Sean Baker

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domino harvey
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Sean Baker

#1 Post by domino harvey » Sun Apr 19, 2015 2:35 am

Sean Baker (1971 - )

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"Everyone’s asking if I’ve been offered a superhero movie, and no, I definitely have not. I’m seen as a little risky to the industry, I think."

Filmography

Theatrical Features
Four Letter Words (2000)
Take Out (2004)
Prince of Broadway (2008)
Starlet (2012)
Tangerine (2015)
The Florida Project (2017)

Short Films
Snowbird (2016)

Television and Online Series
Greg the Bunny (2005-2006)
Warren the Ape (2010)

Web Resources
Film Comment interview
Cannes interview on The Florida Project
Indiewire podcast interview
Bret Easton Ellis podcast interview

Print Resources
TK

Forum Discussion
The Florida Project (Sean Baker, 2017)

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barryconvex
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Re: Starlet (Sean Baker, 2012)

#2 Post by barryconvex » Sun Apr 19, 2015 3:51 pm

domino harvey wrote:The logline for Starlet makes it sound like a movie you'd never want to actually sit through: flighty young woman befriends crotchety old woman. Blech, must be either feel-good garbage or some kind of culture clash nonsense, right? Except not really. It is however one of the very best films of recent years, and an exemplar of the kind of movie countless indies in the last decade have tried and failed to be: the small film done well. The success of Starlet is in how it completely trusts its audience to gradually attune itself to its level, which is mostly pitched to the tune of its central character of Jane, as played in a shoulda been star-making turn by Dree Hemingway. The film follows Hemingway's Jane through day-to-day minutiae and things start to become clearer and funnier as the film's sense of humor and measured information begin to color everything on-screen. And boy is it often funny. There is a fifteen minute block in this film that is as laugh out loud hilarious as anything I've ever seen concerning Jane's initial attempts to connect with the elderly Sadie, wherein the awkward small talk and facial expressions add up to extended segments of sustained laughter at every line and tic before finally culminating in an explosive direct confrontation. The laughs don't come from the sitcom hackery the basic premise promises but somewhere more real and both unexpected and yet immediately true to the situation, and as the film continues and turns somewhat more serious, the trust in the material and the performers to rise above the potential pitfalls is established and rewarded with great warmth of feeling. Starlet is a film built on trust (going both ways to and from the audience), but also on elisions, specifically a significant character detail withheld from the audience by the film for at least half the running time-- not because everything hinges on a surprise or twist, but because the film knows this information could cloud how the character is read if it's revealed too soon (I am, as ever, thankful that I either never read a review or saw a trailer, or forgot the relevant details if I did) and once it's learned organically, it is readily accepted as part of the package deal already bought into.

This is a beautiful-looking (and a special "Thank God" goes out to Music Box for having the faith to put a tiny indie like this out on Blu-ray) and smartly made film, but above all Starlet is a character piece. And helpfully it's hinged on one of the best performances of recent memory (and maybe ever, if I'm being honest) courtesy of Dree Hemingway, who embodies Jane in a way that is so natural and lived-in that it does not compute how she failed to gain any kind of traction as a result of her work here. Admittedly I may be biased since I've intimately known characters like Jane and yet rarely if ever see them represented in modern film in an honest way, but I consider that a vouchsafe if anything. Hemingway's perf, like the film, inspires earned effusiveness. See this film.
i saw this a couple years ago and liked it as well. Hemingway is really excellent here. i don't know what she's done since but she should have no shortage for work based on this. I agree that the script for Starlet reads like a bad sitcom episode full of unlikely situations and even more unlikely relationships but it's casting, supporting performances and direction are so assured that every potential derailment goes by the wayside.
SpoilerShow
Also for a film about a young girl working in the porn industry and featuring some explicit scenes it never feels morally superior or exploitative/judgmental towards its characters in the slightest.

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Re: Starlet (Sean Baker, 2012)

#3 Post by jojo » Mon Apr 20, 2015 3:09 pm

I really enjoyed this as well. A small nitpick could have occurred, as Domino mentioned, in how it initially held back on revealing Jane's occupation for a minor bit of "shock" value but it was still eventually done in a more understated manner that most films would handle it. In fact, the film's lazy understated L.A. tone is probably its best quality, making all of the situations feel rather believable and organic.

