Making Art Just Got Cheaper
The film ‘Tangerine’, which is now in the frontline of Oscar hopefuls and on many a critic’s list this year, was shot on the fly without permits or even most people’s knowledge that it was happening. But more than that, it was made entirely on three old Apple iPhone 5s (second hand ones cost around a tenner) equipped with one £115 clip-on anamorphic lenses, one £100 handheld Steadicam mount and a £7.99 Filmic Pro app. Total cost; a little over 150 quid. The performers were amateurs and first-timers.
As the Daily Telegraph film critic points out ‘not a single frame of this heart, mind and soul-spinning movie prods you into remembering you’re watching “the iPhone film”. It radiates a candour, immediacy and tongue-scalding sex appeal that a bigger budget would have only smothered.’
Director Sean Baker brings a freewheeling lightness of touch to the story of Sin-Dee (Kitana Kiki Rodriguez), a trans prostitute in Hollywood who hears that her boyfriend/pimp, Chester, has been unfaithful during her month-long prison stay, and that the other girl is white and female from birth. The film follows this trash-talking hot mess as she charges around the streets on Christmas Eve with long-suffering best friend Alexandra (Mya Taylor) in tow, trying to find her. The climax in a donut shop, which drags in an Armenian cab driver, his mother, wife and baby, is hilarious.
The whole thing is funny, fast and feels horribly true-to-life. I once spent a miserable Christmas Eve on Santa Monica Blvd, forced to eat in a rent-boys’ donut shop because it was the only place open, and can attest to its grimy awfulness – but the film is a total joy. It’s about a lot of things, but what it isn’t about is looking like it was shot on a phone. The sunset colours are as rich and expansive as anything David Lean ever kept in long-shot and even the night scenes hold up better than many films shot with expensive digital equipment.
If it does one thing, ‘Tangerine’ shows all those budding filmmakers who complain they can’t afford to make a feature that it doesn’t take cash – it takes talent.