Directors Sean Baker and Trey Edward Shults are at the forefront of innovation in independent cinema. Their respective films, Tangerine (2015) and Krisha (2015), would not have been conceived in their current forms even a few years ago because they were made possible by recent advances in the quality of affordable film equipment. I interviewed both directors to ask them about their resourceful shooting processes and how they see the industry shifting due to breakthroughs in accessible filming technology.

 

SEAN BAKER

Baker's Tangerine, shot entirely on an iPhone 5S, follows a transgender prostitute who rampages around Los Angeles on Christmas Eve looking for her cheating boyfriend/pimp. The film was praised at Sundance and released in summer 2015 by Magnolia Pictures.

Joshua Handler: How would you have made Tangerine if it had been made before recent technological innovations?

Sean Baker: Visually, it would have obviously looked different. I didn't have the money to shoot film, which would have been my first choice in terms of format. So Tangerine would have been shot on HD (probably a DSLR) with some vintage anamorphic lenses. I wouldn't have made the film unless I could have procured lenses with character. So probably the film would have looked like my previous film Starlet with much less movement and perhaps less saturation in color. Narratively, the film would be quite similar. We had already broken the story and began scripting before we made the choice to shoot on the iPhone.

JH: How would you have made Tangerine if it had been made before recent technological innovations?

SB: Some of this was answered above. I would have had to follow a more traditional way of making a film. Certainly our clandestine style would have been impacted by larger cameras and more crew members. Also, there are plenty of other technological innovations that came in to play with Tangerine. Casting from Vine and scoring from Soundcloud. Social networking and artists-friendly websites have changed the landscape. This film would have had to be cast traditionally and perhaps not scored at all. 

JH: Do you believe that these innovations will have had an overall positive or negative impact on filmmaking craft, now that filmmaking equipment is accessible to anyone?

SB: Very positive. It will allow those who never had the means to make a film to now make a film. Of course, this may lead to an over-abundance of content, but quite honestly, this is already a problem. I've always felt that cream rises and good films will get seen (even if it takes years). So this can only be a positive change for the filmmaking landscape. Artists should not be restricted by lack of money and resources. These innovations are lifting those restrictions. 

 

TREY EDWARD SHULTS

Shults' Krisha was shot on a very low budget in 8 days at the director's Texas family house, featuring Shults himself and his friends and family as actors. Krisha tells the story of a woman who has a breakdown after reuniting with her family for a Thanksgiving dinner and is based on Shults’ short film of the same name. The film also won SXSW’s 2015 Grand Jury Award and Audience Award and was acquired by A24, along with Shults’ next film, which they will produce and distribute.

Joshua Handler: How would Krisha have been different visually and narratively had recent technological innovations not come?

Trey Edward Shults: Visually it would be totally different. The goal with Krisha was to make something really ambitious with the resources we had and to never let it feel like a small movie. If we didn’t have access to the equipment we did, it never would’ve happened. We did end up spending half our production budget just on the camera-related equipment, but it was worth it to me. I don’t think it would have changed anything narratively. I already wrote the production with keeping in mind the cheapest way to make it. 

JH: How would you have made Krisha if it had been made before recent technological innovations?

TES: I think I would have taken the same approach; I just wouldn’t have had access to the same things. It certainly would not feel like the movie it is. It would have felt like a smaller, less ambitious movie. I was able to shoot this tiny movie with a professional camera, lenses, steady cam, etc. My goal was to get away from what you picture in your head when you hear someone shot a movie at their mom’s house. Without these recent technological innovations, we just wouldn’t have been able to achieve what we did.  

JH: Do you believe that these innovations will have had an overall positive or negative impact on filmmaking craft, now that filmmaking equipment is accessible to anyone?

TES: I think it is ultimately a positive impact. Anyone can make a movie for cheap, with some of the same equipment Hollywood uses. That means a ton more people are doing it, so the competition is greater. I think that just means you have to create something special enough to break through. For me personally, it is very exciting that we have access to everything we do. It’s all about what you do with it. At the end of the day, your story is most important. The tools are just different ways of telling it and if you use them right, they can and should totally enhance your story.