Baker, Simon: Director–Background, Career, Awards (Cannes Film Fest 2021)

Research in Progress: July 25, 2021.

Sean Baker (born February 26, 1971), the American film director, cinematographer, producer, screenwriter and editor, is best known for the independent features Starlet, Tangerine, and The Florida Project, as well as his involvement in the Fox/IFC puppet sitcom Greg the Bunny and its spin-offs.

Baker was born and raised in Summit, New Jersey.

He has a sister who is a professional synth-pop musician and production designer who has contributed to his films in both capacities.[2][3][4] He graduated from Gill St. Bernard’s High School in 1989.[5]

He received his B.A. in film studies from New York University Tisch School of the Arts. Prior to NYU, he studied non-linear editing at The New School.

Baker wrote, directed and edited his first feature, Four Letter Words, a film revolving around the looks, views, attitudes and language of young men in America.

Baker then made Take Out, which he co-wrote, co-directed, co-edited, and co-produced with Shih-Ching Tsou. The film deals with illegal Chinese immigrant falling behind on payments on a smuggling debt, leaving him only one day to come up with the money.

The film had its world premiere at the Slamdance Film Fest January 18, 2004, but was given limited release four years later, June 6, 2008.

Baker’s third feature, Prince of Broadway, premiered at the Los Angeles Film Festival on June 22, 2008. The film follows a New York street hustler who makes his living creating name-brand knock offs, and his discovery that he has a son. Baker directed, wrote, co-produced, shot and edited the film, which was given a limited release on September 3, 2010.

Take Out and Prince of Broadway were nominated for the Independent Spirit John Cassavetes Award at the same ceremony in 2008.

Baker’s fourth feature, Starlet, was co-written with Chris Bergoch, and stars Dree Hemingway and Besedka Johnson. Starlet explores the unlikely friendship between 21-year-old Jane (Hemingway) and 85-year-old Sadie (Johnson), two women whose lives intersect in California’s San Fernando Valley.

The film had its world premiere at SXSW on March 11, 2012, and was given  limited release on November 9, 2012 to mainly positive reviews.

Tangerine

Baker’s fifth feature, Tangerine, follows a transgender sex worker who discovers her boyfriend and pimp has been cheating on her.

The film was shot using three iPhone 5S smartphones and received praise for its groundbreaking filmmaking techniques.

Tangerine features Kitana Kiki Rodriguez, Mya Taylor, Karren Karagulian, Mickey O’Hagan, and James Ransone, and was executive-produced by Mark Duplass and Jay Duplass. Baker again co-wrote the script with Bergoch; he also co-produced, co-shot, and edited the film. It had its world premiere at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival on January 23, 2015, and was given limited release July 10, 2015.

The Florida Project

Baker’s sixth feature, The Florida Project, premiered in the Directors’ Fortnight section of the 2017 Cannes Film Fest, and was theatrically released in the US October 6, 2017, by A24. Once again, Baker edited the film himself and co-wrote the script with his frequent collaborator Chris Bergoch.

The plot follows a 6-year-old girl living in a motel with her rebellious mother in Greater Orlando as they try to stay out of trouble and make ends meet. The film was praised for its performances (particularly that of Willem Dafoe as the motel manager) and Baker’s direction, and was chosen by both the National Board of Review and the American Film Institute as one of the top 10 films of the year. Dafoe earned Best Supporting Actor nominations at the Oscars, Golden Globes and BAFTA Awards.

I am an ally and have literally devoted my career to tell stories that remove stigma and normalize lifestyles that are under attack. I would never do anything that could possibly hurt the community–Baker in Los Angeles Times, Aug 28, 2020

In October 2018, Baker was the head of the film jury at the Mumbai International Film Festival.

In August 2020, actress Bella Thorne announced that Baker would be directing a documentary about her experiences opening an OnlyFans account, but Baker quickly denied the rumor as Thorne’s suspicious behavior was blamed for restrictions affecting all sex workers on the site.

Baker’s seventh feature, Red Rocket, stars Simon Rex as Mikey, a pornographic actor returning to his hometown in Texas. Baker directed, co-wrote and co-produced the film with his usual team of Bergoch and Tsou among others. Filming took place in secret amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, but “industry-standard safety protocols” were observed.

The film screened at the 2021 Cannes Film Festival.

In March 2021, Baker released short film Khaite FW21 produced for fashion line Khaite to promote it’s Fall/Winter 2021 lineup. Sean Price Williams served as cinematographer.

Baker is also one of the original creators of the sitcom Greg the Bunny, starring Seth Green and Eugene Levy. The show is based on short segments that Baker directed and wrote, which aired on the Independent Film Channel and which were in turn based on a public-access television show called Junktape.

In 2010, Baker, Spencer Chinoy, and Dan Milano created a spinoff called Warren the Ape; the series aired on MTV and was canceled after one season.

Filmography

2000 Four Letter Words Yes Yes No Yes
2004 Take Out Yes Yes Yes Yes
2008 Prince of Broadway Yes Yes Yes Yes Also cinematographer
2012 Starlet Yes Yes Yes Yes
2015 Tangerine Yes Yes Yes Yes Also cinematographer
2016 Snowbird Yes Yes Yes Yes Short
2017 The Florida Project Yes Yes Yes Yes
2021 Khaite FW21 Yes Un­known Un­known Yes Short
2021 Red Rocket Yes Yes Yes Un­known Post-production

Television
2002–2006 Greg the Bunny Yes Yes No Yes Also editor and cinematographer
2010 Warren the Ape Yes Yes Yes Yes
Accolades
In 2012, Baker, along with the casting director and ensemble cast members of Starlet, was given the Independent Spirit Robert Altman Award.

In 2017, Baker was awarded Best Director by the Detroit Film Critics Society and the New York Film Critics Circle, as well as Director of the Year by the London Film Critics’ Circle.