How Besedka Johnson was discovered is quite a neat story. She passed away in 2013, basically only just a year after the film was released.

I'm also a bit surprised that Dree Hemingway hasn't done more film work. But I also find this to be the case with a lot of models who dip into film work; there are quite a few models out there who have put in some time in the world of film and did good work there, but never went back into it again.

Sean Baker's film resume is rather small, with a lot of TV work, most of which I haven't seen. It might be that this is a one-off thing, but it's still better than what many indie filmmakers would do with 5.

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domino harvey
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Re: Starlet (Sean Baker, 2012)

#4 Post by domino harvey » Mon Apr 20, 2015 6:26 pm

jojo wrote:Sean Baker's film resume is rather small, with a lot of TV work, most of which I haven't seen. It might be that this is a one-off thing, but it's still better than what many indie filmmakers would do with 5.
Given that all of the stoner characters in the film seemed to be watching Greg the Bunny on an infinite loop, I surmised while watching that Baker must've had something to do with that series. Afterwards I learned he co-created it. From what I remember of Greg the Bunny, the circle for this film and for that show would not make for a useful venn diagram

As for other film work, Baker's followup, Tangerine, got picked up by Magnolia at this year's Sundance. It was shot using an $8 iPhone app

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Roger Ryan
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Re: Starlet (Sean Baker, 2012)

#5 Post by Roger Ryan » Tue Apr 21, 2015 8:02 am

jojo wrote:...I'm also a bit surprised that Dree Hemingway hasn't done more film work. But I also find this to be the case with a lot of models who dip into film work; there are quite a few models out there who have put in some time in the world of film and did good work there, but never went back into it again...
I don't know - she's been involved in nine film or TV projects in the three years since STARLET was released including notable turns in the relatively high-profile films LISTEN UP PHILIP and WHILE WE'RE YOUNG. It looks like she's the lead or, at least, co-starring in two films currently in post-production; I'd say she's doing alright as a working actor.

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domino harvey
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Re: Starlet (Sean Baker, 2012)

#6 Post by domino harvey » Sat May 02, 2015 10:49 am

domino harvey wrote:As for other film work, Baker's followup, Tangerine, got picked up by Magnolia at this year's Sundance. It was shot using an $8 iPhone app
And here's the red band trailer

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D50
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Re: Starlet (Sean Baker, 2012)

#7 Post by D50 » Sat May 02, 2015 12:04 pm

Thanks for mentioning this. I liked waiting for each reveal,
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which starts from the opening shot, pan back, she stands and you see she hasn't unpacked...
having to work to fill in the blanks, even with the title.
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I saw how they found Besedka Johnson at the Hollywood YMCA, and her best scene was when Melissa tries to rat out Jane - her look was perfect!
Just added Tangerine to my saved queue. Wait, 10 July limited US release? I'll go see it.

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Lost Highway
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Re: Starlet (Sean Baker, 2012)

#8 Post by Lost Highway » Sat Jun 06, 2015 1:16 pm

I love this film (Starlet) and it's become one of my most watched in recent years. What looks like a run of the mill "heartwarming" (a word that makes me run for the hills) indie comedy from the trailer has so much more complicated and unpredictable characters. No passing-of-wisdom cliches from the old the young. I like how matter of fact and none judgemental the film is about the younger woman's line of business and how the older woman never really lets down her guard down and never looses her edge. There is nothing cutesy about the film. Graceful film making as well.

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D50
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Re: Starlet (Sean Baker, 2012)

#9 Post by D50 » Thu Nov 12, 2015 11:47 am


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domino harvey
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Re: Starlet & Tangerine (Sean Baker, 2012/2015)

#10 Post by domino harvey » Wed Nov 25, 2015 9:00 pm

Despite the critical raves, I found Tangerine to be a disappointment, especially considering how phenomenal Starlet was. That film's greatest strength, its performances, is this film's biggest weakness. Apologies to our two leads, but they cannot act, at all. I was reminded of that moment in Made when Vince Vaughn and Jon Favreau decide to improv a scene and just end up saying "fuck" to fill in the spaces (which the duo then marked-up on-screen ala NFL commentators on the DVD) everytime the actress playing Sin-Dee says "bitch." So much effort to work around the obvious and unavoidable limitations of these two hampers the film, which does have some bursts of interest, all as a result of either actual actors or more talented newbies. I definitely found myself wishing the whole film was about the Armenian taxi driver and his assorted pick-ups and dalliances, though perhaps this material wouldn't be as strong when removed from its leveling effect in the film as it stands now. I'm glad Baker has found some cachet in the wake of Tangerine's success, and I look forward to what he does next, but if you liked this and haven't seen Starlet yet, Jesus God are you in for a treat.

