- Writer-director Harmony Korine talked to Business Insider about his new movie, “The Beach Bum.”
- He explained the idea Matthew McConaughey gave for one scene that became the heart of the movie, the late-night note Snoop Dogg gave him, and his thoughts on making a spin-off movie focused on the character Martin Lawrence plays.
- He also shared if Britney Spears ever contacted him after he used her song, “Everytime,” in “Spring Breakers.”
You could say Harmony Korine has lived three lives.
He was the wunderkind who wrote the generation-defining, NC-17 movie “Kids” in 1995, and followed that by directing low-budget indies like “Gummo” and “Julien Donkey-Boy” that brought him cult status in the industry. He was the bad boy who was banned from “Late Show with David Letterman,” had two of his homes burn down in the ’90s (it’s still unclear how either happened), and spent years in a haze of drug use. And now he’s been introduced to a new generation of filmgoers searching for something different than the usual Hollywood fare with movies like “Spring Breakers” and his latest, “The Beach Bum” (in theatres Friday).
At 46, it’s not that Korine has finally succumbed to mainstream moviemaking, it’s that the industry (and audiences) have finally caught up to his style of storytelling.
Like “Spring Breakers,” the sunny, fast-and-loose culture of Florida is where Korine’s latest tale takes place. In “The Breach Bum,” we follow Matthew McConaughey as Moondog, a burnt-out poet who has been living the high life down in the Florida Keys thanks to his wealthy Miami wife, Minnie (Isla Fisher). But all that changes when he has to go “up north” for his daughter’s wedding. What follows is a quest for self-discovery during which he runs into the likes of a Christian rock enthusiast (Zac Efron), an awful dolphin tour guide (Martin Lawrence), a drug runner (Snoop Dogg), and Jimmy Buffett.
In no way has Korine softened with age. “The Beach Bum” is a 150-proof shot to the senses.
Business Insider chatted with Korine about his recent career renaissance, how one McConaughey suggestion took the movie to a place even Korine didn’t realise it could go, the late-night note Snoop Dogg gave him, his hopes for a Martin Lawrence spin-off movie, and his thoughts about his legacy.
This interview has been edited for clarity.
Jason Guerrasio: Has it hit you yet that a movie of yours will be in theatres nationwide right out of the gate? That’s never happened to you before.
Harmony Korine: Wow, you know something, you saying that right now is the first time I ever thought about that. Wow. That’s so trippy. You’re right, it’s going to go to a thousand-something theatres.
Guerrasio: Does the fact that you got to this point doing things your own way make this sweeter?
Korine: I haven’t really had time to let it sink it yet. I mean, for the first time just thinking about it it’s exciting because I always wanted the movies to always be seen by as many people as they could. I never purposely wanted to limit them. But the films, especially when I was a kid, fell into the category of in some ways their own thing. And so the idea that potentially a lot of people can see this film that weren’t able to see some of the other films is nice.
Guerrasio: In a lot of ways the industry caught up to you, not the other way around.
Korine: When I was a kid a lot of those people tried to stop me from making films. For whatever reason they were threatened by the movies. And at some point, I believed that the audience would eventually catch up. Or the culture would find them. So that’s one of the things that helped me to continue to keep making films.
Guerrasio: In regards to “The Beach Bum,” how do you get someone like Matthew McConaughey to get interested in a movie you’re doing? What’s the starting point?
Korine: We sent him the script and I think I just flew to wherever he was and we sat down. It was obvious he knew the character and he knew people like that. He knew some pirates and some smugglers and I think we were on the same page. Moondog is a composite of a certain archetype. Once he was tapped in, it was all systems go.
Guerrasio: Does he come back with notes?
Korine: Yeah, he came back with notes. Generally the script for me is a starting point, it’s not a finish line. So off his notes we start to riff and we do rehearsals, and once the secondary characters and the locations come into place the vibe takes hold. The movie organically starts to develop and go in a direction. This film is about a cosmic America that maybe exists or maybe doesn’t, I’m not sure anymore. But it’s something close to what it was like when I was a kid watching Cheech & Chong films and it had this weed smoke narrative that floats through the film. With my movie, the characters are high all the time so you need to create an environment that was a natural thing. So within that Matthew would definitely push the character and it would take off.
Guerrasio: Give me an example of how Matthew took Moondog to a place you didn’t think the movie would go.
Korine: When Moondog and Minnie are dancing that was written but I didn’t know the song. It really wasn’t going to be what it is in the film now. It’s almost the heart of the movie. The song [Peggy Lee’s “Is That All There Is?”] narrates their relationship in some ways. That song was something Matthew brought to the moment. We were just going to have him dancing with the radio around his neck with no music. I was going to add it later. But he popped out with this song and they both started singing, and when I heard the lyrics I thought, “Wow.” It really was something he had been thinking about. It really did illustrate the moment in a way that I hadn’t thought of. So we went with it and in some ways that’s the heart of the film.
Guerrasio: And that scene is a perfect glimpse at your shooting style, which is shooting the same scene in different locations. That sequence is cut so that it looks like they are dancing all over Miami.
Korine: Yeah. The way I make films is not really conventional coverage. I almost shoot the films three or four times over again, and we keep shooting each scene in several different locations and then splice them together. I refer to it as a liquid narrative. It’s more capturing an energy.
