THE FLORIDA PROJECT
About The Production
In a $35-a-night, Orlando motel, under an electric orange sun, in the
shadow of Walt Disney's lavishly imagined American utopia, six year-old Moonee
- brave, wild-hearted and possessed of irrepressible mischief - conjures up out
almost nothing her own realm of magic and wonder. Her mother, Halley, can barely
keep the two of them from the brink of disaster. But along with her ruffian
Jancey and Scooty, Moonee does what any child would: she turns her world into
the stuff of never-ending, spellbinding adventures, and runs full speed towards
future regardless of her predicament.
Writer/director Sean Baker invites audiences to see Moonee's motel world as
she does: a fizzy, candy-colored dreamscape full of laughter, love, surprises
everyday pranks and heroes, one that reminds us of how even the toughest of
times are uplifted by the brash innocence of childhood. The film, too, is woven
contrasts. Baker pairs non-actors with actors, mixes florid 35mm cinematography
with digital verite, and places striving adult characters against a pint-sized,
heroine who explodes with optimism and gutsiness.
Moonee may be the reverse of a perfectly charmed fairy-tale princess, but she
exuberantly takes life for all it's worth. The result is a film about girlhood,
constructed families and about defiance of hard times that breaks all the rules
films about such things. At the core of it all is a humanity that can evoke
for the characters but equally hilarity, tenderness and hope for what might
Just as Walt Disney in 1965 dubbed his plans to acquire the land for Disney
"The Florida Project," so too does Baker use that title. Its suggestion of
aspirational yet provisional seemed a match with this tale of a Florida child
into an unwritten future one summer escapade at a time.
Says Baker: "I want viewers to laugh with, love and embrace Moonee, her
Jancey and Scooty, Halley, and Bobby - and I hope that the connection with the
characters will last long after the theater experience."
A Magic Motel Childhood
The rapturous chaos and scrappy resilience of childhood
has long called out to filmmakers to crack its visual code.
In the 20s and 30s, even before sound, Hal Roach first
turned the devil-may-care spontaneity of Depression-era
street kids into comic gold with the endlessly influential
Our Gang series. From Truffaut's The 400 Blows to Ken
Loach's Kes, the trials and mischief of childhood have
become an exhilarating lens on the modern world. The
21st Century has seen such disparate takes as Bruno
Dumont's tragicomic L'il Quinquin, Benh Zeitlin's fable
Beasts of the Southern Wild and Richard Linklater's time-compacting
The Florida Project brings its own fresh-squeezed view of
childhood on the edge, one that's not a dark descent but a
beautiful, comedic uprising full of screaming colors and a
manic summer vibe.
But if Baker's style compels with a hyper-reality, his
characters are wrenchingly real. Tiny Moonee, who
summons her own empowering kingdom from a motel
strip, is caught in a phenomenon that boomed when
the housing market went bust in 2008: budget motels
transformed into semi-permanent shelters for those
unable to rent. Surreally, this phenomenon also rooted
itself outside the gates of the two most iconic symbols of
childhood fantasy and visions of tomorrow: Disneyland
and Disney World. In Anaheim and Orlando, Mid Century
motels simulating rockets, castles and pirate ships in liplicking
shades of strawberry and pistachio became home
to working families and their kids - who took their strange
abodes in stride.
The sight of boisterous tykes living in whimsical Florida
motels first struck The Florida Project's co-screenwriter
Chris Bergoch in 2011. His mother had just relocated to
Kissimmee, Florida, which for Bergoch meant regular
drives down Central Florida's motel-lined Route 192.
On one such drive, he called up his friend and writing
partner-indie filmmaker Sean Baker - and started
describing what he saw. Both felt compelled to dig deeper.
Indeed, that first conversation would spark a journey that
would soon become far more than an idea for a film about
childhood's beauty and bravado - it would become a
united community effort to get the stories of these
unseen families out into the culture in a vibrant way.
