Harmony Korine on ‘Spring Breakers,’ SXSW 2013’s Most Divisive Film

AUSTIN, TX: “I had been collecting spring break imagery for a couple of years before. I was using it in paintings and artwork and stuff,” Harmony Korine explained at the SXSW panel Monday for his new film Spring Breakers. “Just pictures that I would get off the Internet, different sites, fraternity sites, co-ed pornography, anything that had that role of adolescent debauchery in Florida. The images were just hyper-sexualized, hyper-violent — the subject matter was — but then all the details, the bikinis and the book bags and the flip-flops and the Hello Kitty bags and the nail polish and the neon, just all those things were childlike, or innocent. I thought it was interesting, both those things playing together, both those things working together.”

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Thus was born the film, but Korine didn’t just rely on secondhand accounts of spring break madness; to write the picture, he went down and experienced the real thing. He traveled to Panama City, “and it was all debauchery, like in the film. I wrote it in a hotel room with people blasting Taylor Swift music 24 hours a day, people vomiting on my door, snorting donuts, it was crazy.” Prompted by moderator Eric Kohn to talk about the craziest thing he’d seen on the writing trip, Korine offered, “I saw a human jawbone on a chandelier in a Day’s Inn,” but that sounds more like a scene from David Lynch’s spring break movie.

He finished the script in Florida — or, at least, got as close to finishing as he gets. “I get the script to a point where it’s, like, good enough,” Korine confessed. “It’s like the ideas, the skeleton. And I know that in the shooting, the way I develop the film, I’m gonna push it into something else.” He encourages his actors to improvise, rewrite, and collaborate on the set — and some flexibility was necessary, since he shot in Florida and cast real spring breakers as extras.

It made the actors’ jobs much easier, according to co-star Ashley Benson. “Those would be our real reactions,” Benson laughed. “Girls would just be getting naked and making out, and we would be like, ‘Whoa, that’s crazy!’ So just being in that environment alone helped you out a lot.” Benson, familiar from the ABC Family teen series Pretty Little Liars, loved the freedom of Korine’s method: “I remember when I went back to my show, I went back literally two days later, and I was like, ‘God I wanna kill myself,’ because I had to stick to a script!”

As part of the panel, the audience and cast watched Korine's very first, very rough short film.
As part of the panel, the audience and cast watched Korine’s very first, very rough short film.

Much of the film’s advance buzz has centered on the presence in the cast of Disney favorites Vanessa Hudgens and Selena Gomez. On Monday’s panel, Gomez talked about the film being part of her “transitionary period” (yup, that’s a direct quote). “This is what I love to do, and I wanted to kind of step out of my comfort zone and see how far I could go,” she said. Why this project? “My mom’s my manager and she’s a huge Harmony fan.” (Her favorite Korine film, if you’re interested, is Trash Humpers.)

Everyone involved is, of course, aware that in spite of its commercial-friendly elements, they’re making a Harmony Korine film, which (to put it plainly) will never be something for everyone. Korine knows he’s not making blockbusters, but he makes what he’s drawn to. “You see a woman and she’s really curvy and you’re attracted to that, and some guys see a woman and she’s like a straight line, and they’re attracted to that. I’m just attracted to what’s in Spring Breakers.”