An exclusive interview with writer/director Sean Baker, the man behind the acclaimed iPhone shot Tangerine and the 11-minute fashion film by Kenzo Snowbird
After you success with Tangerine you've worked with Kenzo on their next fashion film.
How did this collaboration come about? Can you tell us anything about the creative concept?
I was approached by Kenzo. I think someone on their team liked Tangerine and they reached out to me. I was itching to direct again and the fashion film format was perfect to relieve that itch. It provided a chance for experimentation and this was exactly what I was looking for.
I just happen to be thinking about shooting something in Slab City, CA when I was asked to do this project.
When I was on the phone with Kenzo, I mentioned Slab City and it just happened to be that Carol Lim and Humberto Leon already had an image of Slab City on their mood board... so it was serendipity.
Once I realized we were all on the same page and they were willing to give me creative freedom, I thought of a narrative that I thought had some universal themes... love and loneliness.
In terms of creative freedom, how much did you have to compromise? What is your approach to fashion film?
I honestly didn't have to compromise at all. I wrote a treatment and presented it to Kenzo. They were supportive in every way. My approach was simply to incorporate the clothing line in the most organic way possible and focus on the characters and story.
I was attempting a hybrid between narrative and documentary which is risky because one is ever quite sure what we will get on set.
Luckily, we found unique and colorful residents of Slab City who were generous enough to not only act in our film but open their homes to us.
Heidi Bivens who was the film's wardrobe stylist did a wonderful job at choosing the outfits for each character. The wardrobe really blends in nicely and organically. And the piece that Abbey Lee wears really pops and defines her character.
" I thought of a narrative that I thought had some universal themes... love and loneliness"
The film is once again entirely shot on an i-Phone. What would you say the advantages and disadvantages are?
Yes, I realized that the iPhone was even more appropriate for this project than Tangerine. While Mya Taylor and Kiki Rodriguez were aspiring actresses, the residents of Slab City that we were casting in Snowbird were complete nonprofessionals.
The iPhone lowered inhibitions and raised the confidence level of those who would normally be intimidated by a traditional camera. I believe that this affected things greatly.
I captured some candid moments that I could not have with any other sort of camera. The only disadvantage is the lower quality lens and the fact that it is so small.
Depth of field is affected greatly but if one embraces that image quality, then everything is fine.
Mobile has been something on the rise for some time.
Do you know of other brands or filmmakers using mobile to produce high-quality films? How do you think this medium is going to develop?
There are other filmmakers taking advantage of the cameras on mobile phones. There was just another Sundance film that was largely shot on the iPhone.
So yes, i do see it as something that will continue as long as the technological advancements continue to improve these devices.
The medium will simply develop in an organic way... filmmakers and videographers figuring out new ways to exploit mobile cameras.
What are the next steps for you? How do you see your career develop?
I'll be attempting another feature film in the same wheelhouse of social-realism, this time focusing on children living in Florida. I'm looking to shoot in Summer 2016.
Shooting Snowbird was actually invaluable to me because I was able to experiment and gauge if this style is appropriate for a future feature or TV program.
Plus, I had a great team of cast and crew that I would like to work with again.
In the end, I would like to continue side projects like fashion films because quite honestly, I see them as additions to my filmography. I'm proud to put Snowbird up next to my features. I certainly took it just as seriously. Photo credit: Augusta Quirk.
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