Sean Baker – 'I was becoming the iPhone guy so I wanted to go 180 degrees in the other direction.'
- Katherine McLaughlin
- 7 November 2017
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.