When Sean Baker was figuring out how to shoot his fifth feature “Tangerine,” he was afraid he had so little money that his career was going backward. But as often happens in moviemaking, necessity was the mother of invention. And the technology that he was worried would prove a limitation became a virtue.
Backed by the Duplass Brothers, “Tangerine” was shot in L.A. on the iPhone 5S (three of them, constantly recharging) equipped with a holding rig and a brand new anamorphic lens. Sound was shot in the standard way. And Baker played with the digital images in post-production to enhance them.
He figured how how best to use the iPhones as he went along, shooting up close rather than far away, as many cinema verite movies do using long telephoto lenses. “We have to be thinking of it as creating our own aesthetic,” he told his tiny crew. So they tried to exploit the iPhone’s ability to move more freely than bigger cameras. Thus the movie is unlike anything you’ve seen before.
And while “Tangerine” deals with what could be a heavy subject–the often sordid and dangerous lives of transgender prostitutes in Los Angeles– Baker tells his love story with a light touch. He lucked out with his two rookie actresses. He first cast singer Mya Taylor, making her screen debut (he had to let her sing in the movie, which she does, memorably), followed by another rookie, Kitana Kiki Rodriguez, a health-care worker who has always wanted to act. Well–they are both naturals as two best friends bickering on Christmas Eve. And they play such different characters that they bounce off each other in a most entertaining way.
Baker admits in our Flipcam interview below that he didn’t know if the two women could carry off pages of dialogue but soon realized that they were terrific performers and workshopped with them at length, Mike Leigh-style, before shooting.
“Tangerine” marks a major departure for Baker from his last two features “Prince of Broadway” and “Starlet,” and he need not fear that he took a step backward with this micro-budget film (well under $500,000). The movie looks great on the big screen, hit big at Sundance and was picked up by Magnolia Pictures, which starts releasing it in theaters July 10th.
We dig into how Baker made the film and that fab bicycle shot below.