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Archive for November, 2017

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

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“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.

Hurricane Irma.jpg

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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UncleSam_2103

Took this photo earlier in the week during a Veterans Day celebration at Valencia College. Very thankful for the freedoms we have in the U.S. and for those who’ve served in the United States Armed Forces to help ensure that freedom.

P.S. For those outside the U.S. the man on stilts represents Uncle Sam, a personification of the American government who’s been around in one form or another since 1812.

Scott W. Smith

 

 

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It’s a world of laughter
A world of tears
It’s a world of hopes
And a world of fears
There’s so much that we share
That it’s time we’re aware
It’s a small world after all
It’s a Small World —Walt Disney World

Last year Moonlight won the Oscar for Best Picture and I expect The Florida Project to at least get nominated for a Best Picture Oscar this year. The odd connection there is not only were both films set and shot in Florida (Moonlight in Miami/Liberty City where the main area code is 407, and The Florida Project (Orlando/Kissimmee where the main area code is 407), but the distributor for both films is A24.

Is A24 scouring Tampa, Jacksonville, Apalachicola for the next Florida story they can bring to light? Are they regular Twitter followers of the @FloridaMan_?

But for an entertainment company that’s only been around for five years they have an impressive track recording including some of their better known films; Swiss Army Man, Room, and The Lobster.  And they still have a movie coming out this year that is also getting Oscar buzz, Lady Bird. 

Now that I think about it, one of A24’s first films was Spring Breakers (2013) which was shot in St. Petersburg area so they definitely have a Florida thing going on.

And why not, they’re just tapping into a great tradition. What’s often at the top of the greatest film of all time list? Citizen Kane, which is a story set where? Right, in Florida. And often at the top of the all time greatest comedies is what? Right, Some Like it Hot. Yes, also a story set in Florida.

Filmmaker Sean Baker was asked why he thought his film The Florida Project was getting more attention than his previous five films and he wasn’t 100% sure. But he had some ideas.

“I think A24 is a major part it. A24 has a pedigree right now. People are looking for A24 as a place where they can see great films. Not that mine is a great film, but I’m just saying that all the other films that A24 puts out are great. So I think that people are expecting a certain thing from them. They’ve very strategic with the way that their films are put out there. With our film they are doing a platform release—it’s almost on its fourth or fifth week now. New York, L.A. and we’ve slowly opened in other markets and allowed world of month to take place. So there’s that word of mouth thing that’s happening which is great.”
Director/editor/writer Sean Baker
The Radio Dan Show
November 7, 2017

Which brings us to Drake. The Rapper, not the school. Drake used to have a home in the 305 but these days Toronto is his home base where he feels more grounded. (The 406 according to a Google search.) Anyway, the rapper is moving into TV and movies with his debut as producer being The Carter Effect, about basketball player Vince Carter.  (Carter played high school ball in Daytona Beach, Florida. See a theme here?)

“Days before Carter Effect debuted, Drake attended a private screening of A24’s The Florida Project and became obsessed with the Sean Baker-helmed film about a destitute mom and her 6-year-old daughter living in the shadows of Disney World. ‘That was one of my favorite things I’d seen in a long time, just because it taught me something about a world I would never think of and what it was like to live there. It was just very pure and very human,’ he says.

“Though neither side would divulge exactly what they are collaborating on, A24 production head Noah Sacco says it encompasses both film and TV. “When we spoke with them, they articulated their passion for shepherding new voices. We look at what they’ve achieved in the music industry. And it made a lot of sense to us,” says Sacco. “We found that we saw eye to eye very quickly.”
The Hollywood Reporter 11/8/17
Drake’s Hotline to Hollywood by Atiana Siegel 

So look for an A24/Drake collaboration down the road. Now if you want to see a photo of Drake at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa (the 515) now—here it is:

drake-university

P.S. Speaking of the 305 and the 407 did you know that in college football the Miami Hurricanes are currently 8-0 and ranked 7th in the country in the AP poll and the University of Central Florida is 8-0 and ranked 14th. From the fun connection file; Miami’s head coach, Mark Richt, was the quarterback behind Jim Kelly when I was a walk-on football player at Miami. And UCF’s coach, Scott Frost, back in 2007 was an assistant at the University of Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls, Iowa where I was living at the time. And where I was living when I launched this blog in 2008.

