EDITORS NOTE: This is part of a series of interviews, conducted via email, profiling directors of films nominated for the John Cassavetes Award or Best First Feature Award at the 2009 Independent Spirit Awards.
Director Sean Baker’s films “Take Out” and “Prince of Broadway” are both nominees for the John Cassavetes Award at the 2009 Independent Spirit Awards.
From the Independent Spirit Awards website: “Prince of Broadway” is the story of Lucky and Levon, two men whose lives converge in the underbelly of New York’s wholesale fashion district. Lucky, an illegal immigrant from Ghana, makes ends meet by soliciting shoppers on the street with knock-off brand merchandise. Levon, an Armenian-Lebanese immigrant, operates an illegal storefront with a concealed back room where counterfeit goods are showcased to interested shoppers. Lucky’s world is suddenly turned upside down when a child is thrust into his life by a woman who insists the toddler is his son. While Lucky copes with his new domestic dilemma, Levon struggles to save a marriage that is falling apart. The seedy side of the wholesale district is revealed through a journey that continually confronts the interplay between what is fake and what is real.
“Take Out” is a day-in-the-life of Ming Ding, an illegal Chinese immigrant working as a deliveryman for a Chinese take-out shop in New York City. Ming is behind with payments on his huge debt to the smugglers who brought him to the United States. The collectors have given him until the end of the day to deliver the money that is due. After borrowing most of the money from friends and relatives, Ming realizes that the remainder must come from the day’s delivery tips. In order to do so, he must make more than double his average daily income.
What were the circumstances that lead you to become a filmmaker?
I have been a cinephile for years. Graduated NYU for film and have been working in the industry ever since. Co-Created a television show called “Greg the Bunny” that opened many doors for me.
Please discuss the project that you have been nominated for a Spirit Award for. How or what prompted the idea for the film and how did it evolve?
My films “Take Out” and “Prince of Broadway” are competing against each other for the John Cassavetes Award. Both films stem from the desire to explore New York City and the lives of those who go unnoticed by mainstream culture and society. “Take Out” evolved once we were able meet actual undocumented workers who shared their stories with us. “Prince of Broadway” began with the desire to shoot in the wholesale district and evolved after spending many months doing research there.
What were some of the biggest challenges you faced in developing the project?
Too many to list. Right now, the challenge to find “Take Out” proper home entertainment distribution and “Prince” any distribution at all, has proved itself to be the most frustrating, hair-pulling and downright emasculating challenge associated with the making of both films.
Please describe your experience of finding out you were nominated for a Spirit Award…
About 10 simultaneous instant messages. It was great.
What were some your favorite independent films of 2008?
“Let the Right One In,” “Slumdog Millionaire,” “The Fall,” “Silent Light.”
How do you define “independent film” and how has this definition changed for you personally throughout your career?
John Cassavetes defines indie filmmaking and hopefully that definition never changes.
What’s next for you?
A family drama that takes place in Taipei Count, Taiwan. It is called “Left-Handed Girl” and it will be co-directed by Shih-Ching Tsou (“Take Out”).