Hide Your Smiling Faces, a detailed and compelling American coming-of-age drama, marks the feature debut for writer and director Daniel Patrick Carbone. Last week, I – acting on behalf of Centrefolds & Empty Screens – was lucky enough to speak to Daniel over the phone about where the inspiration came from, his thoughts on his filmmaking experience and how it was to shoot a scene with a real-life bear.
EmptyScreens: Where did the inspiration for Hide Your Smiling Faces come from?
Daniel Patrick Carbone: Well, the inspiration started from a series of scenes I had written down over the course of a few years that were loosely based on my own childhood – mostly the relationship between the brothers and a few of the interactions between the characters. I didn’t want to make an autobiography, but I used those scenes to come up with the rest of the narrative and build a world around that. I became really interested in the idea of remembering your childhood and how much of what you remember actually happened.
Was it always your intention for the film to tackle adult themes, death in particular?
Yeah. I mean, a lot of those scenes that I started with were about remembering the first time I lost a grandparent or a family member, things like that. I realised quickly as I was compiling these scenes that such themes as loss of innocence, brotherhood and death were coming up more and more, so I started to write around those ideas.
As well at the dark themes, there’s a lot of imagery to back them up. How did you settle on a cinematographer who you knew would portray those themes in the way you wanted them to be portrayed?
That’s a great question. I had known Nick [Bentgen] for a number of years – we’d been to school together at the New York University. We were sort of acquaintances back then. While I was looking for a Director of Photography for the film, my producer suggested that I talk to Nick. So we met and hit it off straight away. Our visions for the film were very similar. It was one of those situations where I knew that Nick wasn’t only going to carry out my vision, but he was going to add to it as well. It was more our speaking relationship that convinced me rather than his past work or anything.
There’s a scene in the film where Eric stumbles across the bear, and it plays out like he’s confronting death head-on. How did that scene happen? It seemed like it would’ve been a logistical nightmare.
It actually wasn’t as much of a nightmare as I was expecting. I’ve worked with animals a lot in the past and it’s always been really, really difficult, so I was expecting it to be a total failure this time around. But that was the scene that I’d always wanted in the film. I did consider taking it out for financial reasons, but it was important for me that it was there. It’s almost like casting an actor – you find the agent and say what animal you need and what part of the country you live in and they set you up. We found one guy near New York who had a brown bear. The original scene was a little more complex than what is in the film, but we soon realised that we needed to trim it down. It’s a bit of a simplified version of the scene, but we got the essence of what I was trying to say.
How did you come across the two lead actors?
We didn’t have a casting director or anything like that. We cast them the same way that we cast our student films, through an open casting call. We saw maybe a 150 kids. Ryan [Jones] and Nathan [Varnson] stood out for me as being incredibly mature for their ages and willing to open up about their own childhood experiences in the various conversations that we had. I knew if I could find kids willing to do that then they’d also be willing to tackle some of the difficult themes the film would deal with. That continued all the way into the shooting. They were allowed to improvise. It’s hard for an adult to write like a kid – a lot of the mistakes people make are forcing kids to speak words they wouldn’t normally say. A lot of our time on set was spent with them contributing their own ideas to try and make the film feel more true-to-life. I had a set of guidelines, but there was a lot of maneuverability around that.
As your feature debut, are you happy with how the film turned out?
Yes, of course. When I was making this film, it was more like a test to see whether I could make a feature film. I had a little bit of money and some time off from work and I decided to go for it. I never in a million years expected it to be playing the festivals that it’s played, to be opening theatrically in the US, let alone Europe. It’s been a total dream come true for me. So everything that happens now is icing on the cake.
What are your plans for the future? Have you got any other films in the pipeline?
Yeah. I’m writing a couple of narratives that I’d like to follow this up with. But in the more recent future I’m producing a film that’s being made in San Francisco this October. I’m also working on a documentary that I think is finally coming together hopefully this year.
A lot of up-and-coming directors are snagging big projects at the moment, like the new Star Wars spin-offs. Is that something you would consider if offered?
It’s a hard question and a hard thing to imagine happening. I’ll say that I’m not immediately interested in using this [Hide Your Smiling Faces] as a springboard to a huge film. I think I’d like to incrementally increase the productions that I do. But I’m certainly interested in the long run doing some larger scale projects. I think those directors are very talented and very worthy. I love seeing big projects like Star Wars have risky choices. That’s kind of the dream for a lot of people, and I’m certainly interested. But I’m just getting my head around Hide Your Smiling Faces first.
In a sentence, how would you entice someone to see Hide Your Smiling Faces?
I would say that Hide Your Smiling Faces is pretty different to anything that’s in theatres right now. I think it’s a quieter answer to a lot of the bigger, louder films that are out there. The goal for me was to make a film that provoked the audience to think about their own childhood, or their own adolescence – the good and the bad. That’s a rare thing for films to do. You know, I love films for pure entertainment, but I also like every now and again to be taken somewhere internally when I watch a film. So Hide Your Smiling Faces is a film that was designed to spark reminiscence from the audience and I think that it’s been successful in that from a lot of people that I’ve talked to. If people give it a time, then they might find something worthwhile.
That’s all we have time for. Thank you very much for your time, Daniel. Good luck with the film.
Hide Your Smiling Faces is out in limited UK cinemas now.