The husband and wife directing team of Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris worked so well together for so long that the two might as well have melded into one directing entity. Their first feature effort, "Little Miss Sunshine" (2006), a quirky, but emotionally resonant black comedy about a dysfunctional family who go on a road trip to bring their youngest member (Abigail Breslin) to a competitive kiddie beauty pageant, gained the former award-winning commercial and music video directors widespread notoriety, and several award nominations. Prior to their feature debut, Dayton and Faris were the go-to team to direct music videos for bands like Red Hot Chili Peppers, Smashing Pumpkins and R.E.M. On the commercial side, Dayton and Faris were used by such corporate behemoths as Mercedes, Miller Lite and Apple, Inc. But it was the surprise summer success of the low-budget "Little Miss Sunshine" that vaulted them into the Hollywood spotlight, turning the couple into a highly sought after directing team.
Dayton was born on July 7, 1957 in Oakland, CA to a schoolteacher mom and banker dad. The family moved to Grass Valley, then Walnut Creek, where he spent his high school years. After graduating from Ygnacio Valley High School in 1975, Dayton attended the University of California at Los Angeles, joining the film school where he had designs on becoming a director. He met Faris - then a dance student - when he approached her about filming some of her performances. The two hit it off - professionally, at least - and began working together on various film projects, including a 1980 promotional film about UCLA's performing arts program. They subsequently collaborated on a few documentaries - one about a dancer in Martha Graham's company; another on an eccentric lawyer trying to build a five-story castle in the Hollywood Hills. Through a mutual friend, Dayton and Faris were hired by MTV to create "The Cutting Edge" (1983), an artist spotlight that featured alternative bands - back when alternative was truly alternative - performing and being interviewed. Then, after six years of professional collaboration, the two finally began dating, fell in love and got married.
In 1988, Dayton and Faris produced Penelope Spheeris' follow-up documentary, "The Decline of Western Civilization, Part II: The Metal Years," an exploration of the heavy metal scene that featured Ozzy Osbourne, Alice Cooper and Gene Simmons. Their work on "Decline" led the duo to direct music videos, despite lacking the desire. But they became two of the premiere directors in the business, helming videos for the day's top acts, including Smashing Pumpkins, Jane's Addiction, Macy Gray and even a Beatle - Ringo Starr. Earning a Grammy Award for Best Long Form Music Video for Janet Jackson's "Rhythm Nation: 1814" in 1989 - a feat they repeated 10 years later in the Best Short Form category for their work on Korn's "Freak on a Leash" - Dayton and Faris also received several MTV Video Music awards for their work on "Tonight, Tonight" by the Smashing Pumpkins. Though not as celebrated as their videos, the couple's commercial work did earn a few awards, including a Clio Award for their "Gravity Bomb" spot for Sony PlayStation.
After two decades of directing high-end commercials and videos, Dayton and Faris became sought-after to make the obvious jump to features. They were approached to direct "The Mod Squad" (1999) and "Bad Boys II" (2003), but declined both because they did not want to direct a two-hour music video. They found the right script in Michael Arndt's "Little Miss Sunshine" - a quirky black comedy which focused on a quarrelsome family that included an eager-to-please dad (Greg Kinnear), cynical mom (Toni Collette), suicidal gay uncle (Steve Carrell) and a heroin-snorting grandfather (Alan Arkin). Despite 15 other directors being considered, Dayton and Faris landed the job and spent the next four years getting the film made - numerous rewrites, the firing of Arndt and eventually going into turnaround were some of the many challenges they faced. But they fought to get their movie made their way - even going head-to-head with producers to re-hire the original writer - a process that, in the end, paid off handsomely. "Little Miss Sunshine" became that rare critical darling that also earned a substantial take at the box office - almost $60 million, following an $8 million overall budget. At the end of 2006, award nominations came rolling in for the film and directors, including a nod from the Golden Globe Awards for Best Motion Picture - Musical or Comedy. Dayton and Faris also received a nomination from the Directors Guild for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in a Feature Film. The duo's next film was the quirky romantic comedy "Ruby Sparks" (2012), about an introverted struggling novelist (Paul Dano) who invents his dream woman on the page and then wills her into reality; Zoe Kazan, who played the title role as the invented girl, also wrote the screenplay.
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Produced the documentary feature "The Decline of Western Civilization Part II: The Metal Years"
Won six MTV Video Music Awards for Smashing Pumpkins¿ "Tonight Tonight"
Directed episodes of the HBO show "Mr. Show with Bob & David"
Established production company Bob Industries, with husband Jonathan Dayton
Feature directing debut with the indie hit, "Little Miss Sunshine" a dramedy about a dysfunctional family's road trip to a child beauty pageant; earned a nomination from the Directors Guild of America