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Sarasota filmmaker follows female friendship in 'Guy Friends'

Jonathan Smith's indie film, "Guy Friends" follows a woman pursuing her first female friendship.
Jonathan Smith's indie film, "Guy Friends" follows a woman pursuing her first female friendship.
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As a guerrilla-style filmmaker who scouts his own locations and “steals scenes” (shoots without a permit), Sarasota native Jonathan Smith was prepared for some pushback when he made his latest film, “Guy Friends,” mostly outdoors in New York City as pandemic restrictions were easing. 

After years of TV shows like “Law & Order” and “Sex and the City” being filmed on their streets, New Yorkers are notoriously cranky about their sidewalks and other public spaces by invaded by cast, crew and equipment. Having the “craft services table” (chow wagon) blocking the stairway to your apartment building isn’t a lot of fun.

That’s why Smith was surprised when someone leaned out their window while he was filming “Guy Friends” and yelled, “Thanks for making a movie.” 

Recalling the incident, he says, “They were grateful because it meant things were getting back to normal.”

When Smith started making the movie, “Guy Friends,” before the pandemic started, he had a color film in mind. But stuck at home during lockdown, he had what he calls a pandemic “flash.” He decided to film mostly in black and white, while retaining some earlier interview scenes shot in color.

Jonathan Smith, who grew up in Sarasota, is the director of the new indie film, "Guy Friends."
Courtesy image

Moving to black and white allowed Smith, who writes, directs and edits his films, to make “Guy Friends” for a micro-budget of $5,000. It is his fourth film.

“Guy Friends” is about a woman named Jamie who learns that her male pals are secretly in love with her after she and her boyfriend split up. The revelations prompt her to form her first meaningful friendship with a woman.

“Guy Friends” will make its world premiere simultaneously in Sarasota, Los Angeles and New York on May 31. Because most of his cast and crew live in New York and its suburbs, Smith has chosen to attend the premiere there. However, the Sarasota premiere, at Burns Court Cinema, will be a watch party of sorts for Smith’s family, friends and fans.

Born in Birmingham, Alabama, Smith’s family moved to the Sarasota area when he was a youngster. “We lived in a few houses in Sarasota, always in the Nokomis ZIP Code,” he says. 

Smith first attended Epiphany Cathedral School in Venice before switching to the Pine View School in Osprey, both aimed at developing the talents of gifted students. Growing up, Smith was a member of the Sarasota Scullers.

The youthful oarsman got bitten by the film bug when he saw “Jurassic Park” in a movie theater for the first time. “I didn’t know what Jurassic meant when I walked in. I didn’t even know it had dinosaurs. But I decided I wanted to grow up to be Steven Spielberg,” Smith says.

Smith pursued parallel tracks of rowing and film while studying at Yale University. In many ways, his dual life has continued: In addition to making indie films, Smith serves as an intelligence officer in the U.S. Navy. 

After graduating from college, Smith moved to Los Angeles to follow his celluloid dreams and lived there for more than eight years. Unlike some indie filmmakers, who use their productions to showcase their acting talents, Smith has no interest in being on the screen. 

While he was in Los Angeles and trying to get funding for his first feature film, called “Breast Picture” (ironically, it has no nudity), Smith fell in with improv comedy groups such as the Upright Citizens Brigade. Some of his fellow improv performers have found their way into his films, which rely heavily on comedy.

While Smith is a proponent of improv, it is not something he encourages on the set. “Yeah, it’s kind of ironic, isn’t it,” he muses in a telephone interview. “But I work hard on dialogue and scene structure, so I want that to be the point of the project.”

The exception to the rule was when he needed some montage scenery for his third film. “I allowed actors to improvise,” he says.

As many an indie filmmaker has learned the hard way, making a film without the backing of a studio can result in huge credit card debt the director doesn’t find a distribution deal for his film.

Given the daunting odds of turning a profit on an indie film, what motivates Smith?

First, he wanted to poke fun at his own “courting behavior” with the scenes between Jamie and her male comrades-turned-suitors in “Guy Friends.”

Second, Smith says he wants to bring enjoyment to as many people as possible through a humorous film like “Guy Friends.”

Last but not least, Smith hopes that “a producer will see ‘Guy Friends’ and give me the money to make my fourth film.” 

Who knows? Maybe one of Sarasota’s well-heeled arts patrons will show up at Burns Court Cinema on May 31 with checkbook in hand.



Monica Roman Gagnier

Monica Roman Gagnier is the arts and entertainment editor of the Observer. Previously, she covered A&E in Santa Fe, New Mexico, for the Albuquerque Journal and film for industry trade publications Variety and The Hollywood Reporter.

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