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In the Shadows of Mean Streets, Sean Baker Crowns The Prince of Broadway

BY MARJORIE LEWIS, PHOTOGRAPHY RAINER HOSCH

It is easy to spot a talented director — give him a paltry budget, no trained actors and the streets of NYC as his set and see what happens. In the case of the uber talented Sean Baker, what happens is magic, pure and simple. The Prince of Broadway, written, directed, shot and financed by Baker, relies heavily on the untapped talents of mostly unknown and non-professional actors. The film tells the story Lucky, a charismatic hustler eking out a living in the underbelly of New York’s wholesale fashion district. An illegal immigrant from Ghana, Lucky makes ends meet by soliciting shoppers on the street with knock-off brand merchandise. Life is good for Lucky, but his dreams are suddenly upended when a child is thrust into his world by a woman who insists the toddler is his son.

 “I am inspired by John Cassavetes and the New York neo realism films of the seventies. I had always wanted to shoot the wholesale district of New York. I consider that to be the most vibrant, colorful, and energetic section of the city,” Baker says. “Victoria Tate, my associate producer (who also acts in the film) and I did research for over a year, getting to know both the Lebanese shop owners and the hustlers of the street, who are primarily West African. Once we found our actors, we developed the story during the year while I was raising money to make the film.” To find the actors to play these roles, Baker and his team relied heavily on word of mouth. Baker recalls, “Prince Adu (Lucky) was somebody that everyone in the area recommended that we speak to. When we told people we were making a film, they all said, “Talk to Prince.” When we finally found him he was working in a legitimate shop as security, but he had come from the world of hustling, and about 30 seconds into our first conversation he said, “I’ve heard about you and that you are making a film and I want to be in it. If you make me the lead of your film I will help you with casting, with locations, and I will help you tell an authentic story about the West African experience here.” Baker and Tate walked away from that moment realizing that they’d just found their lead actor. “He was charismatic, he looked good on camera and he had that enthusiasm,” Baker notes. Almost a year later when the film was ready to shoot, it was Prince Adu who led the filmmakers to the toddler (Aiden Noesi) they ultimately cast in the role of Lucky’s son. “We were looking for the baby and Prince introduced me to the Sanchez family and I saw the way that Aiden took to Prince almost immediately, he kept hugging his leg. I knew at that point we would have to use Aiden, and a few weeks later, Aiden’s real mother, Kat Sanchez, auditioned for the role of Linda (the baby’s mother) and we cast her, so it was a two for one.” Working with babies isn’t easy and most filmmakers cast identical twins so that if one is cranky, the other can be substituted in, but even though he was only eighteen months old, baby Aiden was a real pro. “He was such a well behaved child,” Baker remarks, “and was so comfortable with us, and his mother was there at all times. We also had a very intimate crew and he got to know everyone the first couple of days, so he was always happy and at ease.” Although Baker and his team wrote a screenplay, the story was largely improvised so the actors were free to take liberties with what they were saying and doing. “We needed a script in order to have the scenes and story plotted out,” Baker explains, “and we did write a script with dialogue, but when we gave the scenes to the actors we told them they could toss it out, we wanted to achieve realistic-sounding dialogue. I was so impressed that with 90% of the cast being non professional actors, they opened themselves up enough to deliver these amazing lines, a very heartfelt way to deliver the scenes we had written.” 􀀀

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