Scott W. Smith

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“I write dialogue fairly easily. Plot is a big pain in the ass.”
David Mamet

If you like discussing screenplay structure, and praising or blasting three act structure, then this post is for you. I’ll start out with an exchange between writer/director Paul Schrader (Taxi Driver) and writer/director Sean Baker (The Florida Project) taken from The Director’s Cut podcast that the DGA produced.

Paul Schrader: This film The Florida Project, which is really amazing, is part of a larger trend that I first noticed four or five years ago. And I called it at that time the exhaustion of narrative, because we see so much plot—so much narrative—in our lives, hour upon hour upon hour, that we’re growing tired of it, so we’re much more open now to things that amble and are anecdotal because they feel more real. We’re so tired of seeing those rusty gears of the three act structure crank, and you start to say; Okay, rising action, falling action, boom, boom, boom. Robert McKee has done none of us favor. So you saw it with Dunkirk, which is a big historical action piece but it’s done anecdotally. And you saw it with Detroit which meanders. And you see it here [with The Florida Project]. And I think that audiences find this more interesting than that heavy plotted stuff that we used to have 25 years ago. I don’t know if you agree with that.

Sean Baker: Well, read Twitter. I don’t know if that’s exactly true. First I just want to say Paul, thank you so much for doing this. You’ve been an inspiration and an influence on my entire career so thank you. Regarding [structure] my co-screenwriter Chris Bergosh actually comes from—our sensibilities are slightly different. He’s really is actually very structured in his writing, he likes the three act structure. I come from the other side of the spectrum where I can have a 10-minute Tarkovsky tracking shot that I’m intrigued by. We sort of meet somewhere in the middle. With this film in particular we kept saying—we’ve written three films together Starlet, Tangerine and [The Florida Project]—and I kept saying on this one, if there is a plot I want it to be disguised, I want it to be buried. I want the lines of our three act structure to be blurred, so it would be hard to figure out where the second and third act begin. And make this film more about character. We wanted the audience to spend a summer with this children. And if you think about your summers of your youth, it wasn’t exactly plot driven. There wasn’t a three act structure to your summer. So that’s how we approached it. 

Now we did take some precautions by writing scenes that didn’t make it into the final film, but we did it just out of safety sake. We actually had scenes that had more exposition, that actually did focus on just the adults, especially the ending it was much more procedural in the script. Hoping that it could come out, but shooting it for safety sake. And end the end we did remove a lot of that stuff and put back in what you might call extraneous scenes back in. For example, the kids dancing on the bed,  that’s not exactly something that pushes the plot forward or the story forward. …Almost like vignettes to a degree. Some people do have an issue with that, but for me ultimately I thinks it’s about connecting with these characters and having spent real time with them and not having every scene about exposition. 

There’s a lot to unpack there, but let me just defend traditional three act structure (and by association McKee since Schrader brought him into the discussion). Three act structure is simply a time proven tradition that’s been around for arguably decades of film, and hundreds (or even thousands of years) of theater. And it will be around forever. Even if it means some work being in four or five acts. (McKee, Syd Field, and others just pointed out what was common in many great films. It’s like blaming the hero’s journey on Joseph Campbell.)

No one is calling Pixar films or Spotlight and dozens of other recent solid traditionally structured films rusty.  Good story telling is good storytelling. Period. Paul Schrader has a brilliant mind and has had a long love affair with movies. But with that said he, like the critics who love The Florida Project, want to see something new. Baker and Bergosh delivered.  You only get that experience in cinema a few times a year. The Florida Project is the poster child for new and different this year.

