One of the surprise hits at the 2013 Tribeca Film Festival has been Daniel Patrick Carbone's debut feature, the serene "Hide Your Smiling Face." As Carbone explains, the central plot point of the film's story is loosely based on his own experiences, after his college roommate was found dead after a horrific fall. To this day, it's still not clear if the death was a result of an accident or a suicide.
The characters in "Hide Your Smiling Faces" are much younger than college age. The story focuses on brothers Tommy and Eric, both of whom are dealing with the death of a young friend and neighbor, and their strained and volatile relationship with the dead boy's father. (A stolen gun is also involved, which casts a tense shadow over the proceedings.)
I met with an obviously delighted and understandably overwhelmed Carbone immediately after he introduced his movie to another sold out Tribeca audience in New York. He explained his personal connection to the story, why, exactly, the film opens up on a long shot of a snake eating a fish, and the long road ahead for this small, yet haunting film.
I enjoyed the opening scene of a snake devouring a fish. It does set a tone.
Well, we were always keeping an eye out. We shot on location; that's really important to me. I think it feeds the crew a little bit -- like, you're out in the world and anything can happen. And we knew that we may be able to catch some kind of wildlife along the river out in the woods -- we were always looking for deer and bears and whatever. So we were shooting a scene along the river and one of the actors kind of yells out, "Come here!" We were pissed off because we had to cut, but we all look over and there's this kind of insane image happening.
And the snake didn't mind the crowd?
That's what was so weird. That it was doing its own thing -- I got the feeling it was looking up at us kind of embarrassed. Like, it was trying to do this and it was failing miserably and it couldn't fit it in. It went on for probably 20 minutes. We're like, "Let's just wait for it to finish and jump back in the river." Finally, I'm like, "Well, this is what' I've been asking for, so let's roll on this." And we did and, I don't know, I think it sets people up for the pace of the film a little bit and what to expect visually. If you're in your seat, you're probably not going to leave after that shot. And I thought it touched on some of the themes of the film -- there's this sort of weird power struggle happening and the brutal reality of nature around you. It just sort of worked.
Where did this story come from?
A lot of it is made up. I don't like to call it autobiographical or even semi-autobiographical. But there are definitely a number of scenes that I have written that "this had actually happened to me and I want to write it into a scene" -- write it in script format and maybe I'll do something with that one day. I had a folder of these and I was reading through them and I noticed, after I had some distance from them, that there were some themes coming up -- kind of the same character, which I guess is me in some ways. And, yeah, it was like, "Maybe there's something more here."
Then the themes of death come from a couple of moments when I was young. Like the death of my grandparents -- I remember that very vividly, not knowing how to respond. Maybe not crying, but feeling I should cry because everybody around me is. The specifics of the accident in this film is when I was away at college -- so after the time of the characters in the film, but still when I was processing things. I had a roommate that either committed suicide or fell as an accident -- that's sort of where that comes from and there's no real answer and I still don't really know. Everyone has their theories. So, that's where that specific little bit came from.
Chekhov's gun theory states that if a gun is shown in the first act, it must go off in another act. You don't really follow this rule.
My philosophy toward making this film is that I wanted to make a film about kids that isn't every other movie about kids. And it shows kids in a realistic way. An 11-year-old could watch it and sort of relate to it. It's not vampires. It's not wizards. And it's also not other movies that are in the real world, which would have maybe the gun go off. Or it would end in some big argument on the edge of a bridge and they'd be hanging off the bridge. I wanted it to be a realistic, but still dramatized -- still a movie. Still something people can enjoy and kind of be on the edge of their seat, but without ever falling into cliche.
What's next for "Hide Your Smiling Faces"? How does it go from here to get into theaters?
We're not the kind of film the premieres then sells then you wipe your hands of it and let your distributor platter it all over the world. it's the kind of film that if we sell, which I really hope we do, it will be to a smaller distributor most likely. And it will be kind of like a, "Yeah, we'll buy your film, but you're really going to have to help us get this out there." And I'm kind of like working for the movie, traveling around and definitely going to more festivals. Maybe it gets into a theater in New York and L.A., fingers crossed. It's hard to say, but we're banking on it. If the right people have seen it and liked it, you never know.
Mike Ryan is senior writer for Huffington Post Entertainment. You can contact him directly on Twitter.