"Every time I returned to Orlando, I'd pass the motels
and the heartbreak of it never went away. Over time, the
situation only grew and the need to tell this story did as
well," says Bergoch.
Baker says: "When Chris first brought the situation to my
attention I was taken aback. Families come from all over
the world to experience 'The Most Magical Place on Earth,'
yet for many, life in its shadow is about struggle, heartache
and insecurity. It's a place dedicated to the joy of being
a child, yet there are thousands of children watching from
the sidelines. That led us to want to tell one oftheir stories."
Realism Meets Rascals
t was also a story right up Baker's alley. His driving
instinct as a writer and director is to illuminate lives that
don't usually come to the fore. "As a filmmaker, my interest
is exploring and understanding our country's current state
and I felt this subject fell right in line with this journey,"
Baker says. "And I've always wanted to make a film about
childhood. Though many things would change, the idea of
focusing primarily on a young girl living in a budget motel
was the foundation from the beginning."
Inspired as Baker and Bergoch were, the project took
another five years to get off the ground. Meanwhile,
Baker's career abruptly ignited with two inventive,
microbudget indies that announced the arrival of a
new voice. With Starlet and the iPhone-shot Tangerine,
Baker splashed light on unexplored sides of Los Angeles
and introduced his neon-hued vision of 21st Century
neorealism - merging the raw verite of real life focused on
people you've never met before with a radically expressive
yet light touch.
Even as Baker was coming to the fore, The Florida Project
kept percolating. "At first we couldn't secure financing
for the film which is one of the reasons that Tangerine
was made. But we continued to follow the situation in the
Florida motels closely and we continued making trips to
the area," he says. "While there, we did our best to hear as
much as we could from the voices of the community."
For Baker, listening to and especially including the local
community is part-and-parcel of his filmmaking, as
connected to the process of storytelling as the script or
the camerawork. He explains: "We always begin these
films in the same way, by asking folks from the community
if they're interested in becoming involved. We spoke to
a lot families in the motels, as well as the management.
We wanted to hear multiple points of view and absorb as
much everyday detail as possible."
He goes on: "I feel that focusing attention on the details
is key to letting the audience suspend their disbelief. It
was so important that the audience instantly believes the
world we are presenting them and quickly joins along with
Moonee and her friends on their summer adventures."
Though Bergoch and Baker wrote a formal script, Baker
takes scripts as preliminary blueprints that can shift as the
moment demands. In his approach, the writing process
never stops until the final edit, and it is a collaboration with
cast and crew, as well as with the authentic messiness
of life (and in this case, kids' natural shenanigans.) "We
were already making significant changes to the script after
the first week of shooting because we found ourselves
inspired to go in another direction with certain characters.
You can only have happy accidents if you allow for
improvisation behind the camera. And I love happy
accidents," he muses.
The core of the story was always specifically anchored
in Moonee's endlessly creative use of her immediate
environment, an environment of which she is both a
product and a rebel. She gleefully drops four-letter
words, panhandles to buy sugary treats and opens every
forbidden door in the motel. But she does so in the spirit
of going after everything with gusto, turning a life on the
cusp of peril into one of positive glee.
"We wanted the film to evoke at the power of a child's
imagination and sense of wonder," says Baker. "Despite
not being able to afford a ticket to the nearby theme parks,
Moonee still finds her own fun and adventure. Moonee is
able to go to her own safari by visiting the cow field behind
the motel and her own haunted mansion by exploring an
That's also why Baker imbued Moonee, her best friend
Scooty and new friend Jancey with a contemporary Hal
Roach vibe - filling their scenes with the bumptious,
anarchic antics of scamps on the loose like a Little
Rascals of the recent Great Recession. "The original Our
Gang and Little Rascals series had a big influence on
me and are part of why I make films," Baker says. "I've
always felt the series reached the pinnacle of what is
possible with child performers, especially children giving
comedic performances. Very few films have matched the
authenticity and freshness of the series, even though it is
nearly a century old."