Guerrasio: So you’ll see Matthew and Isla just killing the scene but in your mind you’re thinking, “What if I shot it in X location?”
Korine: Sure. Maybe something is more visual in another place and maybe the performance changes because there are other people in the background. I like being free in that way and not having to commit. I like to dance between all these moments and it becomes what’s exciting in the moment, what’s beautiful.
Guerrasio: Does that become a challenge in the edit? The amount of coverage you shoot?
Korine: Huh, let me think about that. I think a lot of the wedding sequence was pretty hard just because of the chaos that was around it. But, I don’t know, again, to me it’s one of that things that because it destroys time that really the whole film is the same to me.
Guerrasio: The people that show up in Moondog’s orbit throughout the film just get better and better as the movie goes on. Did you already know a lot of the supporting cast you wanted to use?
Korine: Some of them I knew, but mostly in some ways they all had an iconic stoner quality to them. I was trying to imagine who would be in Moondog’s orbit in South Florida and you have to have Jimmy Buffett, and Snoop is just part of the world.
Guerrasio: And the stuff with Martin Lawrence is so good it could be a spin-off movie.
Korine: It’s funny you say that because I’ve been playing around with that idea: Martin Lawrence being the world’s worst dolphin tour guide. He was just unbelievable. I feel like it really would be great to do a whole Captain Wack movie. I mean, he has Vietnam flashbacks but he was never in Vietnam. Cocaine-addicted parrot. He’s one of my favourite comedians ever and I’ve always loved him. I hadn’t seen him in anything in a while and it was just a dream, if I could have anyone play this character it would be Martin Lawrence. I didn’t even know how to get to him. But eventually he read the script and I hopped on a call with him. We talked about the parrot for a while and he was down to do it.
Guerrasio: Were you shocked how good of an actor Snoop is?
Korine: He’s playing a variation of himself but at the same time he’s not really himself. He just has this presence.
Guerrasio: And is it true that he came up with his character name, Lingerie?
Korine: Yeah, that was his one big note to me. Late at night, we were worried, it was like, “Snoop has got some notes,” and I’m like, “OK.” And he calls me up and he’s like, “I just want you to know I don’t want to be Snoop in the movie, I want to be Lingerie because I’m smooth and silky.”
Guerrasio: So you were going to call him Snoop?
Korine: Yeah. In the way that Jimmy Buffett is himself in the movie, he was just going to be Snoop. But it’s a cool twist he put in there. But the interesting thing is if you look really closely he’s wearing clothes that say “Snoop” on the lapel. But it’s got such a stoner logic that I was like, “It works.”
Guerrasio: You must have a treasure trove of footage of Jimmy Buffett and Snoop Dogg duets.
Korine: I have a lot of that. I have whole songs of them on that yacht getting blazed making up music together.
Guerrasio: Your career span is so long, when you look back at your early work now does it feel like another person made that stuff?
Korine: Yes and no. I don’t really watch a lot of it. A couple months ago, this movie theatre in Miami by my art studio played all my movies, projecting them on 35mm. I hadn’t seen “Gummo” in so long so I sat and watched it with an audience and it was weird. At one point I actually thought that they put the reels on incorrectly. So I said to one of the people, “Dude, you put the reels on wrong,” and he goes, “No, this is how you made it.” And that’s when it struck me, wow, that really was a lifetime ago. I’m connected to it but also I was a kid.
Guerrasio: It’s different tastes, I would imagine. Back then that’s what interested you. Doing Dogme 95 for “Julien Donkey-Boy” was what grabbed you.
Korine: Yeah. I’m happy in some ways that it all coexists. I just try to do my best and make things entertaining. It means everything and nothing to me. I can’t figure out which one.
Guerrasio: You have always gotten great needle drops in all your movies. Is there a song in your head that you are still trying hard to get into one of your movies?
Korine: Oh, let me think. Man! I’m sure there is. [Hums.] There is definitely. I mean, that “Tiptoe Through The Tulips” song is so good by Tiny Tim. I haven’t been able to find anything for it.
Guerrasio: One song I know you were really into and featured in “Spring Breakers” was “Everytime” by Britney Spears.
Guerrasio: Did you ever hear from her? What did she think of that?
Korine: I never spoke to her but I think at the time she kind of got it. She sent some type of video message thanking us. I always loved that song because it had this beautiful pop ballad but there was menace to it.
Guerrasio: So we’ve gone down memory lane a little. Do you think of legacy at all? Do you ponder how your work will be studied by film lovers and filmmakers in the decades to come?
Korine: I just really try, you know? I’m just trying to be an entertainer. I want people to laugh. I want there to be joy. Ever since I was a kid I wanted to create a specific world with a specific vision. I don’t have a template for how to pull off a career, I just kind of roll with it. I don’t have a road map. I never understood people who are committed to 10 projects. I don’t do that. I try to enjoy the moment and see if there’s something out there that I feel like I can contribute to – some image, story, characters. Whether it’s art or film or whatever, I just try to make it happen. I do my best, I put it out there, and then I just go back to my house. In some ways, the films and all the work is like a house that you try to build and at the end of your life, maybe you can live comfortably in it.
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