The Florida Project has garnered much praise for Sean Baker’s visionary directing, his screenplay with Chris Bergoch, and the cast’s Oscar-worthy performances. (Baker dug into his process with us a few weeks ago.) But what about the people who assemble all those elements and make sure they reach their full potential? We spoke to its mostly-female team of producers (a rarity!) about how they got where they are, Hollywood’s gender gap, and the many roles they each play.
What advice would you give to a writer or director looking for financial support for a project?
Samantha Quan: Make it. Make what you love and believe in. Don’t wait until you get the hundreds of thousands of dollars (or millions) you think you need. Just keep creating and make your project. There are ways to do it with smartphones and favors and great people you know, and thinking outside of the box. You can do it!!! Keep creating and eventually people will come to you with money.
Francesca Silvestri: If you are a writer, spend time making a script great. If you are a director, make sure you have a strong, clear point-of-view and know what you want to say and how you want to say it. And then network your ass off.
Shih-Ching Tsou: Pitch stories that are close to your heart that you are passionate about. Show and prove the relevancy of your stories to make timely films.
Dani Johnson: I would encourage writers and directors who are looking for financing to stay open to the various ways their project can be best executed. The biggest financial offer to get your film made doesn’t always mean that’s what’s best for the film. I’ve worked with directors who have turned down bigger financing opportunities so that they didn’t have to sacrifice their creative freedom and overall vision. Again, the marriage of business and art is a partnership, and I think it’s critical that writers and directors consider business partners that respect the overall vision and process in order to accomplish the common goal. And for those who are still trying to establish themselves, Sean Baker is such a great, self-made example of why it’s important to go create with whatever resources you have available at the time. Jon Fusco from the No Film School Podcast did a great interview with Sean on this exact subject, and I encourage anyone who is on this path to take a listen: Why You Need to Invest in Yourself When No One Else Will.
Alex Saks: Focus on the work. It’s all about the work. If the work is really, truly great, the financing will eventually come. If it’s not coming, go back to the work. You’re not done yet.
What is the role of a producer on a job like The Florida Project?
Alex Saks: Producing on a film like The Florida Project is, like producing any movie, a feat of epic proportions.
Samantha Quan: When there are problems, producers fix them. When things are going smoothly they should be anticipating what may come up in the future. Producers find themselves helping with anything from casting to late night story meetings to being in scenes that need a character. There is no job too big or too small.
Shih-Ching Tsou: Like working on all other Sean Baker’s films, being a producer is like working as a researcher and a documentarian. At the very beginning of the story development phase, I went down to Florida with Sean and Chris to interview people who work and live in motels, and to talk to social workers at community centers and find out how they help motel residents on a daily basis. After the script was finished, all the details in the script needed to be thoroughly fact-checked to make sure everything is truthfully portrayed in the film. We mostly filmed at real locations while the businesses were still running, so making sure our production did not interrupt their business or intervene with the lives of the motel residents was important. A few of the scenes were shot clandestinely on the streets, so chasing after pedestrians for signed releases was the norm.
What kinds of stories do you look to produce? What draws you to a project?
Samantha Quan: We have the unique ability to entertain, to educate, to move, to involve. The stories we tell can reveal how we are all human and that we are not alone—those are the stories that draw me in. There also has to be some joy in the story. Without joy, what fun is that?
Dani Johnson: For me, it’s all about the message: What are we teaching society to value and pay attention to through visual storytelling and entertainment? Film, TV, and media are such powerful influencers in our global culture, and using that platform to bring awareness, to educate, and to create empathy is the reason I pursued this path to begin with. Producing a project from development to sales and distribution is no easy feat. It takes immense passion and dedication to hunker down and shuffle the paperwork, stay organized, and make sure your director and crew feel supported for the entirety of that one-two year (minimum) commitment. Knowing that I am working on a project that challenges the way our culture sees itself, inspires action, or empowers others, is what lets me sleep at night and makes me excited to wake up and hustle in the morning.
Alex Saks: As a viewer, I want to be challenged, confronted, questioned and inspired by the content I watch. I want my perspective altered. I want to see something I’ve never seen before. I want to laugh and cry and not be able to catch my breath. So that’s what I try to make.