Indie film Tangerine (2015) stars transgender women Kitana Kiki Rodriguez and Mya Taylor as two transgender prostitutes making their way through LA's red-light district on Christmas eve. Since its initial buzz at Sundance, Tangerine has been widely praised by critics, but much of that praise focuses on the way the film was shot, which director Sean Baker didn't reveal until after the film was released.
Tangerine was shot in 23 days using three iPhone 5S's, a few steady cams, special attachable lenses, and an $8 film-making app called Filmic Pro, all with the overall budget of $100,000. The film, which is generally regarded as being well and evenly shot (and if perhaps not beautiful, visually appropriate), is great inspiration for aspiring filmmakers with little-to-no budget. It is also a lesson to new filmmakers that you need a little ingenuity and resourcefulness to make a film when in a tight economic position. Baker found a lot of his soundtrack on SoundCloud and many of his actors on Vine and Instagram, but his two stars, Taylor and Rodriguez, were found on the corner of Santa Monica and Highland. Much of the script was based on their real-life stories.
As impressive and cool as it is for a film to be shot with such basic equipment and clever techniques (which seem to be all the entertainment news sources care about), the most signficant breakthrough in Tangerine is the fact that its stars are transgender women and yet the film isn't about that. NPR reports that when Baker moved to LA in 2012, "he found himself drawn to one of the city's most infamous intersections. The corner of Highland Avenue and Santa Monica Boulevard." Baker told NPR, "I thought there must be some incredible stories that take place on that corner."
Tangerine is the story of a place, a neighborhood of LA that isn't seen much in the media and one that non-locals probably don't even know about; the film just happens to star transgender women. As the taxi driver character Razmik learns, not only do transgender prostitutes hang out there, but myriad other prostitutes also inhabit the area. The film could have just as easily starred two cisgender prostitutes. Yet Baker chose Taylor and Rodriguez because they had interesting stories to tell, not necessarily because they were transgender or even prostitutes for that matter.
Ultimately, Tangerine is defined by the time of year it takes place: Christmas. It is a story of friends and family needing each other during the holiday because they're all they've got left in the world.