In 2015, a film shot entirely on iPhones premiered at Sundance and received a lot of praise for its authentic storytelling and beautiful colors. The director was Sean Baker, who most people haven’t heard of yet.
Baker’s latest movie is The Florida Project, which is receiving some Oscar buzz. The film follows the poverty-stricken life of six-year-old Moonee (Brooklynn Prince) and her mom, Halley (Bria Vinaite). They live in a bright purple motel called Magic Kingdom, which is not too far away from the other Magic Kingdom in Disney World, and it’s run by Bobby (Willem DaFoe), who understands the effect poverty has on the people who live there.
It would have been so easy to tell this story in a simple narrative structure with a defined plot and clear message, but Baker wrote the script and shot the movie to almost be a documentary. It’s very organic, and a lot of the film feels improvised. It’s like they told the children in the movie to do whatever they wanted and just kept the film rolling. Improvisation isn’t a foreign concept in film, but to create a whole movie in which it’s hard to notice certain direction is impressive.
Baker also took risks in his filming locations. He found some obscure buildings in Orlando that added to the character of the film. But there was one location that almost cost him the movie.
To make money, Halley and Moonee buy knock-off cologne and perfume and sell them to guests outside of a fancy hotel. Baker wanted an authentic reaction from people, so he had Vinaite and Prince approach real guests at a hotel and . The location wasn’t shut down for filming, and the camera was a notable distance away from the actresses. After they got the footage, Baker’s crew had to run after the people who bought the perfume and have them sign a waiver so the footage could be used in the film.
In the cinematic world, it is so easy to fall into a rhythm of producing clean movies that everyone will like. The problem with that is every movie starts to look the same. By taking risks and straying from conventional shooting styles and storytelling, films become more real and more impactful. And if there is one director who is doing that now, it’s Sean Baker.
Georgia Davis is a junior studying journalism at Ohio University. Please note that the views and opinions of the columnists do not reflect those of The Post. Have you seen The Florida Project? Tell Georgia by tweeting her at @georgiadee35.