Why Did Sean Baker Shoot “Tangerine” on the iPhone 5S?


Sean Baker‘s Tangerine (2015) follows a transgender prostitute who races around Los Angeles on Christmas Eve looking for her cheating boyfriend/pimp—and it was shot entirely on an iPhone 5S.

ScreenPrism’s Joshua Handler interviewed the director about his decision to shoot on the iPhone and how he thinks the evolution of affordable filming technology is changing the film industry.

ScreenPrism: 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.

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

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.

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?

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.