Husband-Wife Team Rides 'Sunshine' to Oscars

PACIFIC PALISADES, Calif., Feb. 24, 2007 — -- Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris made a commercial called "Gravity Bomb" for the Sony PlayStation in which they imagined what it would be like if the futuristic weapons of video games were real.

They shot the commercial in a suburban back yard and used a pneumatic pump to create the explosion.

"We created this 60-foot mushroom cloud of dirt," Dayton said, "and it happened to be a windy day, and we ended up having to pay for about 200 car washes."

It seems typical of the kind of controlled chaos that surrounds these two directors, whose first feature film, "Little Miss Sunshine," is nominated for an Academy Award for best picture.

See Brian Rooney's report on the "Little Miss Sunshine" directors tonight on "World News." Check your local listings for air times.

One of the first things you notice about Dayton and Faris is that they tend to finish each other's sentences, and there's a good reason. They have been business partners for 20 years, and they are married, raising three children together.

"It's all one thing," Dayton said.

"There's no division, really," Faris said, finishing the thought.

Life and work all blend together. They'll be driving the kids to school, talking about homework or a sports event, and suddenly get an idea for something to do in a commercial or a movie.

Dayton: "Our work is really about the intersection of our two sensibilities."

Faris: "Collision, really."

Dayton: "The train wreck. I'm the oldest in my family. She's the youngest. Male, female. She grew up in Southern California. I grew up in Northern California."

Hip and quirky is their style. He wears a short beard, black-rimmed glasses, and a porkpie hat, even indoors. She's one of those women who can wear anything, from a funky sweater and jeans to a fashion ensemble she modeled for the New York Times Magazine.

They started out making music videos for singers like Belinda Carlisle and Paula Abdul. They made rock videos for R.E.M, the Smashing Pumpkins and the Red Hot Chili Peppers before graduating to commercials, which have a surprising and offbeat style.

Remember the Powerade commercial in which a sports reporter is practicing his courtside standup, and LeBron James starts hitting a series of full-court baskets? They shot it as if the entire thing was accidentally caught on camera, but it wasn't really Lebron James doing the impossible. It was Dayton and Faris.

They have been successful in commercials, but they always wanted to make a movie "just to kind of do something that you know, what we would want to see," Faris said. "We always talked about, 'Let's just make a movie that we would want to see, and hopefully that we're not so weird that no one else would like it.'"

They read scripts for years, but "Little Miss Sunshine" was the only one they wanted to make. And making it became one of those Hollywood stories -- six years of dealing with studios, producers, writers and actors. But finally, they were able to make it for just $8 million, and so far it has raked in $94 million in ticket sales around the world.

"Sunshine" is a quirky comedy about a chaotic family on a road trip to a little girls' beauty pageant. It's about family with all its triumphs, failures, secrets and death.

"We think life is very funny. And the way things really happen in life are usually this great mixture of painful truths and irony and…" Dayton saaid before his wife interjects, "Just the messiness and the completely out-of-control nature of a family is what's both funny and moving to us."

You have to wonder, and every interviewer asks, how do they spend all their working and personal lives together? Aren't they ready to kill each other by the end of the day?

Dayton: "We argue all the time."

Faris: "Yeah, we disagree, but we're pretty good to each other."

Dayton: "You know you have to. … The one thing about our relationship is because our lives are so totally intertwined, it forces you to be good -- because if you're bad to your partner, you can't escape."

Although their movie is nominated for an Oscar, Dayton and Faris are not nominated as directors. It's somewhat of a disappointment to them, but…

Dayton: "Our film is really about, on one level, not getting wrapped up in life's beauty pageant. So were definitely honored to have the film nominated, but to get too engrossed in the…

Faris: "The competition, anyway would be sort of hypocritical."

Dayton: "I have a career that I love, a wife that I love, a partner that I love…"

Faris: "We're very lucky right now. … I don't want to think about winning or losing, because we feel like we've won."

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