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When I was 21-years-old film school student in Los Angeles I was an intern for a cable TV show called Alive & Well that was taped in Marina del Rey, California.  Once the guest on the show was Los Angeles Dodger great Steve Yeager who I knew went to high school in Dayton, Ohio. I asked him how he liked L.A. and he told me, “If you live in a plastic town long enough, you don’t even notice the plastic.”

It was a just a comment in passing, but it’s really quite profound. Something that’s stuck with me for a few decades.

Growing up in central Florida in many ways meant growing up in a plastic, tourist-centric world.  One of the things I enjoyed about The Florida Project is how they visually captured a part of Florida that is pure kitsch. 

Yesterday I actually had a video shoot in Kissimmee, Florida where director Sean Baker and his crew shot The Florida Project and took the photos on this post of a couple of places featured in the movie. (I did drive by The Magic Castle, but didn’t take any photos because I didn’t want to be that guy looking to photograph the hidden homeless.)

“I had eye candy to work with [while making The Florida Project]. I was given eye candy just by shooting in the location we were shooting. And then, of course, having an amazing cinematographer Alexis Zabe to capture that. And my production designer Stephonik Youth who was able to help us enhance it by just a hair. Shooting along Route 192 was actually very easy because it was giving me so much to work with. You have essentially these small businesses that were at one time focused and targeted towards tourists, so they used the Disney mythology and themes and basically ripped them off to attract tourists. So you have brightly colored motels that have themes such as The Magic Castle or The Alligator Motel—there were a lot that we didn’t use. And a lot that had been shut down over the last ten years. The situation going on there is that the local government and the city are trying to beautify the section to bring it back. So if we’d have shot this film five years ago we’d actually have had more to work with. It’s in a transitional place right now.”
Filmmaker Sean Baker 
Filmspotting Podcast interview

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P.S. In the post Screenwriting Quote #54 I touch on the Midwestern roots of Walt Disney and his own Main St. childhood in Marceline, Missouri. Walt Disney died in 1966 so he never saw Walt Disney World (which opened in 1971) come to life. I semi-joke that before Disney came to town, Orlando barely had indoor plumbing and air-conditioning. Despite the urban sprawl here many good things followed in the wake of the success of Disney World. And many family memories made with people passing through town. (A record 88 million visitors have visited Florida this year so far.) But The Florida Project reflects the law of unintended consequences in the lives of a group of people for who life is not a vacation.  But the struggles and mental issues of the character Halley in The Florida Project are far deeper than to simply blame a tourist economy. But the contrast and visual candy that Baker used in The Florida Project made the pill a little easier to swallow than if he’d set the story in Dayton, Ohio. (Where there are quite a few Halleys thanks to Dayton/Montgomery County currently being known as the “overdose capital of America.”)

Scott W. Smith

“What [documentary filmmaker Barbara Kopple] does is she really immerses herself— you really feel like with her films you’re on the strike line, you’re getting close to her subjects. That’s what we wanted to do [with The Florida Project]. We basically wanted to—very similar to they way I approached Tangerine—though  laughter, and through simple entertainment of being around these characters, I’m hoping audiences will embrace little Moonee. Love her so much that at the end when the credits are rolling and they’re going home they’re discussing the real Moonees that are out there. And perhaps what they can do to help the real Moonees. My number one goal with this movie to shine a light, because education is always the first step towards removing the stigma of homelessness. So that’s really the first goal, to have people interested enough to at least talk about it and look into it. For example, I didn’t know that there was even a term the hidden homeless. I didn’t know there was a hidden homeless population. It wasn’t until [co-screenwriter] Chris Bergosh brought this to my attention. And from there on it’s really about how much the audience wants to get involved. …I’m in a privileged place. I have this platform. I’m lucky enough to be given money to tell stories. …My hope is to use this entertainment medium that I’ve been trained to do to help the world a bit. To perhaps have people think a different way.”
Sean Baker
Filmspotting podcast interview

P.S. Barbara Kopple’s Harlan Country USA (1976) and American Dream (1990) gave slices of American life in Kentucky and Minnesota and both also won best feature film documentary Oscars.

Scott W. Smith

 

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In a semi-related connection to The Florida Project movie is Busch Gardens in Tampa Florida. Long before tourists started flocking to Orlando for Disney World vacations,  Busch Gardens in Tampa was one of central Florida’s major attractions. (Disney World was called The Florida Project back in the sixties as it was being developed.)

