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LAFF ’08 INTERVIEW | “Prince of Broadway” Director Sean Baker

LAFF '08 INTERVIEW | "Prince of Broadway" Director Sean Baker

[EDITOR’S NOTE: indieWIRE is profiling the Narrative and Documentary Competition filmmakers who are screening their films at the Los Angeles Film Festival as world premieres.]

Screening in the Narrative Competition at the Los Angeles Film Festival, Sean Baker‘s “Prince of Broadway” follows Lucky, a New York merchandise hustler and Ghanaian immigrant who unexpectedly becomes a single father. Co-written by Darren Dean, the film stars Prince Adu, Karren Karaguilian and Aiden Noesi. indieWIRE talked to Baker about the film and its premiere at LAFF.

What was the inspiration for this film?

I just finished a film called “Take Out” (currently in limited theatrical release by Cavu Pictures). Making that film made me realize that I wanted to continue on the path of making social-realist films set in an urban landscape. The wholesale district in NYC is the most energetic, colorful part of Manhattan. So I knew for awhile that I wanted to make a film that took place there. At first, I wanted to write a story about the rivalry between two shop owners on Broadway but as soon as we began research on the project, it transformed in to something completely different. One day, while making rounds in the area and interviewing some of the West African hustlers who make their money selling counterfeit goods, I came across Prince Adu. He was the first person who showed genuine interest in what I was doing and within a couple of minutes expressed to me that he wanted to act and bring the story of a west African immigrant to the screen. “Take Out” focuses on an undocumented Chinese immigrant in NYC, so I was reluctant to tackle another immigrant story out of fear that I would be covering the same territory. But Prince’s personality grew on me very quickly and within a couple of weeks, I knew he had to be one of the leads in the film.

Next came finding a plot. Even though I’ve lived in Manhattan for close to 20 years, every time I entered the wholesale district, I felt that I was experiencing the city for the first time… almost through the eyes of a child. I was quite aware of this feeling that the district gave me and realized that placing a child in the center of this chaos would not only be dramatic but hopefully get the audience to experience the area the way I do. I asked Darren Dean, a friend and fellow filmmaker, to come aboard and co-write the screenplay with me

Please elaborate on your approach to making the film…

Financial constraints dictated that this feature be shot on HD instead of film. I am comfortable shooting HD myself plus it allowed us to have minimal equipment on set. I intentionally complied a skeleton crew so that the non-professionals acting in the film wouldn’t be intimidated by a large group of people. It was key that the crew be a comfortable, close knit family in which everyone could contribute ideas and actors had the room to experiment freely.

I feel that dialogue always sounds the most natural when an actor has not memorized it. So, improvisation was not only encouraged but necessary because the shooting script was complete in plot only…. a beat sheet was given to the actors and dialogue was intentionally left out of the script so that we could develop it on set.

What were some of the biggest challenges you faced in making the film?

One would think the child would be the biggest challenge but Aiden Noesi was an absolute pleasure to work with. My real problem were the adults. I was making a film about hustlers using real hustlers…. so I was hustled on a daily basis. I’m not referring to Prince Adu but to others who work the district. Darren, the film’s producer as well as co-screenwriter, and I were trying to make a film in the midst of constantly dealing with trying to slow down the out-going flow of cash. It was one of the most stressful periods of my life.

What are your goals for the Los Angeles Film Festival?

I would like the Los Angeles Film Festival to give “Prince of Broadway” a good launch in to a successful festival run. It is also an opportunity to show that this film will not just appeal to New Yorkers. True, “Prince of Broadway” is a real NYC film but its themes are universal. Love, family and friendship are the true themes of the film.

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