Q&A with Sean Baker of Starlet

Q&A with Sean Baker of Starlet

Tell us about Starlet

Starlet is my fourth feature film. It explores the unlikely cross-generational friendship between 21 year-old Jane (Dree Hemingway), and the elderly Sadie (Besedka Johnson), two women whose worlds collide in California's San Fernando Valley.

What was the filming of it like? And was it a smooth shoot?

Our budget was 250k which is a tiny budget even in the indie film world.  In an effort to make this film as slick as possible for that budget, we had to employ guerrilla tactics in order to put every dollar up on the screen.  So there was much "run and gun" and some uncomfortable moments... but for the most part, we had a nice small family that worked great together. My dog was the only diva... he demanded his own trailer.. which was my air-conditioned car. 

You have a couple of remarkable lead actresses. Could you tell us a bit how you went about casting the film?

Dree came to us through her manager Allan Mindel, who is known for discovering fresh talent.  I cast her after an hour long video chat session without even having her read for the role.  Her sensibilities, demeanor and physicality sold me.

As far as Besedka goes, I wanted to cast a star from yester year... a "starlet" from another era.  Although we came close, we were having difficulty finding someone for Sadie. We were only 3 to 4 weeks from production and we were beginning to stress.  Shih-Ching Tsou (co-director of TAKE OUT), is one of the executive producers on STARLET went to the local YMCA to work-out.  She texted me from the gym locker room that she thought she found our actress.  Shih-Ching spoke to Besedka and asked her to audition.  Besedka thought she was being scammed at first but agreed to meet.  At her audition, she expressed to us that she lived in LA for most of her life and always dreamed of acting in a film but never had the chance.

What’s the best reaction you’ve had to a film of yours from an audience member?

Good question... A woman in Mar Del Plata, Argentina came up to me after a screening. She asked me how Chris Bergoch (co-screenwwriter) and I were able to write for the role of Sadie, an octogenarian who had much loss in her life. She told me that she had gone through a similar loss and thought we captured the nuances of that character perfectly. I told her that most of the credit goes to Besedka Johnson who understood her character in and out and brought her to life.

Another time, an audience member stood up and said he worked in the California adult film industry. He complimented us by saying that this is the most accurate depiction of the  industry he had ever seen.

Conversely, what’s been the worst?

I heard through the grapevine that one prominent festival programmer felt that the film fails by not showing the long term negative consequences of sex work. To do that would have directly contradicted our attempt to depict these young people as individuals with daily routines, hopes and dreams... not just people defined by their work.

Starlet won the Special Jury Prize at the SXSW Film Festival ; what kind of impact does a reward like that have on your career?

Every prize is a step forward and one more boost to help get the film out to audiences. That particular award was a recognition of Besedka Johnson's performance. She 100% deserved it and I'm so happy for her.

What’s next for you?

One very mainstream black comedy/thriller that Chris Bergoch and I are in the midst of writing. Plus, a couple of indies in which I am currently seeking financing. So hey, if any of your readers want to make a film with me... let's talk!

By the way, we are on Facebook and twitter 

Thanks so much



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