature film newbies.

I then asked them if they'd ever seen another family road trip film that inspired them on this project and they were happy to point one out that didn't. "We had to email the studio and tell them to take the comparison with National Lampoon's Vacation out (in the press notes)." I can hardly blame them there; the movies are highly dissimilar but leave it to marketing departments to maul a concept. Jonathan continued, "We also had a reviewer in here that compared it to Grapes of Wrath," we all had a good laugh there because the idea that a story of the great California drought and depression film has much to do with this one is sort of kooky talk.

Next up I wanted to ask them how they felt about big summer effects films like Superman Returns and Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest compared against their own little dialogue driven intellectual property. I even made up a word for the query, blotation (definition: big film with no soul meant only to cash in). Did they feel like the big bad monster films were all just blotation at some point? Valerie spoke first, "Now that the film is done the studio very quickly said they wanted to do this as counter-programming. That sounded really good to us because this summer there is indeed a lot of blotation. We love working small and light; I don't know how those directors make the movie for $300 million. It's like running a continent!" I of course asked them if the sequel for Little Miss Sunshine would be more effects driven and Jonathan immediately said it would be based in a space shuttle. Cheeky!

I finished up by asking what they had on the horizon… and like every other Hollywood pro they were tight lipped so as not to scare off the whales. They must have received a few tasty offers off of Sundance because the rights to distribute Little Miss Sunshine went for a whopping $10 million! They were clear about wanting the next project to be close in scale to this one, great actors, low budget, fun and smart. What won't they be directing next? Well, they were once sent the script for Bad Boys II (along probably with 500 other directors) and they managed to somehow avoid getting too interested so clearly they practice what they preach. We closed the interview with more baked goods and some spoiler talk which I'm morally opposed to sharing. The lesson here is see the movie, my review is coming sooner to the release date, but I can tell you that you won't regret it.

We at the Rope wish them the best of luck in the future with whatever they take on. Oh yeah, if you weren't listening Little Miss Sunshine opens this Friday if you live in the Big Apple or L.A. and next weekend in many other major metropolitan areas.

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