Writer and director Sarah Adina Smith discussed subverting audiences’ expectations with the new Amazon Prime Video movie Birds of Paradise in her new uInterview.

“I read the book and I really liked the idea of getting to create a story set in the world of competitive Paris ballet,” Smith told uInterview founder Erik Meers. “So actually, once I sold the pitch to Amazon I flew myself to Paris — I think before the deal had even closed — and decided just to like soak up Paris and visit ballet classes and just kind of immerse myself in it.”

Smith revealed that she finished the first draft of the script in a week, during a heat wave. “The Airbnb I rented had no AC, so I was like putting like bags of ice in front of a fan and like writing at night, and it all felt kind of — it was fun and romantic,” she said.

“And I think I really latched on early to wanting to tell a story where ambition and libido were colliding at that pivotal point in a young person’s life when who they want to be gets mixed up with who they want to be with,” she explained. “And at the same time I was really interested in exploring themes of grief and pain and how the possibility for peace in one’s heart and redemption even when one feels like they’ve done something unredeemable and the story just gave me room to do all of that and more.”

“I wanted to start the movie in a very familiar way because I think that’s sometimes a great way for audiences to find their way in,” she added, “so it starts off as like a classic tale of the outsider coming in to the big bad world of ballet and the supposedly mean girl, and you kind of like, you think ‘Okay I get this story, alright!’ And it’s fun! You know, it’s like ‘Welcome, sit back, eat some popcorn! We’re gonna have fun here!’ But then hopefully I subvert expectations and it becomes a story that’s much more complex than that. I wanted to tell a story about the messiness of this pivotal friendship. I was hoping that this movie is a slice of a life in these characters’ longer lifetimes, where for both of them they were completely changed by each other in some way and it’s not clean cut whether it was a story about friends, about lovers, about competitors, about enemies. I wanted it to sort of be all of those things wrapped in one.”

“Particularly, set in a world where traditional ballet has tended to be very strict gender binaries, and expectations about who you’re supposed to be to achieve success,” Smith continued. “And I wanted that to sit in contrast to these contemporary coming of age stories where gender identity is much more fluid for a lot of people, and things don’t fit so easily into these strict boxes.”

Birds of Paradise is available to stream on Amazon Prime Video.

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