When Busch Gardens opened in 1959 it was more of a zoo than a theme park with an emphasis on animals, gardens, and free beer. With Walt Disney World opening in 1971, the architecture eventually gravitated toward the African continent with touches of Nairobi, Morocco, Egypt, and the Congo and more thrilling rides were introduced as a way to compete with Disney. Busch Gardens captivated me when I first visited as a young teenager because my world then did not really expand beyond Florida.

I went there yesterday for the first time I’m guessing 20 years. Things have changed quite a bit since the Anheuser-Busch sold the park in 2009. There is no longer free beer, but there are more rollercoaster rides than ever. The Serengeti Plain area is still there where giraffes, rhinos, and elephants roam free. There is an old, quaint nod to the early days Busch Gardens (the skyride), but it’s obvious that they’ve also retooled it to compete with family tourism today.

Here are two videos that shows the contrast of the older Busch Gardens and what it’s like today.

Scott W. Smith

I’m back to livin’ Floridays
Blue skies and ultra-violet rays
Lookin’ for better days
Jimmy Buffett/Floridays

I still have a few more days of posts in me about The Florida Project, but today is a nod to my own childhood in Central Florida. I took the photos below this week on one of those ideal Florida days that don’t come around as often as people think—sunny, blue skies, 70 degrees.

I’ve been going to Lake Eola in downtown Orlando as far back as I can remember and it features one of the few iconic landmarks in the city (the water fountain), and is the longtime home of swans and swan boats.

 

 

Walking around Lake Eola was one of the things people did for fun before Disney World came to town. It was a simpler place. I’m not one that agrees that low wage tourism jobs is totally to blame for the homeless situation featured in The Florida Project. 

Sure it factors into the equation. But a wide variety of people have been drawn to Florida for over 100 years looking for a great vacation or a better life. Some find one or the other, fewer find both, and unfortunately some like Halley in The Florida Project find neither. (There’s a lot of truth in the t-shirt sloan that says, “Wherever you go, there you are.”)

The Florida Projects helps continue the conversation of how we’re going to address the hidden homeless that is a nationwide dilemma. (Read this article regarding the homeless “crisis” in Silicon Valley.)

P.S. I don’t know anything about the organization Hope 192/Hope Community Center, except their stated goal/emphasis “is to assist those living homeless or in motels and hotels along Osceola County’s 192 Corridor.” The real life Halley and Moonies. And the provided some research assistant to co-screenwriters Sean Baker and Chris Bergosh while writing The Florida Project. Check out their site and consider making a Thanksgiving donation.

Scott W. Smith

[Brooklynn Prince] is just so incredible and she worked very closely with Sam [acting coach Samantha Quan], but to tell you the truth with her in particular she is a born thespian. I mean she is really acting. There is a true performance there, a true character that she found. She is wise beyond her years. I just can’t speak more highly of her, and just love her. She just brought so much to the table and I can’t even imagine [The Florida Project] without her. …For the three kids, Brooklyn,  Christopher Rivera, Valeria Cotto,  [Sam] made it a really fun summer camp environment for the kids. It was shot over their summer, so we were taking their summer away from them, so we wanted to give them the best experience possible. And at the end of every day—you have a limited number of hours you can work with children because of child labor laws, so you get to that six hour mark and you have to let them go. And [Brooklynn] would never want to go. Well it’s the law, get out of here [laughs]. I think because it was so much like a family unit. the kids were having fun, they were having workshops, experimenting, that by the time we actually got them in front of the camera they understood their characters enough where if I did have the audacity to ask little six year old to improvise it was fine. They would actually be able to pull it off. And especially Brooklynn. Brooklynn has that innate, genius ability to comedically improvise. Which is incredible at that age.  Near the end of the film, we just spend time eating with her brunch at a higher end hotel that her mother brings her to. And I just wanted to document her eating. Just a series of jump cuts of her eating. What I did was just roll two, thousand foot mags on a 35mm camera so it’s like 20 minutes. And we just watch this girl eat for 20 minutes. And Chris [Bergoch] and I have scripted lines,—we do have a full screenplay— but I encourage improvisation on top of it. So she got through her 15 scripted lines in a minute and a half and we had 18 minutes to burn. So we just ask her questions, what do you think that taste like? What do you wish that tasted like. And sometimes I’m feeding lines to her, or taking her lines—like if she gives me something that’s almost there, I can quickly figure something out with Chris, and deliver the line back to her and she’ll feed it to us. It was wonderful to see her do that. It was like stand-up comedy night. We had 40 cast and crew just watching this little girl eat.”
Sean Baker , director, editor, co-writer on The Florida Project
Filmspotting
 podcast interview #652

I think my favorite line in the movie is when Brooklynn says while eating the she wishes her fork was made of candy so she could eat it when she was done with her meal. Maybe that was a scripted line that she just delivered real, but it felt improvised, fresh, in character and totally something a six year old would say.