The Florida Project deserves the praise it’s getting. But it was a risk to make because it is a character driven film that is mini-plot at best. It does build to a climax. But there is no major dramatic question in this movie. No stated goal. Just survival tactics. But there is plenty of what I’ve said are three of the most important things for a script/movie to have; conflict, and emotion. And they toss in several interesting characters who are a part of the end of the rope club.

They ride that train from the opening to the closing scene. And they can downplay the narrative because they made the film for “well under $2 million.” They weren’t going after a Titanic box office. They were going after a small audience. To date the film has made $3 million so they’re doing quite well.

It will do well at the award season and open new opportunities for Baker and Bergosh. But the death of three act structure is greatly exaggerated.  We need structure in our films, because so much of life is not structure. To get the broadest audience you have to wrap in a why that is accepted by the widest group of people. The three act structure (or any structure that works) is not going anywhere.

I think McKee once said something like 80% of all films fall under traditional structure, because it helps give the film a chance to making back its money. The Florida Project falls into that other 20% of films that are made. Heck, it’s hard for any film to find an audience—but even harder for those other 20%. The Florida Project is getting a welcomed standing ovation. (But with that said, I understand why someone would wonder five, ten, 20 minutes into the film, “What is this film about?” They may leave the theater before the movie is over.) But not all films need to be neatly explainable. When The Florida Project was over I felt like I got punched in the face. And it was a great feeling. And it’s way that movie is getting the hype it’s getting and will be remember for decades.

There’s not too many movies you can say that about.

One of my all time favorite films is Tender Mercies which could be considered mini-plot. But 30 years later that film still haunts me. Tender Mercies was directed by Australian Bruce Beresford and I’ve called it an American foreign film. My guess is that though Baker and Bergosh are Americans that one or both of them have had a steady diet of foreign films in their lifetime.

Let me close this with a graph from McKee’s book Story that touches on archplot, miniplot, and antiplot. There is no one way to make a great movie. And in the book he goes even deeper covering non-plot.

Mckee.jpg

P.S. Movies that are well structured but lack meaningful conflict and emotion tend to be boring and lifeless. No one is going to call The Florida Project boring and lifeless.

Scott W. Smith

 

 

 

 

 

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Sean Baker is officially the poster filmmaker for Screenwriting from Iowa…and Other Unlikely Places this year.  Here’s an abridged version of what I wrote years ago, “I believe there are many great stories waiting to be told outside of L.A. …I hope this blog  helps you tell those stories and encourages you, especially if you feel like you live in an unusual place in the middle-of-nowhere.” That could be West Des Moines, West Africa, or even West Hollywood (where Baker calls home these days.)

Baker grew up in New Jersey enjoying big Hollywood movies like Die Hard, RoboCop (1987), and Close Encounters of the Third Kind. This is the twist in the road that’s led him to making six non-big Hollywood feature films over the past 20 years including The Florida Project:

At the tail end of high school and beginning of my four years at NYU, I was gravitating toward independent films — the work of Spike Lee, Jim Jarmusch, Richard Linklater, and Steven Soderbergh. Just being in NYC was a film education on its own. I’d go to MoMA, Lincoln Center, Anthology Film Archives, and all these great New York art theaters that played the best of world cinema and independent film, and I started falling in love with movies that leaned more on human stories than special effects. By the time I graduated NYU, I understood that I couldn’t afford to go out and make an action blockbuster like Die Hard as my first film. And creatively, my love for independent movies was leading me someplace different.”
Writer/director/editor Sean Baker
Wealthsimple

Spike Lee, Jim Jarmusch, Richard Linklater, and Steven Soderbergh have all been covered on this blog over the years. Of those filmmakers the one film that I think has some crossover to The Florida Project is Jarmusch’s Stranger than Paradise, which was shot partially in Florida and entirely in master shots.

Another independent film that comes to mind that has a connection to The Florida Project (and that’s off most people’s radar) is Ulee’s Gold (1997). That film by writer/director Victor Nunez is as the trailer says, “The story of a family on the edge.” It was the first film I recall showing the gritty side of Orlando. And Peter Fonda received an Oscar-nomination for his performance, as I think Willem Dafoe will in The Florida Project.