He goes on: "In some ways, I see The Florida Project as
a modern day Little Rascals. Those films also had hard
times as a backdrop but the main focus was the joy of
the children's adventures. The series was never sad or
melancholy because the gang's attitude was never sad or
melancholy. I think that's what helped us all connect with
the children on a greater level. Revisiting and studying the
series as an adult, I found this approach quite humanistic,
focusing on the universality of youthful experience."
Baker always had a favorite Rascal: Spanky McFarland,
the boisterous, cherub-faced schemer of the gang. "From
the very start of thinking about The Florida Project I
wanted to find today's Spanky, someone talented and
hilarious, and I believe we achieved that with Brooklynn
Prince as Moonee."
Moonee & Her Gang
The reality, comedy and poignancy of The Florida Project
all hinged from the start on unearthing a child who
could embody the unusually layered persona of Moonee.
But how do you find a six year-old capable of not only
rendering a performance of comedic and dramatic
dimensions, but who also can tap into real understanding
for a kid making the most of life in a downtrodden motel?
The search took off in 2016, as Baker, Bergoch and their
fellow producers Shih-Ching Tsou and Kevin Chinoy
held auditions for children from all over central Florida.
"It didn't matter if they had experience or not. We were
just looking for fun and extroverted personalities," Baker
Amid the hundreds of kids Baker met was Brooklynn
Prince, a Floridian who despite her diminutive size stood
out as having the huge spirit of a force of nature. Rare
for a kid at that still-forming age, she was able to respond
to tough and strange situations with her own toughness,
as well as laughter, imagination and creativity. Though
she had previously acted in a few commercials and
smaller roles, carrying a film as the lead was a completely
unexpected experience, one Prince devoured.
"Brooklynn is simply one of the best actors - of any age
- I've ever encountered," says Baker. "She is intelligent
far beyond her years, warm-hearted, positive and she
loves acting. Her wonderful parents have provided a really
strong support system for her. I'm so grateful that she
came to audition for us, because we knew within moments
she was the one who would be hard to beat out for the
role." Adds Bergoch: "Brooklynn was the exact same
Moonee we'd seen in our heads for years, coming to life
right before our eyes."
Remarkably, Prince is almost the polar opposite of Moonee
- grounded, reflective, impeccably well behaved - but
was able to channel the character's steely impishness and
joyously insolent take on a world that hasn't give her a lot.
"She is transformative," describes Baker, "and truly became
Moonee as soon as I called 'action.' One would think she
is typecast because of her age; however, Brooklynn is
so very different from Moonee. Moonee's brashness is a
character trait that Brooklynn herself doesn't embody."
Much of the drama of The Florida Project plays out in
Prince's physicality, gestures and roiling energy, which the
camera can barely contain. Her face - alternately sassy,
bemused and stoic - becomes a road map to how one
transcends a world like the one where Moonee is
How does a six year-old accomplish all that? For Prince,
it started with striving to walk in Moonee's shoes. Says
Prince: "I like Moonee. She's very inventive and she likes
taking her friends on adventures. And I think she's also
someone who is very funny, very loyal and sometimes
Prince agrees that her life is nothing like the one Moonee
is leading, but that only sparked her curiosity more. "I
definitely don't talk the way she does - if I did, I would get
grounded!" she laughs. "I also don't like maple syrup
at all but Moonee loves it. I don't tell people I have
asthma to get ice cream. But mostly, I think I am luckier
It was Baker, says Prince, who helped her find the courage
to follow Moonee into situations beyond anything she has
known or certainly contemplated in her few years. "Being
Moonee felt natural," recalls Prince, "but sometimes we
did scenes that were hard, especially at the end, and Sean
would talk to me about how the scene was going to go
and then he would make me feel a whole lot better."
"Sean is the kind of director who is never mean or tough,"
she continues. "He's very honest and he's talkative and
he would always say good job when I did a good job.
He's very funny, plus he loves Chihuahuas and I love
Chihuahuas. I loved hanging out with him and bonding
with so many new people."
