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'Sunshine' directors praise movie family

Story Highlights

• "Little Miss Sunshine" has been nominated for four Oscars
• The movie cost $8 million and made $60 million
• Couple have been married and working together for 20 years
By Todd Leopold
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LOS ANGELES, California (CNN) -- Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris are going to miss their family. Not their immediate family -- their movie family.

The co-directing spouses, who have three children together, will be at the Kodak Theatre on Oscar night to see how their movie, "Little Miss Sunshine," fares.

It is a bittersweet moment for the pair.

"Everybody sobbed," when the filming of "Sunshine" concluded, Faris told CNN.

But the film's success -- Sundance, a strong performance at the box office, critical accolades, four Oscar nominations -- has meant the group has seen each other at "mini-reunions" since then.

"When you have a film that has a life, you get to see these actors again," she said in an interview at CNN's Los Angeles bureau.

But after Oscar night, it will be on to the next thing. Sure, they'll stay in touch, but "it's not the same," said the willowy Faris. (Full story)

Married co-directors

The tight bond between the married directors -- "we finish each other's sentences," says Dayton -- and the "Sunshine" cast was born even before filming began.

Dayton, 49, and Faris, 48, are best-known for their short-form work including videos for Smashing Pumpkins and Janet Jackson, and commercials for The Gap and Volkswagen. They came upon Michael Arndt's script more than five years ago and were intrigued.

While refining ideas with Arndt, the two met with actor Greg Kinnear, who was "the guy we pictured" for the role as Richard Hoover, the "Sunshine" family patriarch and unsuccessful motivational speaker, said Faris.

Through the next few years, as production deals came and fell apart, Dayton and Faris stayed in touch with Kinnear, who eventually took the role. When filming finally started, the cast did acting exercises for a week, developing their characters' complicated relationships.

"To have that week to explore ... you felt like they had known each other [all their lives] when filming started," said Dayton, looking jaunty in a hat and red-striped socks.

The improving ability of the cast to push the film's ancient, undependable Volkswagen microbus was as much true-to-life as it was true to the script -- reflecting growing bonds among the cast, according to Dayton.

"It was like a great band," he said. "People were happy to be playing opposite one another."

Though the little film that could -- "Sunshine" cost about $8 million to make and has made close to $60 million domestically -- is heading for the Oscars, the pair are not resting on their laurels. They are preparing two new features including one with "Little Children" author Tom Perrotta, and producing a new ad for the Gap.

The "year of nuttiness," as Dayton calls it, is almost over.

But, like their film family, it won't soon be forgotten, said Faris.

"No matter what happens, this past year has been one of the best of our working lives."

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Co-directors Valerie Faris and Jonathan Dayton have been married to each other for nearly 20 years.


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