Love's Labors Won


By Anne Burke

Published Jul 21, 2006 5:37 PM

In the 1980s, a nascent MTV tapped Dayton and Faris to film a show called The Cutting Edge, which introduced TV audiences to bands like REM and the Red Hot Chili Peppers. After that, the pair became successful directors of music videos (Oasis, Smashing Pumpkins, etc.) and commercials (VW, PlayStation, etc.). They juggled film work with raising a family: daughter Augusta is 13; twins James and Everett, 10.

Dayton and Faris had been looking for a good script for their first feature film at the time that Arndt's small gem came their way in 2000. When they first heard about the plot, however, it sounded like another dumb road-trip movie, Dayton said. "But when we read the script, we realized that it was just this incredibly well-drawn, smart story of a bunch of individuals who we could completely relate to," he added. "We clearly just felt like, this is the film that we should make if we're going to make a film."

"We then had to fight to get the job," he continued. "So we met with the producers and told them our take on it, and I think we just loved it more than anyone and got the job."

That was in 2002. The next three years took the couple on a trip of their own through the assorted tiers of Hollywood hell. Focus Features bought Little Miss Sunshine but the studio executives and directors clashed over casting and budget. Focus wanted bankable stars. Dayton and Faris wanted actors who could find truth in the characters, not fall into comedic schtick. "I was so sick of seeing these clichéd characters and dysfunctional families in films," Faris said.

Focus sent the script out for a rewrite, which Dayton and Faris thought was insane because Arndt's original work was brilliant. Then the studio wanted to shoot in Canada to save money. The directors thought that was also insane, as about half the movie is a road trip through the American Southwest, culminating in a very American little girl's beauty pageant.

Dayton and Faris despaired that the picture would ever get made, but continued working on the project nevertheless. In between commercials and video work, the couple staged scenes with various actors. "The more we worked with it, the more we loved it," Faris said.