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Re: Starlet / Tangerine (Sean Baker, 2012/2015)

#11 Post by swo17 » Wed Nov 25, 2015 9:53 pm

What are we going to call this thread the next time Baker puts out a film?

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domino harvey
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Re: Starlet / Tangerine (Sean Baker, 2012/2015)

#12 Post by domino harvey » Thu Nov 26, 2015 3:22 pm

I'm more worried about what happens if they hire another director for the next Mission: Impossible movie!

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feihong
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Re: Starlet / Tangerine (Sean Baker, 2012/2015)

#13 Post by feihong » Thu Nov 26, 2015 4:21 pm

I was dismayed that Tangerine remained on such a superficial level throughout. I never felt as if I was getting any perspective on the lead characters actual lives––instead what we got was a kind of a front, a pretense of what those lives might be like if you took most of the hardship and all of the boredom out of the situation. And the plot details of the film seemed like a collection of stories the lead actors had told the filmmakers, culled from months or years of experience––which in the final film ended up all condensed into the activity of a single day. The day on film felt terribly full of energy and movement, and terrifically light on meaningful dramatic action.

The movie, it seemed, wanted to have it both ways, presenting both a slice of life and the plot compression of a densely-packed comic melodrama, and the melodramatic compression sapped the realism and the depth from the slice of life. The humor was so snatch-and-grab, and painfully set up and delivered a lot of the time––so that it fell heavily onto the movie, never feeling spontaneous or observed from life. Ultimately, I don't think I understand anything more than I did about the life of transgendered prostitutes now that I've seen the movie; what was presented comes across as disingenuous. That's not to say that anyone meant to paper over the real depth of that life, but the schema of the film was poorly chosen. The narrative structure, built off collected stories of wild-and-crazy-times, didn't support the subject matter much at all, and the characters, all of whom we're supposed to identify with, have motivations which are almost always inaccessible to us. The cab driver is very nearly a blank slate, which might be more interesting if his shrill mother-in-law wasn't stepping on his limited screen time. And the depiction of the tricks the girls do was handled with the swagger of a music video, which I have a hard time believing is the way such a transaction really feels.

The arrival of the pimp/boyfriend was disastrous for what energy was sustaining the movie, because the guy is so aimless and chill, and he has the charisma of a professional actor. How was it that meeting up with this dude was so important? The film sets him up as dangerous and volatile––people don't want Sin-dee to tell him that they ratted out his location–and I suppose that at first glance it would be a good joke to make him a goofball, getting high and gabbing about alien landings the government doesn't want us to know about, after such a build-up. But his position as the object of the film's search narrative makes such a read inadequate in the extreme. What was important, really important, about finding this guy? It makes Sin-dee come across as an incredibly flat character, that her object is ultimately just to seek this guy out and get high with him behind the donut shop. And the charm of the pimp character, the very actorly-ness of him, made his character seem all the more preposterous in the way he was ultimately so inconsequential. He comes across as a charming dude, who sees life fairly clearly, at a slight remove from the events swirling around him. It might have been fine if the film had been pitched a couple degrees less shrill; if finding the pimp was presented not as a miniature odyssey, the principle object of the girls' narratives, but as a nagging little element at the back of a story which was a genuine slice of life. The girls would hang out, turn tricks, do things that were part of their day, once in a while asking someone where the pimp was, and then the encounter might be spontaneous at the end of the picture, part of a genuine swirl of incidents, pitched on a small scale. But the film is too dependent for its action upon coordinated "chance encounters" and emotional showdowns for this "slice of life" idea to work. The idea that this story might be one of a typical day is absolutely crushed by the heavy needs of the dramatic showdowns. But the dramatic showdowns themselves never help us understand what is at stake in the film. What happens if the cab driver's mother-in-law freaks out? So what if the pimp is cheating on his girlfriend? Isn't that actually sort of his job? Aren't the police a more particular concern for these people? I've never met a member of the LAPD who just grins at people fighting in the street and says, "hey, it's Christmas Eve. Let's all chill." In spite of the bouncer's assurance, wouldn't the johns in that hotel room where Sin-dee kicked down the door head for the hills immediately afterwards? I doesn't really seem smart to stick around. A lot of this stuff is meant to be jokes, but the tone of the humor stubbornly refuses to take wing. It's goony stuff that gracelessly sidesteps the real consequences the actions of the sequences would produce.

