Sean Baker: 'I was becoming the iPhone guy so I wanted to go 180 degrees in the other direction.'

Sean Baker – 'I was becoming the iPhone guy so I wanted to go 180 degrees in the other direction.'

The Florida Project

The Florida Project filmmaker on why he chose to shoot on 35mm and researching the hidden homeless near Florida's Disney World

Sean Baker's sixth feature film in his compassionate oeuvre that includes Tangerine (the Sundance hit shot on an iPhone 5) is a vivid slice of life about the hidden homeless who live in motels close to Florida's Disney World. The Florida Project follows a bunch of mischievous kids as they explore the local neighbourhood, getting into trouble and winding up a kindly manager played by Willem Dafoe. Baker's spirited directorial style, paired with cinematography by Alexis Zabe, results in a film that soars with anarchic beauty and pops with gorgeous candy colours

Can you pinpoint the moment you decided you wanted to become a filmmaker?
It's a distinct moment. My mother brought me to the local library when I was in first grade and they were showing clips from the Universal monster movies. They would show the big scenes like Dracula rising from the grave, the Creature from the Black Lagoon stealing the girl and then of course the burning windmill sequence in James Whale's Frankenstein. For some reason the Karloff image in the internal mechanics of the windmill just stuck with me. I remember the next morning saying that I wanted to make films.

What sort of research did you carry out in regard to the motel communities?
The motels were brought to my attention by my co-screenwriter whose mother had moved to Orlando. The local media had been focusing in on it in the same way we had in our film regarding the juxtaposition and the irony of what was going on there. It was eye-opening on the hidden homeless. We had started writing this before Tangerine, so it was all based on the news articles we were reading. It wasn't until we got a grant that we were able to go there and interview people from a very journalistic approach. We talked to as many people as possible including residents and motel managers. We met this one guy in particular who really helped inspire the Bobby character. Eventually it was about absorbing the environment, so we felt like we could properly flesh out these characters and do it in a way that would be truthful.

The mischievous children in your film are so endearing: were there any particular films you looked at for inspiration?
I don't know how known it is over here but The Little Rascals series in particular; the ones that Hal Roach produced in the 1920s and 30s. They reached heights with child performances in comedy that haven't been matched in the years since. I always looked at those as the model. We made sure we looked at as much as we could in terms of child performances that were realistic and grounded. So, from P'tit Quinquin to a Korean film called Miracle on 1st Street, Ken Loach's Kes and, of course, The 400 Blows.

Can you tell me why you chose to shoot on 35mm for The Florida Project?
I decided to shoot on it for many reasons. First the aesthetic: there's this organic nature you achieve through the photo chemical process that you simply can't duplicate on digital. I can always distinctly tell when something is shot on film. There was also the fact that I was becoming the iPhone guy so I wanted to go 180 degrees in the other direction and then there's also the fact that we're living in an age where the death of film is a real thing. This is my little contribution to help keep Kodak in business. At the same time, I don't want to downplay the real positive impact the iPhone had. I have to be an advocate for all mediums. You can find beauty in all mediums.

The Florida Project is out Fri 10 Nov.

The Florida Project

  • 5 stars
  • 2017
  • US
  • 1h 55min
  • 15
  • Directed by: Sean Baker
  • Cast: Willem Dafoe, Brooklynn Prince, Valeria Cotto

Moonee (Prince) is a six-year-old being raised by her trash-talking mom in a motel near Florida’s Disney World, where she and her pal Scooty (Riviera) terrorise guests at a neighbouring establishment. This low-key masterpiece is full of affection for its adorable urchins while not being blind to the occasional danger of…