If Spring Breakers doesn't turn out to be one of the best films of 2013, it will surely prove to be one of the most divisive, with some critics hailing the film as a subversive, satirical masterpiece, and others deriding it as an empty, brainless mess. In the months leading up to its release, the movie — which opens in New York and Los Angeles today, with a wider release to follow next week — attracted considerable controversy for casting Disney Channel alumni Selena Gomez (Wizards of Waverly Place) and Vanessa Hudgens (High School Musical) as two of the four college students who travel to Florida for a sex, drugs, and bullet-drenched spring trip. (Watch a trailer for Spring Breakers below.) Here, a behind-the-scenes look at some of the strangest and most intriguing aspects of the film's production:
1. Writer/director Harmony Korine made Spring Breakers 'to capture something he'd missed'
Though Spring Breakers captures all the debauchery of a college spring break trip, Korine never actually went on spring break himself. "I grew up in Nashville, but I was a skater, so I was skateboarding during spring break," says Korine at Interview Magazine. "Everyone I knew would go to Daytona Beach and the Redneck Riviera and just f--k and get drunk — you know, as a rite of passage. I never went. I guess this is my way of going."
2. He wrote Spring Breakers in 10 days at a hotel in Florida — during spring break
"I checked into my hotel, and it was like ground zero," says Korine at Rolling Stone. "Kids f--king in the hallways, everyone vomiting on you, blasting Taylor Swift all night — it was unbearable. I went to another hotel and the same thing happened, so I drove 20 minutes to this Marriott on a golf course. I walk in and there's all these dwarfs everywhere. I was like, 'All right. This will work.'"
3. Selena Gomez's mom encouraged her to take the part
Many have balked at the prospect of Wizards of Waverly Place star Selena Gomez trading in her magic wand for a string bikini — but her mother isn't among them. "My mom is actually a big Harmony Korine fan, and we got the script through my agency," said Gomez in an interview at MTV News. "I read it, I watched all of his movies with my mom and [watched] interviews, and I wanted to be a part of it." Gomez flew to Korine's house in Nashville to audition for the film, and was cast shortly after.
4. Spring Breakers originally starred Emma Roberts
Selena Gomez and Vanessa Hudgens were originally going to be joined by another squeaky-clean child star: Emma Roberts, who began her career with starring turns in family films like Nancy Drew and Hotel for Dogs. But Roberts quickly dropped out of the film, which called for her character to indulge in a three-way sex scene, due to unspecified "creative differences." (She was replaced by Pretty Little Liars star Ashley Benson.) "I make a specific type of film, and it goes hard. It's not always for everyone," explained Korine at MSN News.
5. James Franco's character is not supposed to be rapper Riff Raff
Alien, the offbeat gangster played by James Franco in the film, bears an uncanny resemblance to rapper Riff Raff; both men have dreadlocks, a metal grill, and a lot of tattoos, as well as a poetic, laconic style of speaking. But despite what you may have heard — from sources that include Riff Raff himself — Franco insists that his performance isn't just a riff on the rapper. "Of course, Harmony and I looked at some of Riff Raff's videos as inspirations, but he was one of a number of people we looked at," says Franco at GQ. "I would say the biggest influence on the role was this local Florida rapper named Dangeruss. He's fairly unknown, but he was down there in the place, living the life, and he became the biggest model for me — and he's in the movie."
6. Korine wants watching Spring Breakers to feel 'like a drug experience'
"I was thinking about making a movie that worked almost more like a drug experience. Something that was more hallucinatory, and kind of transcendent, and physical," said Korine at Movieline. "Open your mind, allow yourself to enjoy it. It's sometimes fun to get lost a little bit in it. Let the images and sounds hit you. It's more meant to be a physical experience, or an emotion, or just a kind of ride."