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Yeah, what he said…

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Scott W. Smith

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Here’s a quote from back in 2013—a few years before Greta Gerwig made her directorial debut with Lady Bird. (A film that just won Golden Globe awards for Best Motion Picture-Musical or Comedy, and Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture.)

“[Directing] was never something I realized I could do for a long time, and I don’t know why exactly, but I just never thought that I would be able to or that I’d never be any good at it, and I think I no longer believe that. …To be honest it’s a lame excuse, but it just seems very male, and it seems like it was just something that men said they wanted to do in college. I didn’t really know any women who said they wanted to do it. It wasn’t until really being out in the world and meeting filmmakers like Lynn Shelton and Lena Dunham and Liz Meriwether, who’s a writer, and Diablo Cody, and there’s so many of them that I didn’t know them. And it wasn’t until meeting them that I think, in my 20s, that I had built up a reserve of confidence and a feeling like it’s not just a boy’s club.”
Greta Gerwig
Miami NewTimes interview with

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Scott W. Smith

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We tried to keep our crew small enough [on The Florida Project] where we weren’t a big presence that would suddenly bring artifice to the scene that we were shooting…they were ready to go and improvise behind the camera, and sometimes throw the schedule away. As long as I was proving to production and my financiers we were going to make it. [Meaning avoiding overtime or adding additional shooting days, and getting the film shot within the budget.]

…One of the scenes that kind of goes with this sometimes documentary style way of filmmaking is the scene with the cranes that a lot of people actually think might be one of the best scenes in the film. I wanted to shoot Willem interacting with the cranes and we were going to workshop a scene right there one morning. It was one of his last days I believe, and I wanted to make sure we had enough of the Bobby character before he left to go on to another show.

So these three cranes lived on the property. They would come up every morning and tap on the window of the lobby and the real clerks of The Magic Castle would come out and feed them Cheetos—they were addicted to junk food. The morning of my Steadicam artist is setting up rig and suddenly we all get emails and we look at it’s like ‘Do not shoot the cranes. They are an endangered species, if anything goes wrong this is a federal crime and this will shut us down our whole production.’ And I look over and the production offices are on the other side of the The Magic Castle—I knew it was going to take a while to get to me, so I said ‘Guys roll camera, Willem go inside the lobby, come out and do something, I don’t know what to tell ya.’

So he comes out and he has that wonderful interaction with the cranes, and he comes up with that line ‘No harm, no fowl.’ And my great Steadicam artists Mike McGowan, who worked on Moonlight, did that really nice move into him and suddenly it was like ‘Cut—alright, sorry.’ They made us move on, and that was the one take we got.”
Writer/Director Sean Baker
DGA podcast #98 The Director’s Cut

 

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“Well, as a rule about 50% you have in your mind before you start the picture, and the rest you develop as you’re making it.”
Writer/Director/Actor (and silent film comic genius)  Buster Keaton 

“Going into a day we were 70% structured, 30% was left up to the film gods to give us happy accidents.”
Writer/Director/Editor Sean Baker on shooting The Florida Project

Yesterday I read the New York Times list of The Best Movies of 2017 and since the writers (Manohla Dargis and A.O. Scott) put The Florida Project at #4 I feel justified in continuing to blog on that movie that I’ve been doing for the past month.

“We actually scripted a rainbow. The kids were supposed to have seen the cows and then look up and see a rainbow. We were going to have a CGI rainbow where they chase a rainbow through a field, but two weeks earlier we were shooting at The Magic Castle and suddenly everyone goes there is a real rainbow over the motel and I thought if we shot that it would save the production 50 grand. ‘Get the camera down there. ’ You know it’s a 35mm camera— it took seven whole minutes to get it down there and when we did we only had moments to capture it because it was fading. Those two little girls knew what to do. They just jumped right into that little talk about the leprechaun and ran off into the parking lot. So there are happy accidents and also moments of desperate improvisation in front of and behind the camera. That’s just the way I like to work sometimes.”
Sean Baker (who co-wrote The Florida Project with Chris Bergoch)
The Director’s Cut podcast interview with Paul Schrader

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Valeria Cotto and Brooklynn Prince in The Florida Project

Speaking of rainbows, here’s a scene that I think the young character Moonee in The Florida Project would enjoy. Where Judy Garland ponders if there is such a place where there isn’t any trouble.

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

Scott W. Smith

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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

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“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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[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

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