Scott W. Smith

Will one of the results from The Florida Project be the youngest Oscar nominee ever, and the first Instagram star to receive an Oscar-nomination? Time will tell.

“Casting is one of the most important things—if not the most important thing for a film like [The Florida Project] that’s character driven. And I said that we are not going to make this film, and production better be prepared to not move forward unless we find our present-day Spanky McFarland. I really was looking for today’s Spanky. It took a while to find Brooklyn. Brooklynn Prince is her name and she was a local hire. I wanted kids to be from the Orlando/Kissimmee area, it was important for me. For their accents and etc. I just really felt that we should be casting the kids locally. So they could go home at night and feel comfortable in their environment. 

And she was in the database of a local casting company. She had done some commercials.  She had done one small indie. And you know what, I honestly throw her in the same camp as Mickey Rooney, Jodie Foster, I really do feel she’s a born thespian.

[We looked at] a couple hundred perhaps. We put out in a couple counties that we were looking for children and they didn’t have to have prior experience. We were looking for personas. And I was also doing my street casting at the same time. We were closer to production. I was living down there [in Central Florida] so I was going through Walmart, I was going through Target and that’s were I found Valeria [Cotto] . I saw this little girl with striking red hair and I went up to her mother and said we’re hold auditions please have her come in. She came in, she really impressed us and she turned out to be five years old which cut two hours off our day, but she was worth it. We made production adjust to that. 

And there’s a whole new world, a whole new way of casting these days.  I’ve used social media in the past with Tangerine. Using Vine and You Tube to find castSo Bria [Vinaite] we found her on Instagram. My financiers allowed me to take this risk and roll the dice. She was green, yet enthusiastic and very motivated. She came down a month early and also worked with my acting coach Samantha Quan [@SamanthaQuan] and she got to that place where I believe she was holding her own with Willem [Defoe] by the second weekend. I’m just so proud of her. Mela Murder who plays Ashley in the film came from a short film called Gang that I saw on Vimeo that I thought she was amazing in. She has quite a range. And then there’s the conventional ways of casting and that’s how Willem came into this picture. That’s how Calab Landry Jones  came to us through the agencies.”
Director/Writer/Editor Sean Baker on casting The Florida Project
The Director’s Cut podcast interview with Paul Schrader produced by the DGA

Related posts:
The Florida Project
The Cinematic and Journalistic Roots of The Florida Project

Scott W. Smith

“When I decided to continue to coach, I really did want to enjoy it. I really did want to have fun. And what better place than Miami can you have some fun? Gosh, it’s just been a blast.”
University of Miami head Coach Mark Richt
USA Today  (11/12/17)

(I’ll continue my run of posts on The Florida Project movie tomorrow, but give me a minute to talk about The Other Florida Project.)

Hurricane Mark is the main reason that Miami is ranked #2 in the Amway Coaches Poll this week. I never would have guessed that UM would be sitting next to the powerhouse Alabama team in November 2017. But as a fan I’m thrilled about it.

When University of Miami head coach Mark Richt (and former UM QB) was fired from the University of Georgia a couple of years ago there was not a Hurricane fan in the know who didn’t want Richt to return to his Alma mater.

The glory had long departed the program that had won five national championships between 1983-2001. My hopes was that UM would be back in the top ten on a regular basis in 3-5 years. Richt and his staff and players have made them into a national contenders in just two years.

And one of the fun things about watching the Hurricanes play this year is the five and a half pound sapphire-studded turnover chain that is draped around every Hurricane on defense that gets a fumble or an interception. Just a symbolic way to bring the swagger back to Miami. I can imagine what that imagery (and of course, the winner) is going to do for high school recruiting this season.

This won’t win me any points with Fighting Irish fans, but here are the highlights of the game yesterday when Miami defeated the favored Notre Dame team. After 15 years of traveling a bumpy road, allow a Hurricane fan to enjoy a moment of contentment.

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Smiling after Hurricane Irma only grazed Orlando in September, and hopeful for a decent season for the University of Miami football team

Related posts:
Postcard #24 (Coral Gables)
A24, the 305, the 407…and Drake
Miami Vs. Florida
#GetWellJimKelly

Scott W. Smith

 

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