Prince especially bonded with her young co-stars,
Valeria Cotto and Christopher Rivera, who come from
backgrounds quite different from her own. Cotto, who
plays Moonee's increasingly inseparable new friend
Jancey, is an example of the unconventional casting
process Baker employs.
"There is always a degree of street casting in my films and
the discovery I'm most proud of on this film is Valeria. I
saw her and her mother in a Kissimmee Target store one
evening. Valeria caught my eye because of her vibrant red
hair. I gave her mother my card and prayed she'd have
her daughter audition," recalls Baker. "She did and Valeria
landed the role of Jancey. Since then, Brooklynn and
Valeria have become best friends."
Rivera brought in another layer of authenticity as a boy
who was already growing up in one of the motels on
Route 192. "Christopher's an incredible young man, full of
good humor and with a truly mischievous nature," Baker
describes. "He photographs beautifully and was also able
to improvise. He was especially happy to be working with,
as he called him, The Green Goblin - Mr. Willem Dafoe."
For Baker working with kids so young, yet so pure and
fierce was one of the most exciting challenges of the
film. Early on, he asked associate producer Samantha
Quan to come on as acting coach for his young trio, and
she carefully gave them just enough input for their young
minds to latch onto with joy. "Samantha was wonderful
with the kids and got them to a place where it made my
job so easy," says Baker. "They always knew their scripted
lines but they were ready to try new things if I asked."
Of course, Baker was keenly aware he would be asking
the kids to say and do normally prohibited things - but
he was also fully committed to shielding them from too
much. "Samantha and the parents of our cast were very
clear with the kids that profanity was only to be used
while shooting. It was important to me that the kids were
never exposed to anything they didn't have to be. It was
also important to me that this was a positive, learning
experience for the kids and we were very protective of
them in that way."
The force of the kids' energy was an inspiration to all,
though there was a constant balancing act to keep the
mayhem just within control. Says Willem Dafoe: "I
decided very early to let the kids' anarchy fly. Sean is
excellent at setting up situations and letting the action take
the story where it organically goes, so the kids were for
the most part just having fun -- I don't think they ever even
thought of it as work."
Dafoe notes that the dynamism of the kids jibes with
Baker's in-the-moment style. "I suppose the most difficult
thing with kids is that what you gain in spontaneity you
lose in the inability to repeat and refine. So you have to
be willing to capture things as they happen, because they
can't be reworked or recreated. Kids are naturally restless,
carefree, so they became our guides," he observes.
"Rather than get rankled, I just 'used' it for Bobby, who
loves the kids but also sometimes wants to strangle them."
An Instagram Star Is Born
The next big mission was to find Moonee's mom, Halley, who still has the
libertine spirit of a child herself, yet loves her daughter with a
ferocity. Once again, Baker conducted his search in a nonconventional way,
finding 24 year-old Bria Vinaite on Instagram. Vinaite had no formal experience
whatsoever, but what she did have was a strong, playful persona that leapt
right off the internet.
"There were definitely temptations to go with a known actor for Halley and we
knew it was rolling the dice to cast a first-timer," Baker admits. "However I'm
so happy I listened to my instincts regarding Bria. When I first came across her
Instagram page, I was instantly intrigued. There was something very different
that set Bria apart from the thousands of other Instagrammers. She didn't take
herself seriously. Hyper, carefree and extremely funny -she had all the same
traits we had in mind for Halley."
When Vinaite got a message from Baker, she wasn't at all sure what to make
of it. "I have a lot of followers on Instagram but not enough to think that that
something like this could happen," she says. "So I get this message from Sean
saying he's a director and I look at his Instagram and it is literally just
of dogs. It doesn't say filmmaker or anything ... it's just dogs. Mind you, I have
so many creepy people messaging me, so I'm thinking this guy's just trying to
prank me or he's up to something weird."