Scott W. Smith

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“[The Little Rascals] were basically comic shorts set against the Great Depression. Most of the characters in The Little Rascals were actually living in poverty, but the focus was the joy of childhood, and the humor that comes from watching and hearing children.”
Writer/director Sean Baker
The Hollywood Reporter

After watching The Florida Project on Friday I understood why critics championed the film and expect it to be remembered at Oscar time. I also understand why some people walked out of theaters before the movie was over.

Sean Baker is a bold filmmaker and The Florida Project is an unflinching, non-sugarcoated look at a marginalized group of people–that’s somehow also filled with humor. I could write about this film and its ramifications for a month. I don’t think I have the time to do the research necessary for that so I’ll just start with this post on the roots of the film, and what I think are some movies that are related to The Florida Project. 

I’ll start with a quote from Baker himself (who co-wrote the film with Chris Bergoch;

Well, I’ve always been a fan of The Little Rascals and Our Gang, which I grew up watching on local television. They’ve influenced pretty much every film I’ve made. Not Four Letter Words and Take Out, but Prince of Broadway, definitely, and Starlet and Tangerine. They’re really some of the best comic shorts that I’ve ever seen, and they still hold up. And then, my co-screenwriter, Chris Bergoch, brought me this topic of families living in budget motels outside of the parks down in Kissimmee and Orlando, Florida.

His mother happened to live in Orlando, and he himself is Disney obsessed. These motels are the last step before homelessness for families who aren’t able to get a lease and can no longer rent for multiple reasons. They have to pay week to week, sometimes night to night, at these budget motels. It’s actually a nationwide phenomenon, but, obviously, there is also an irony with little children living outside of what’s considered the most magical place on earth for children. So, it seemed ripe.”
Sean Baker
Filmmaker Magazine

I’m guessing that Baker meant the Hal Roach version of The Little Rascals/Our Gang  which ran from 1922 to 1944 featuring poor kids navigating life as best they could.

I don’t know what articles Baker and Bergoch read on homeless families in Central Florida, but journalism tends to take a ground up approach. A small newspaper spotlights an issue and it brings attention to a larger regional newspaper (like the Orlando Sentinel) and then local TV reporters may pick up on the trend. That’s when it gets on the radar of national newspapers, magazine, and TV programs. Back in 2010 and 2011 both HBO and 60 Minutes reported on family homelessness in the shadow of Disney theme parks. (One outside Disneyland in California and the other on the outskirts of Disney World in Florida.)

That’s how creativity works. A filmmaker takes in all of these influences going on in culture and mixes them with films that resonate with them and they come up with something similar, but different.

There is an echo in the book Driftless (2007) by photographer Danny Wilcox Fraizer. (Which is an echo of the gritty work done by legendary photographers Dorothea Lange and Arnold Newman.) And toss in Photographer Gordon Parks as well.

Driftless-cover

Gordon Parks

Now I don’t know what films influenced Baker, but three films I feel are connected to The Florida Project are:

Paper Moon (In which Tatum O’Neal won an Oscar.) 

Life is Beautiful (The Oscar-winning film about trying to make the best of a horrible situation.)

City of God

And even scenes from as ecelectic mix of Precious, Straight Out of Compton, and Stand By Me come to mind.

More in the coming days…

P.S. After I wrote this post I came across a video that features some of Arnold Newman’s photos from early in his career that he shot in West Palm Beach. The extreme wealth of the Kennedy family and Donald Trump associated with Palm Beach is a world away from West Palm Beach when Newman was talking photos back in the 1940s. I met Newman at the Maine Workshops 15+ years ago and he told me the local police threaten to arrest him if he didn’t leave the black section of West Palm Beach were he was talking photos. Photos he took in Philadelphia, Baltimore, and West Palm Beach are featured in the book Arnold Newman: The Early Work.

Scott W. Smith

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