the florida project

You’ve mentioned that the ’08 recession and the housing crisis were the villains of the film. How do you go about making a film about these issues without being a polemic?

[Spoiler warning for this paragraph.] We actually did, Chris and I, cover ourselves. We wrote scenes that were detailed. I’m not going to say they focused on that specifically, but they did focus on the procedural aspects. Especially the end with the child being taken away from the parent by Child Services. We actually shot scenes that explained it, that broke it down to the exact procedure. But ultimately, we shot it for safety just in case but we didn’t use it because we didn’t need it.

It was all about getting the audience to a place where they were with the kids first and foremost. They are spending the summer with the kids. We’re playing with how much the kids would actually be aware of the circumstances around them in the situation they were in. Of course, that’s a subjective thing, and you can’t be 100% sure of how much children are absorbing or how much they are aware. But we wanted to play with that in the style of the film, treating the audience like they were one of the gang.

I think audiences are also smart. They know. You don’t have to feed them every single thing. They bring a certain amount of knowledge to a theater when they’re watching a film.

When you went down to Florida to do the research, how much were you letting what you encountered guide the narrative? So much of what I saw didn’t strike me as obvious, like the pedophile walking the grounds, for example.

There are sex offenders who live in those motels. There are cases of pedophilia down there. The area attracts pedophiles, which is a very disturbing but very real thing. When we spoke to residents, they were very concerned about this. We heard from many mouths of many people. And then, of course, there are many news stories about it. We were always going to work it into the film somehow, but we weren’t sure how yet.

And then what happened was that Chris and I walked onto the property of one of these motels and were planning on interviewing people we could come across. This is actually kind of a funny story. We walk onto the playground of this one motel, and I think we were just saying, “Hey kids, what’s up, how are you doing?” And suddenly this guy came out of nowhere. One second he wasn’t there; the next second, he was there. I turn around and there’s this dude holding a drill – I thought at first he was a maintenance guy at the motel. He’s giving us the once-over and sizing us up, trying to figure out who we are.

I put myself in those situations a lot, so I didn’t think much of it. I just said to him, “We’re making a film, no big deal.” And then my co-screenwriter Chris said, “No, no, Sean. This looks bad. This looks really bad.” And I said, “What?” He said, “We’re two 40-year-old guys walking onto a playground, and you have your Chihuahua with you. It looks really bad.” I was like, “Oooh, yeah.”

I turned to this gentleman and said, “We’re making a film, we’re here doing research.” He said, “Come with me,” and he brought us into the office to interrogate us. I could tell at that point he completely suspects us of being up to no good, and we’re predators [in his eyes]. We sit down in this office and I was like, “Oh boy, I’d better talk fast.”

He goes, “You know, Andrew Garfield stayed at this motel.” And I said, “Are you kidding me? OH SHIT! Ramin [Bahrani] already made this movie?!” Because 99 Homes [Bahrani’s 2015 film starring Garfield]. I know Ramin and knew he was making a film about this area, but I thought it was totally about the housing crisis. Which it is! Then, when I found out he was doing research at the same motel, my heart sunk. We’ve made similar movies. Man Push Cart is very similar to Take Out. Goodbye Solo had a lot of Prince of Broadway stuff. So we’re basically always making similar movies at the same time. I thought, “This is happening AGAIN!”

But as soon as he heard me say the name Ramin, which is a unique name, he was like, “OK, you guys are legit, I get you.” We were even texting Ramin saying that we were sitting there with John. This guy opened the world to us. In many ways, he inspired the Bobby character [the hotel manager played by Willem Dafoe]. That whole incident where we walked onto the playground is what inspired that moment with the pedophile. So there you go.

So was the Bobby character not there from the beginning? His middle manager position doesn’t seem quite so intuitive, I guess.

No, he wasn’t. This is something that developed when we were down there. We met this guy, and we also met other hotel managers. What was so interesting and so sad was that these individuals – this is not what they signed up for. They were basically put into positions where they might have to evict one of these families. At the same time, they had a compassion for them, they had a love for them, they were obviously in a way their neighbors. But they had to keep their own job, keep it professional. So I saw how much these gentlemen were struggling with their own jobs and I thought, “Wow, this is important here. This is a character who can ground this movie.”

At first, it was totally a mother-daughter movie, that’s all it was. But after spending time there, and seeing that this is something that affected this whole area, I didn’t want it focused just on one aspect of it. I thought it would be very interesting to have this character to show how small businesses and managers of small businesses were affected. So, yeah, that developed as we were in our research mood.

If people are moved by this film and they want to help, either by learning more or giving financially, where would they start?

Thank you for asking that because that’s something we’re trying to include in these Q&As and interviews. First off, what we’d like to do is stress that it’s a national problem. It may be under your nose in your own community. The best thing is to look into your own community and see if it exists.

The website you can go to is the National Alliance to End Homelessness. If you want to help Central Florida in particular, there are two organizations in particular. One is Rethink Homelessness and the second is this wonderful agency that we worked with very closely throughout all stages of production, which is the Community Hope Center. They’re the only ones who provide comprehensive care to the chronic homeless in the area.

Moving forward, we’re going to have this information on our website. We’re going to be using social media to get it out there. But also, we’re going to D.C. with this film to meet with policy makers and have a Congressional screening. Because we need federal funding.

***

The Florida Project opens in limited release on October 6, 2017.

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