The New Movie 'Guy Friends,' by Longtime Sarasotan Jonathan Smith, Heads to Burns Court

The film was shot in New York and arrives here on May 31.

By Kay Kipling May 16, 2024

Kavita Jariwala and Katie Muldowney in the movie Guy Friends.

When the new movie Guy Friends makes its bow in theaters in Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco and other cities on May 31, you can count Sarasota’s Burns Court Cinema on the list. That makes sense, because the film’s director and screenwriter, Jonathan Smith, has deep ties to the Sarasota area.

Smith grew up here, attending Pine View School and rowing for the then-Sarasota Scullers, and his parents still live in Nokomis. His love for making movies, he says, developed about the time Jurassic Park came out in 1993, when he was still a kid. (He’s 42 now.) He and his friends immediately set out to create videos and formed a film club in high school before Smith went on to major in film studies at Yale University.

Guy Friends director and writer Jonathan Smith.

“I made films independently in college, where I also discovered improv comedy,” says Smith. "After college, my career was two-track. I would work Hollywood jobs—at Paramount, 20th-Century Fox, and Disney—and also jumped into the improv scene, mostly with Upright Citizens Brigade. That greatly influenced my writing, my understanding of comedy, scene structure and story structure. After a couple years in L.A. with nobody giving me a chance to make a film, I just decided to make one on my own.”

He actually made three feature films before Guy Friends, “pretty much entirely on credit cards,” he says. He continues to operate that way, building up debt during production and then paying it off with whatever proceeds he receives from theater screenings and home entertainment.

True to form, he made Guy Friends on a budget that cost only $5,000 to shoot.(Post-production costs increased that amount.) That’s because the story, which centers on a young woman who finds after a breakup with her boyfriend that every male “friend” she has is really in love with her, was filmed either in well-known New York City venues, like Central Park, or on locations belonging to relatives of his co-producer Justin Clark, who also stars in the film. (Clark’s grandmother was the bestselling author Mary Higgins Clark.)

Justin Clark and Kavita Jariwala in <em>Guy Friends.</em>
Justin Clark and Kavita Jariwala in Guy Friends.

The movie was shot mostly in black and white, with a few scenes in color that feature women talking about their friendships. That’s what lies at the heart and soul of Guy Friends, as ultimately its lead character, Jaime (Kavita Jariwala), makes friends with the brash Sandy (Katie Muldowney)—her first true female friendship.

Interestingly, Jariwala had never acted before; she had just graduated from nursing school when Smith cast her in the role. And how did he come to meet her?

“I have a brother, 10 years younger than I, who had started dating Kavita,” Smith reveals. “When home for the holidays with family, Kavita was there as I was considering casting. I thought in a moment or two she could maybe be good for Jaime. Kavita is objectively beautiful, and I needed that for Jaime, to help justify why all the men fall for her.  It was the riskiest part I ever cast, but she was terrific. She could snap into character on set and do things that take other actors years to learn to do.”

In fact, Jariwala and costar Muldowney won an “Outstanding Acting Duo” award at Ridgefield Independent Film Festival, and Jariwala was a nominee for “Breakthrough Female Performance” at Festival of Cinema NYC. (Her wedding to Smith’s brother takes place next year, and she and Muldowney struck up an offscreen friendship as well.)

Smith, who also handled cinematography, sound mixing and editing on the film (as well as playing one of the guy friends via phone conversations), has a “day job” as an intelligence officer for the United States Navy, but it’s easy to hear in talking with him his commitment to film making. He’s already working on his next one—a sibling road trip comedy—and is hoping that “someone might give me some money to do it. I’m a little bit tired of living on the financial razor’s edge.”

Guy Friends has several screenings at Burns Court, May 31-June 2; visit for more details.

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