After looking Baker up on Google and seeing that everything checked out as
legit, Vinaite decided to go for it. The next thing she knew she was flying to
Florida. "When Sean told me I had the part, it was just the most surreal thing
to ever happen to me," she recalls. "I'm still to this day trying to process
One thing Vinaite wanted to capture more than anything else is how devoted
Halley is to Moonee in her own way. She's no perfect parent, and can't provide
even close to what she wishes she could, but she would do anything to try to
keep them OK and together. "Sean really wanted me to be carefree and loose
and have fun with this character but to also tap into Halley's sense of anger
and sacrifice," explains Vinaite.
Says Baker: "I think audiences will be able to see past Halley's
and see a parent who will do anything for her child and hopefully care for her
no matter what. Bria brought such realism and truth to the character that I
don't see how that will not be the case."
To help her prepare, Baker introduced Vinaite to several moms like Halley. "I
listened to their stories and it truly showed me how real this situation Halley
and Moonee are in is for people," she says. "These women are going through
an epic struggle every day, and I really appreciated the fact that they were so
honest with me. It really hits you that even though these moms are struggling
their kids are so happy and loved."
Perhaps the biggest task for Vinaite was forging with Prince the same bouncy,
BFF kind of
link Halley has with Moonee. The two spent a lot of time together to foster that
"Brooklynn was very, very open to building a relationship with me," Vinaite
says. "I think what
really helped is that we both liked each other from day one. So that made it
easy for us to have
a very real relationship. On set, we just hung out together every day. We ate
lunch together, we
played Pokemon, we did everything together."
"Bria was an amazing friend," adds Prince. "Every day she would give me a big
hug first thing.
Then we would Snapchat and send each other pics and I felt like we really
bonded. We were
like cake and icing."
Willem Dafoe's Bobby: More Than a Motel Manager
While Halley and Moonee teeter, however buoyantly, on
the precipice every single day, the film's grounding force
is found in one of its most moving characters: Bobby,
the Magic Castle motel manager. Bobby quietly and
unassumingly makes a major difference in their lives
simply by trying to do his next-to-impossible job with
some modicum of care, compassion and proficiency.
Bobby would never think of himself even remotely as
any sort of hero, but he nevertheless saves people every
day in small ways.
The character is anchored in real lives. "Bobby came
about as an amalgamation of a few motel managers that
we met while in development," Baker explains. "I noticed
a common thread: a sincere caring for the tenants of
their motels, even while trying to maintain a professional
relationship with them. I also noticed that there was almost
a reluctant parental figure in these managers - reluctant
because they wanted to look after their residents, yet knew
they might also be in the position of 'evicting' a family."
To cast Bobby, Baker switched gears, bringing in one
of today's most accomplished, versatile actors: Willem
Dafoe. A two-time Academy Award nominee, Dafoe is
known for a sweeping range of roles from Jesus in The
Last Temptation to The Green Goblin in the Spider-Man
movies to Platoon, Shadow of the Vampire, Finding Nemo
and Antichrist, to name just a smattering. He'd never
played anyone quite like Bobby though, and brought
characteristic commitment to creating something indelible.
"Willem came to town a week prior to shooting and began
meeting some of the motel managers," says Baker. "I feel
he truly achieved that reluctant paternal attitude I was
looking for. It's incredibly subtle and that's exactly what
was needed. Willem has the ability to leave the audience
wanting more in the best of ways, wanting to know more
about this character, wanting to hear Bobby's thoughts."
Dafoe has a knack for leaving space in his characters for
the audience to connect with in their own ways, something
he cultivates. "I don't know what a role is until I've played
it, and even then it's for the audience to decide who the
character is. I want to be and inhabit the character, not
explain who he is," he says.
His take on Bobby is that of a working man doing his best,
no matter his flaws. "I suppose he's not an exceptional
person but Bobby's struggle to make the best of a lessthan-ideal
environment was interesting to explore," Dafoe
comments. "It's not a dramatic or romanticized heroism
he brings, but the quiet everyday compassion of a flawed
but decent person."
