Behind-The-Scenes Interviews With Filmmakers

Producing Smile or Hug (2022): Interviewing Chelsea Javier and Paul Sprangers

Making the leap from shoestring indies to a legitimate budget is an uphill climb for low-budget filmmakers. However, Chelsea Javier and Paul Sprangers defied the odds, becoming one of the winners of the six feet apart experiment. Launched by Wayfarer Studios, the filmmakers were provided with $50K and an industry vet as a mentor.

The result? A criminally underrated gem “Smile or Hug” with a sharp script, standout performances, and even a cameo from Danny Trejo himself. So how’d they pull it off? Find out by watching their interview.

Read More: Indie Filmmaker Explores Technology’s Dark Side in 12-Minute Masterpiece

In your own words, can you tell us what Smile or Hug was about?

Paul Sprangers: Smile and Hug is about a young woman who gets dumped on her 30th birthday and she has a series of whimsical experiences brought about by some homemade self-help cassette tapes given to her by the mysterious Dr. Garcia.

Chelsea Javier: Yes, and we really see her journey of failure and then bouncing back from that and finding herself.

How did you come up with the idea? Why did you feel that this story needed to be told?

Chelsea Javier: We came up with this idea initially because we heard about the Six Feet Apart Experiment opportunity, which gave first-time feature filmmakers $50k to make their first feature. So we came up with the idea because of that competition. We also wanted to write something that we knew we could shoot for a really low budget.

Paul Sprangers: In fact, we’d be shooting a lot at our apartment, and then from there it was how do we make a story that’s interesting? Because you don’t just want to see people talk in the apartment. So, we came up with the visualizations as a way to get out of the apartment and to have fun set pieces. We used aspects of our own personal lives and relationships for the story of the protagonist and what she goes through with the breakup and therapy.

Did you imagine yourself playing the protagonist when you were writing Smile or Hug?

Chelsea Javier: I absolutely saw myself as a protagonist when we were writing Smile or Hug. We really catered the role to who I was in a lot of ways. For example, I used to be an art teacher and we used a lot of my actual past art students to play my students. I wanted to give myself an opportunity to play a leading part. Paul helped me write it. We wrote a part that wasn’t exactly me but there’s definitely elements of me in the character of Trish.


The cast had amazing chemistry with each other. What was the process for casting the other characters along with the iconic Danny Trejo?

Paul Sprangers: Luckily, we were able to cast people and friends that we’d worked with in a lot of our previous short films, or actors that we knew from writing and acting classes.

Chelsea Javier: And for the role of Adrian, my character’s ex-boyfriend, I was searching all over social media for a very specific person who was very funny, who would sing. So I found that role on Instagram. We just lucked out that he ended up being perfect for the part. We didn’t actually hire a casting director for the film because we used the budget in other areas and we thought we could just do it ourselves.

However, for Danny Trejo, my old acting teacher, Anthony Gilardi, had directed him on a music video so luckily he had Danny’s manager’s email. So he facilitated an introduction and there was a lot of back and forth to get him to join the film. We even rewrote the part a little bit to fit him better.

The film is set against the backdrop of the 2020 lockdowns but there isn’t a focus on COVID-19. What went into that creative choice?

Chelsea Javier: Yeah, we wanted the movie to exist outside of this particular time, and we didn’t want the movie to be filmed with people wearing masks. Yeah, that was a huge part of it. And there was just such, I don’t want to say pandemic fatigue, but we were like, is this necessary to tell our story? It felt like focusing on the pandemic would kind of take away from the story a little bit. We really wanted our movie to be timeless and evergreen. It’s more about the characters and the process that she goes through. It isn’t about 2020.

What was the biggest challenge that you had to overcome while producing the film during the COVID-19 pandemic?

Chelsea Javier: One of the biggest challenges shooting during COVID was shooting in our apartment because we had a crew and cast in our apartment, which isn’t huge. We had to maintain safe distance and it was a lot to have people in here all day, every day. Also with COVID protocols, we had to do a bunch of testing and then our shoot actually got delayed because we got a false positive for COVID.

Paul Sprangers: Yeah it was tough.

Between all of the roles you performed on Smile or Hug, which did you enjoy the most?

Paul Sprangers: I loved all of it. I really loved shooting it.  I loved editing it. I loved doing the post-processing, like visual effects. Although it was a steep learning curve.

Chelsea Javier: I’d say for sure my favorite role was playing the role of Trish. I did all the other roles to be able to give myself the opportunity. But I will say I also really enjoyed casting the film. I learned a lot and it was just so fun, especially doing the chemistry reads with different actors. I had a great time doing that.

Do you have a favorite Danny Trejo film?

Paul Sprangers: My favorite Danny Trejo film is Heat. And he actually told us stories about working on Heat when he was shooting with us. And it was amazing. He thought we were too young to have seen Heat. I was like that’s one of my favorite movies.

Chelsea Javier: I really loved him in Spy Kids. He was like the two kids’ uncle. I think his name was Uncle Machete in the film. Which is kind of fun. That movie’s just so cool. and I loved it so much as a kid, so I’m gonna have to go with that one.