Screenwriter Spotlight: Sean Baker After 'Tangerine' and 'The Florida Project'

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Tangerine is one of those films where the moment you start watching it, you immediately think: "Okay, what's going on here? This is amazing! Who wrote this?!"

Meet Sean Baker, director and co-writer of Tangerine. His latest film, The Florida Project, just saw a limited release on October 6th. For anyone who follows screenwriters, these two films make a strong case that Sean Baker is the new guy to follow.

In an interview with Film Courage, Baker named Harold and Maude as one of his favorite films. This turns out to be a pretty solid reference point for his work, given the elements running through the classic 70s dark comedy: social commentary, playful rebelliousness, strong characters experiencing a sense of destiny, memorable symbolism... 

While Baker's latest filmmaking work follows in the tradition of older comedies, he's definitely charting his own territory, takings risks, and exerting his artistic vision with force and some measure of calculated chaos. Tangerine, for example, isn't really an update to the tradition of Harold and Maude -- it's like Harold and Maude directed by a young Harmony Korine. It's got all the grit and nuttiness of Korine's Gummo, but with a coherent screenplay.

Speaking of which, you can read the full screenplay for Tangerine online.

To get a true introduction to the work of Sean Baker, start by watching Greg the Bunny, a humorous TV show Baker co-created in the early 2000s. It's not the world's best television, but it shows Baker's knack for comedy and controlled chaos.

Joan Didion - a Literary Celebrity as Screenwriter

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Shout out to New Republic for their recent article, How Joan Didion Became the Ultimate Literary Celebrity. There was only one problem with the article: the word "screenwriting" only appeared once in passing. No overview of Didion's career as a writer is complete without paying proper respects to the five screenplays she co-wrote.

Joan Didion started writing screenplays relatively early in her career as a novelist. In 1971, she was 37 when her screenplay The Panic in Needle Park came out as an award-winning film starring young Al Pacino.

As with her other scripts, Needle Park was co-written by her husband, John Gregory Dunne. Together, Didion and Dunne fit within a rather high-brow class of screenwriters. While many of the screenwriter ilk came from a world of standup comedy or low-budget film production, Didion and Dunne come from a the world of academia and top-tier literature.

Acknowledging Didion's literary background isn't necessarily a complement--not in terms of screenwriting cred. Usually when a prestigious author delves into writing scripts, the outcome is less than amazing (sorry, Steinbeck; sorry Dave Eggers!).

Joan Didion hasn't exactly had the greatest success with her scripts, either. Her success as a screenwriter obviously hasn't compared to her accomplishments as a novelist and essayist. But Didion's scripts have contributed to some quality films. As with her novels, the films she's contributed to are richly human, culturally relevant, and "literary" in nature.

...If only we could read her actual scripts! We seem to have failed to find any of her scripts online. There are a few clues suggesting that some of her scripts have appeared in print at some time or another. But we haven't been able to locate print copies, either. If anyone out there knows where we can find a copy of a Joan Didion screenplay, let us know! Until then, we can still watch the films:

 

Review of Judd Apatow's Book "Sick in the Head"

When was the last time you read a book clocking in at 512 pages? Isn't that a bit much to ask of us, Judd?

Maybe not! On the shelf, the book, is, yes, a monster. But once you get your eyes into the pages, you'll quickly find the monster is surprisingly reader-friendly, skimmer-friendly, and even casual-browser-friendly.

So, what is this thing? It's a collection of hilarious conversations with comedians. Maybe you'll recognize a few names: Jerry Seinfeld, Chris Rock, Jon Stewart, Lena Dunham, Louis C.K, Mel Brooks...

And of course, there's the bonus of Judd Apatow himself, who offers an intimate glimpse into his life from page one. The much-loved comedy screenwriter (The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Knocked Up, Pineapple Express) is not only funny, but also not a little sick in the head. This fact, he explains, is one trait that all comedians seem to have in common.

Despite the seemingly ordered collection of interviews, Judd encourages readers to begin wherever, or to simply open the book at random and start there: the order doesn't really matter. This isn't exactly high art, he's the first to admit. In a recent NRP interview, he explained that it's more like something you may enjoy having by your side in the bathroom.

Official book review from Will Ferrell: “Anyone even remotely interested in comedy or humanity should own this book. It is hilarious and informative and it contains insightful interviews with the greatest comics, comedians, and comediennes of our time. My representatives assure me I will appear in a future edition.”

Judd Apatow is also the editor of the humor collection "I Found This Funny: My Favorite Pieces of Humor and Some That May Not Be Funny At All" (McSweeney's, 2010).