I enjoyed seeing a lot of stretches of L.A. I'm rather familiar with, and I like the iphone footage and the way the street scenes were filmed. But the narrative qualities and the drama itself felt very shrill and very poorly conceived. The use of the treacly Toyland song made not really the massive amount of sense the filmmakers seemed to want it to, either.

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Re: Starlet / Tangerine (Sean Baker, 2012/2015)

#14 Post by neal » Fri Jan 15, 2016 3:13 am

feihong wrote:Ultimately, I don't think I understand anything more than I did about the life of transgendered prostitutes now that I've seen the movie; what was presented comes across as disingenuous. That's not to say that anyone meant to paper over the real depth of that life, but the schema of the film was poorly chosen. The narrative structure, built off collected stories of wild-and-crazy-times, didn't support the subject matter much at all...
I've just watched the film, and I clearly enjoyed it more than both you and Domino, though I'm not sure I've mulled the film over enough to write a full assessment of the film. That said, I do think that using the framework you've laid out here to evaluate the film is misguided. The film was not intended to help its audience understand the lived of transgender sex workers. It's a wacky comedy about a woman who loses her shit when she finds out that her fiancee has been cheating on her woven together with the more serious stories of the other two central characters, Alexandra and Razmik, one a sex worker who seems to struggle with being lonely and unfulfilled, the other a taxi driver stepping out on his wife. The latter two seem the most humane and kind in their moments together.

My point is that if you think that Superbad wasn't successful as a film, it's not because it doesn't give you insight into the lives of white, teenaged stoners, and Ride Along isn't awful because it fails to teach you about the lives of black police officers.

You say that the narrative structure of the film doesn't support the "subject matter" at all, but I think that's because you think that the subject matter the film is trying to present is different than what it actually is.
feihong wrote:and the characters, all of whom we're supposed to identify with, have motivations which are almost always inaccessible to us.
Which actions could you not understand?
feihong wrote:if finding the pimp was presented not as a miniature odyssey, the principle object of the girls' narratives, but as a nagging little element at the back of a story which was a genuine slice of life. The girls would hang out, turn tricks, do things that were part of their day, once in a while asking someone where the pimp was, and then the encounter might be spontaneous at the end of the picture, part of a genuine swirl of incidents, pitched on a small scale.
This is asking for a completely different movie with entirely different motivations. One is primarily about an extreme caricature of a woman scorned. The other is, assuming I properly understand what you're saying, concerned with providing a true-to-life voyeuristic experience into the life of transgender prostitutes so that you can better understand how "the other" lives.
feihong wrote:...the film is too dependent for its action upon coordinated "chance encounters" and emotional showdowns for this "slice of life" idea to work
Again, I think that this "'slice of life' idea" as you envision it is something that you're imposing on the film and not what the film set out to achieve. Moreover, I'm not sure that I can think of more than one "chance encounter" in the film as a whole. Nearly every encounter in the film is actively sought out by one of the characters for a very clearly defined reason.


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Re: Starlet / Tangerine (Sean Baker, 2012/2015)

#16 Post by MaxBercovicz » Wed Feb 17, 2016 9:47 pm

What did everyone think about how it was shot? Was the whole film really recorded on an Iphone?

I enjoyed the movie to a degree and thought the culmination scenes at Donut Time were the best part. Good to see old Ziggy in action...