When Dafoe spent time with a real-life Florida motel
manager, that view only deepened. "It was very fruitful,"
he recalls. "I talked to him about his past, his feeling for
his work, pumped him for details and anecdotes. From
that meeting an image of Bobby started to form in my
imagination and I could also concretely draw on his dress
and manner." He notes that the research had to be done
with great sensitivity. "The residents of the motels are
hoping for a better tomorrow and they really don't want to
talk about today or worse, the past. I wanted to respect
their privacy. I didn't want to swoop down as a Hollywood
Nevertheless, what he took in was revelatory. "I learned
many things but perhaps the most haunting was that
almost every hotel resident I met seemed shocked that
they were in the situation they were in. They live on a
slippery slope and it's so easy to fall through the cracks."
While a multiplicity of personal drives lie behind Bobby's
day-to-day maintenance, one in particular stands
out: pride. "I think his pride in the motel is a key to his
personality," says Dafoe. "Bobby lives in the hotel, too; he's
part of their community. He is in a position of authority
and has an income and that sets him apart, but you get
the idea his personal life is essentially non-existent. Work
is his life. I always felt he had a troubled past and this
job was his chance to have a sense of security. And while
he may have his judgments and frustrations, he rarely
condescends to the residents. They're his people. He takes
care with them."
Bobby's backstory remains largely mysterious, a blank for
viewers to fill in with their own imagining, and Dafoe likes
it that way. "I feel if you are too interested in a backstory
there's a tendency to point to a character's history rather
than live it. But I always work with the basic premise of
'If my life was different I could be this guy,'" he explains.
"Of course, as you make external choices on things such
as costume and mannerisms, you are building conditions
and indications of where he comes from. Once you make
those decisions you start to inhabit them. For example,
the jewelry that I chose, in this case a cross, isn't a
profound choice but as you wear it starts to create a back
story: Is Bobby religious? Did he have a troubled past that
drove him to religion? With each question you start to form
The biggest question mark of casting Dafoe was how
the non-actors and new actors surrounding him would
be able to bounce off his honed skills. For Baker, it was
a thrill. "I love combining seasoned actors with firsttimers,"
says the director. "It requires an incredibly skilled
and transformative actor to be able to blend in with fresh
faces. But of course Willem has that capability. I felt
Vinaite says she was extremely anxious about working
with Dafoe ... right up until she met him. "He was so
surprising because he was so humble and didn't act like
some big famous person," she says. "Even when he didn't
have to, he'd hang out on set with us, and he gave me
good advice. One thing he told me is that if you doubt
yourself, others can see it, so even if you're not feeling it on
a certain day, always just drill it in your head that you are.
Whenever I had a hard scene, I would think of that and
give it everything."
As for what Halley thinks of Bobby, Vinaite says: "So
much of their relationship depends on whether she can
pay her rent that week. Willem made it all so believable.
In one scene he yelled at my character so hard that my lip
started to quiver."
Says Dafoe of how he blended in with the cast: "I've
always aspired to be the kind of actor who when people
see you on the screen they don't think you're an actor. Of
course, after you've done many movies it's hard to have
people not have some associations with you, but I like to
try to undermine those associations."
That also meant being fully open to learning from his costars.
"Non-actors are often free of the showiness, egotism,
arrogance, and strut that actors sometimes fall prey to. I
tried to learn from them, be like them, fit in their world,
and pass. Sometimes it actually makes the scenes more
mysterious and compelling because you have to approach
them with a 'beginner's mind' and not simply apply a craft
to a design. You are forced to reinvent your process, which
is something I always welcome," says Dafoe.
Dafoe especially worked to define Bobby's relationship
with Halley, who has an unabashed love for freedom he
both admires and worries over. "It's a real love-hate
relationship, complex and contradictory," he observes.
"Halley is the problem child, the thorn in his side. But at
the same time he has sympathy for her and worries about
her. There are also some traces of moral judgment and
some envy - because she's a free spirit who answers to no
one, while his life is all about making amends and taking
responsibility. I think he also feels compassion for her and
tries to give her a break whenever he can, but he feels so
played by her force of personality and manipulation that
he's also very tough on her."
