Thursday, October 22, 2009

Sean Baker on "Take Out"

What was your filmmaking background before you made Take Out?

SEAN: I went to NYU and got my bachelors in Film & TV studies. Shortly after graduating, I made a film called Four Letter Words. I raised the money to make it on 35mm by luckily landing a few commercial gigs for a toy manufacturer. It is a look at college age suburban males. I know that sounds trite but my goal at the time (1995) was to tackle the subject in a different way than other films had. I felt that most films went for flat out comedy when covering this topic. I wanted to focus on the realism; drawn out conversation, the awkward moments, etc.

I lost my way in the post-production and it took four long years to find the right cut. Matt Dentler and Bryan Poyser at SXSW championed the film and it made its premiere there in 2000. Vanguard Cinema put in out on DVD shortly after. I'm quite aware of the faults of the film but I'm still glad I made it. I feel I had to get that film out of my system before exploring other subjects.

During post-production on Four Letter Words, a public-access show that I co-created, called Junktape, got picked up by IFC and renamed Greg the Bunny. Greg the Bunny has had several incarnations over the years, going to Fox and then back to IFC. We are currently embarking on a whole new incarnation (but I can't go in to detail on that in fear of jinxing it.)

I met Shih-Ching in 1999 at the New School where she was getting her Masters in Media Studies. We decided to make Take Out in the summer of 2003.

Where did the idea come from?

SEAN: Shih-Ching and I were living above a Chinese restaurant. We watched the deliverymen coming and going all day and wondered about how NYC looked through their eyes. Shih-ching began conversing with them and we soon realized that there was an important story to be told about the daily struggle of one of these individuals.

What was your process for co-writing the script?

SEAN: Shih-Ching and I wrote the script together in English. She then translated the dialogue to Mandarin. We referred to both scripts while shooting. I could follow the actors line by line so both Shih-Ching and I could judge the actor's delivery and the scene's pacing.

How did you finance the film and what did you learn in that process?

SEAN: We were barely paying rent at the time so we paid for things in piecemeal. I was doing freelance editing and Shih-Ching was a freelance graphic artist. As checks came in, we paid out. We learned that it's still possible to beg, borrow and steal.

What sort of camera did you use? What was good about it? What was not so good?

SEAN: We used the Sony PD-150 which was the standard SD miniDV camera being used at that time for indie films. It was an amazing camera for light sensitivity. Besides not being HD, the drawback was that it did not have a 24p mode. So I had to de-interlace the video footage in order to give it a more filmic look.

And, finally, what did you learn from making the film that you can take to other projects?

SEAN: First and foremost, Take Out caused me to fall in love with shooting urban-based dramatic realism. It was the catalyst for my follow-up film Prince of Broadway.

Take Out forced us to improvise as filmmakers and accept limitations as blessings. Instead of fearing the unknown, we were excited by it and welcomed it. This led to countless 'happy accidents' that we are so grateful for.

This attitude of accepting chaos with open arms is something that I brought to Prince and will continue to take to other projects no matter how large of a production it may be.

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