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EXCLUSIVE CLIP & Interview with 'Starlet' Director Sean Baker on Keeping it Vérité with Dree Hemingway

Thompson on Hollywood By Sophia Savage | Thompson on Hollywood November 9, 2012 at 2:04PM

Sean Baker's second feature, "Prince of Broadway," a micro-budget vérité film shot in New York City's wholesale fashion district, won a slew of festival awards after its debut at the Los Angeles Film Festival in 2008 (winning Best Narrative Feature) and landed on many Best of 2010 lists...
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Starlet, Dree & Besedka

Sean Baker's second feature, "Prince of Broadway," a micro-budget vérité film shot in New York City's wholesale fashion district, won a slew of festival awards after its debut at the Los Angeles Film Festival in 2008 (winning Best Narrative Feature) and landed on many Best of 2010 lists (including The Envelope). We interviewed Baker along with "Prince of Broadway" presenter Lee Daniels in 2010. Now, the director's third feature, "Starlet," opens in NY and LA following its festival run which began at SXSW.

Check out an exclusive clip below, along with our interview with Baker on the making of "Starlet." He affirms that while the film may look a bit flashier (he handed over camera duties to cinematographer Radium Cheung and got Ernest Hemingway's great-granddaughter to star), his style is still guerilla.

On the surface, "Starlet" is a different flavor from "Prince of Broadway," but it rings as true to its own novel environment and characters. As with "Prince," it allows audiences to feel its pulse as it unfolds.

The Synopsis: "Starlet" explores the unlikely friendship between 21 year-old Jane (Dree Hemingway), and 85 year-old Sadie (Besedka Johnson), two women whose worlds collide in California's San Fernando Valley. Jane spends her time getting high with her dysfunctional roommates, Melissa and Mikey, while taking care of her Chihuahua, Starlet. Sadie, an elderly widow, passes her days alone, tending to her flower garden. After a confrontation between the two women at Sadie's yard sale, Jane uncovers a hidden stash of money inside a relic from Sadie's past. Jane attempts to befriend the caustic older woman in an effort to solve her dilemma and secrets emerge as their relationship grows.

[This interview was original published in March during SXSW]

Sophia Savage: What's changed since our interview for "Prince of Broadway"?

Sean Baker: The biggest change has been that I left NYC and moved to Los Angeles.  And it is all because of the weather.  I believe that human beings shouldn't live in climates that they cannot survive naked...and New York, although full of energy and heart, does not fall within that rubric.

What was the inspiration for "Starlet"?

"Starlet" comes from two ideas wrapped in to one.  For over ten years, I had a treatment sitting on the back burner.  It was entitled "Bric-a-Brac" and it was about a 20 year-old woman who finds a large amount of money in a thermos purchased at a yard sale and instead of keeping it or immediately returning it... she befriends the elderly women who sold her the thermos to assess if she needs or deserves the money back.  "Harold and Maude" was most definitely on my mind. However, like "Prince of Broadway," some of its inspiration stemmed from an "Our Gang" short.  This time around, it was a short entitled "Second Childhood" directed by the vastly underrated Gus Meins. In it, the gang gives an abrasive and lonely elderly woman a new outlook on life.

The second idea came from living in Los Angeles in 2010.  "Starlet"'s co-writer, Chris Bergoch, and I worked on an MTV show together.  It was a comedy show that I co-created called "Warren The Ape." MTV was targeting 16 to 20 year old guys... so of course we were casting a lot of porn stars to please our demographic.  The more we worked with these women and glimpsed behind the facade of their XXX personas, we slowly came to see that their personal lives were about as unglamorous as the rest of ours.  I had the idea to shoot a very small vérité type film about a day in the life of a "starlet" focused on a day in which she wasn't working.  Chris and I started spit-balling ideas and he suggested combining my "Bric-a-Brac" plot with this newer concept and "Starlet" was born.

This article is related to: Interviews, Interviews , Sean Baker, South By Southwest Film Conference and Festival (SXSW), SXSW, Directors, Genres, Indies


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Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.