Filmmaker Sean Baker on his creative process

Girl running, The Florida Project / Link to the film's website

If you haven’t seen The Florida Project starring Willem Dafoe, Brooklynn Prince, Valeria Cotto and Bria Vinaite, run don’t walk to your nearest cinema now!

The film is a delightful exploration of childhood and its inherent ability to delight in adventures while everything and everyone is crumbling around them.

Moonee (played by Brooklynn Prince) is the six-year-old star who’s our guide to the motel characters and events existing in the shadow of Disney’s Magic Kingdom in Florida. At the same time, the film shows the consequences of the housing crisis in the US.

On Saturday, I took the opportunity to hear director Sean Baker speak at a BAFTA event. Baker first came to my attention with his film Tangerine – shot on an iPhone (which, he said, had more to do with budgetary restrictions than innovation.)

Baker sees himself as a screenwriter. He writes at three stages of the film – (1) the writing phase where he inserts direction for himself; (2) the director role where he gives his actors the opportunity to improvise and re-work his scripts so they’re more authentic in their performance; and (3) the editing stage where he can move the action around to suit the story.


For me, Baker is a wonderful inspiration. He does creative work differently. Although he sees himself in the tradition of directors like the UK’s Ken Loach, he thinks about his American audience and what they’ll tolerate in political films.

Further insights and inspirations from the talk:

(1) Baker works with the communities he writes about. For Tangerine, he really immersed himself in the world. In the research stage, he found people who wanted their stories told. He looks upon these people as his collaborators.

(2) He always has the end in mind, even though he’s respectfully listened to the stories of his research subjects. He knows where he wants to end up, even though the characters may change as they did in The Florida Project – he knew the closing scene.

(3) Baker was profoundly influenced by British documentary The Great Happiness Space about host boys in an Osaka club. He loves that the character reveal at about the mid point makes audiences re-evaluate their perceptions and challenge their role and place in society. He’s adopted this in all of his films because he believes it has the maximum impact.

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I love hearing creatives speak about their work, their motivations for telling the story and assisting them to create their own authentic voice.

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