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Re: Starlet / Tangerine (Sean Baker, 2012/2015)

#17 Post by mfunk9786 » Thu Feb 18, 2016 11:25 am


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Re: Starlet / Tangerine (Sean Baker, 2012/2015)

#18 Post by Cameron Swift » Fri Feb 19, 2016 1:53 am

I thought the final scenes at the donut shop were the weakest of the film. It played out like an episode of The Jerry Springer Show with the continual addition of more and more characters. In the latter, it always felt unrealistic when a previously apologetic character would suddenly burst forth with a further revelation and take great pride in sticking it in their loved one's face, and here the same thing happens with
SpoilerShow
Ransome's character making up with his girlfriend, and then almost immediately boasting "That's right! I fucked your best friend too!
I felt those final 15 minutes were a misstep in an otherwise impressive movie. The trashy colours of the LA streets captured by the iPhone were a treat to watch.

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Re: Starlet / Tangerine (Sean Baker, 2012/2015)

#19 Post by jojo » Fri Feb 19, 2016 2:47 pm

mfunk9786 wrote:Yes.
Looks like the Anamorphic Adapter Lens he used was the big part in really making it work.

This part made me laugh, though:
At first, the cast wasn’t convinced shooting with the iPhone would work. "I had some hesitancy about it, more out of pride," says James Ransone, who plays Chester, the pimp at the center of Tangerine’s love triangle. "I’m like, Jesus Christ, man, I was on The Wire. I’ve ended up in iPhone movies!"


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Re: Starlet / Tangerine (Sean Baker, 2012/2015)

#21 Post by knives » Fri Mar 25, 2016 5:16 pm

I'm posting this here given it has become basically the catch all Baker thread. Anyways, given how amazing Starlet was, thanks Dom, I had to see if he struck lightning elsewhere and his sophomore feature Take Out was the easiest to access. It's a fascinating contrast since a lot of the charm of the later film is present here, but unrefined and unsure. Baker adds on this ticking time clock of a plot which weighs with an insecurity that the more organic plotting of Starlet shows he matured on. The characters are also a little flat as if he wasn't sure how to keep the neo-realist attitude with more exterior characters. Ming, the lead here, is a very insular person who only occasionally gets to just relax allowing for his personality to come out. Additionally the aesthetic isn't the greatest. For the most part the film is composed of beautiful long shots, but, connecting to the earlier complaint, whenever we get into a dialogue scene he shifts into this over edited mess which only hurts what are otherwise the best scenes of the movie. This is merely a pet peeve, but this is shot on lowfi DV which is just a look I can't stand. As far as these things go its exceptionally well delivered, but I'm not a fan of the look.

All of this probably makes this sound like a bad movie, but they are problems which are very easy to forgive especially since they're born out of simple insecurity and are balanced out by some very daring moves which are very successful. Baker's showing himself to be the best cinematic cataloger of California I've seen (I say California more for the attitude shown which could easily be in LA's Chinatown, but I believe takes place in New York's) taking characters that are extras in the normal American dialogue and giving them their 90 minutes. I wouldn't be surprised if some people don't realize the film takes place in the states since for most of the runtime Baker only shows the Chinese immigrant world of Ming spoken in Mandarin. Even the extras for most of the scenes are Chinese. Only for deliveries is english or spanish spoken and usually not for long. Ming seems to not know any of either of these languages which makes these characters seem unusually foreign. It's a great disassociating effect that I don't think I've seen in American film before. The best thing is how casually Baker does all of this as if all of the little nervous normalizing attempts I mentioned before are the cost of quiet observation for most of the movie. It's not a great movie, but I all the same couldn't recommend it any higher.

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Re: Sean Baker

#22 Post by Jean-Luc Garbo » Mon Apr 18, 2016 11:44 am

An appreciative take on Tangerine from a transgender film critic.

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mfunk9786
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Re: Sean Baker

#23 Post by mfunk9786 » Mon Jun 12, 2017 2:38 pm


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knives
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Re: Sean Baker

#24 Post by knives » Mon Jun 12, 2017 4:10 pm

Says the star of The Girlfriend Experience.

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mfunk9786
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Re: Sean Baker

#25 Post by mfunk9786 » Mon Jun 12, 2017 4:13 pm

Not sure I see your point, exactly.

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