Baker was a constant inspiration. "Sean really invited me
to collaborate. He's a courageous filmmaker, demanding
yet soft spoken, gentle and receptive. His aesthetic of
balancing the real with the created taps into what the
strength of film is: imagery, poetry, music and event. He's
always searching for the truth."
He hopes audiences will be stirred by the truth of these
characters that you might not usually see, but become
so inviting. "I think audiences will have fun seeing this
world through the eyes of children, but at the same time I
hope questions are evoked by the narrative about why the
American Dream works for some and not for others, and
what our social and moral responsibility is to the people it
leaves behind," he says.
Sums up Dafoe in a statement with which the whole cast
concurs: "I recall the whole experience of The Florida
Project less like a movie than an adventure."
Cinematic realism has come in many different flavors -- from the neorealism
that churned in Italy after
WWII, characterized by working class themes, non-pro actors and found locations,
to the "direct cinema"
movement of the 60s with its fly-on-the-wall slices of real life, to the
so-called neo-neorealism of
stripped-down indie American cinema in the new millennium.
But Baker's style blurs the lines between realism and a pop art sensibility
that elevates the mundane into
the spectacular. Once, a critic dubbed Baker's style "pop verite" and it's a
name he likes. "The style of
The Florida Project is definitely based in realism but it is slightly
heightened. We subtly accentuate colors
and sounds to emulate the heightened senses of youth," he says.
Baker's previous film, Tangerine, was shot on an iPhone but on this film he
did a 180, bringing in awardwinning
Mexican cinematographer Alexis Zabe to shoot on celluloid. Named one of
Cinematographers To Watch," Zabe is perhaps best known in the U.S. for shooting
video for "Happy," but is equally renowned to cineastes for Carlos Reygadas'
Silent Light and Post
Tenebras Lux. "I love his naturalistic lighting and framing choices," says
To get to know each other, the two collaborated first on a short created for
the Kenzo spring line shot in
the famed Slab City trailer park. "I knew I wanted to shoot anamorphic 35mm for
this film and Alexis was
not only experienced with this medium but had a very unique and sophisticated
approach. We shot the
fashion film together to test the waters and things went swimmingly. He then
agreed to sign on to The
Zabe describes the look he was after in one simple phrase: "blueberry ice
cream with a sour twist."
Sums up Baker: "I love that Alexis had the instinct from the very start to look
for the beauty and warmth
in each scene. It would have been so easy to make this a cold film because of
the subject matter, but
positivity shines through in his cinematography. He nailed the youthful nature
of the kids."
The Florida Project's use of the local landscape, with its blend of tropical
flora and plastic exotica, only
adds to the atmosphere. "Some of the credit must be given to Florida itself.
There is a Floridian palette
and a kind of light there that is undeniable. The pinks, greens and purples
seemed to be everywhere,"
Baker retired to the editing room with the footage himself - he serves as
editor on all his films. "For my
work, editing is 50% of directing," he elucidates. "Because there is
improvisation in front of as well as
behind the camera, I like to be the one deciding what works. It gives the film
my signature. I like to jump
right into a fine cut and skip the assemblage and rough-cut stages. I will
completely edit a scene and do
preliminary sound design before moving on to the next scene because the style of
one scene can dictate
the style of the next."
One key choice Baker made was to bookend his film with two versions of Kool &
The Gang's anthem
"Celebration," which seemed right in tune with Moonee's spirit, if not her
situation. "I'm so happy that
Kool & the Gang granted us permission to use their iconic song," says Baker.
Celebration and a pendulum of emotions broke out when the film first
premiered at the 2017 Cannes
Film Festival, gratifying a cast and crew who had come to love their characters
like a family. Recalls
Vinaite: "When they turned the lights up at Cannes, I was crying and literally
every person in my row
was crying. It was so powerful to see how much the film truly touched people.
Honestly, I think that will
always be the best day of the rest of my life. I'm so thankful Sean has put this
story out into the world."
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