This past week I watched Starlet, which was shot and co-produced by Radium Cheung. When I first met Radium at The New American Filmmakers reception, I thought, “what an unusual name.” Over the course of the evening, I found out that he was born in Hong Kong and moved to the Bay Area in 1989, but now lives in New York. In a previous post I mentioned Radium’s experience as a gaffer/lighting director but when he was in Hong Kong, he told me that because there were so few movie theaters, his experience in film festivals included him jumping on a train to watch one movie then going to another theater for another screening. I talked with my neighbor who attended HIFF back in the day when HIFF wasn’t just at Dole Cannery but various theaters throughout the island, so it was interesting to hear of Radium’s experience. Now Oahu and Hong Kong aren’t dramatically different in geographical size, but still requires a certain endurance to move between screenings.
I highly recommend Starlet despite the fact that it won’t get into many theaters due to the movie’s content. I feel that if they removed a certain scene, more distribution would be available. However, Radium felt that the scene was absolutely necessary to be left in the final cut, and I agree. You can tell throughout the movie that Radium got his start gaffing because some of the scenes are so beautifully well lit. The cast of Starlet was fantastic, Dree Hemingway, the great granddaughter of Ernest Hemingway, plays the main character Jane. However, Radium revealed a story at the screening of Dree’s co-star and how they found the actress who played Sadie. Sean Baker, the director of the film auditioned dozens of older women for the role. They finally found “Sadie” at a YMCA where one of the producers and the costume designer were working out. This was done two weeks before they started to shoot. They approached Besedka Johnson, and the 85 year old said, “I’ve always wanted to be an actress!” I guess dreams do come true.
Here’s a video of how Dree Hemingway got cast in the film as Jane.
As for the technical process, Radium cites good karma as a reason of how things fell into place. Unlike the serendipitous casting of Sadie, both Radium and Sean had a clear goal of how the movie was going to be shot. From early production, both men wanted the film to be shot with real anamorphic lenses. They had the choice of shooting with a spherical lens and cropping and letterboxing it. But they stuck with their original idea, because it was appropriate for the project and for the location. What was going through my head as he told us this was, “how can an indie film afford anamorphic lenses?”
How they got the lens turned out to be by them being in the right place at the right time. A guy 50 minutes north of West Hollywood. Radium, Sean, a couple of producers, and an assistant squeezed into the car and left right away. At last they met up with the guy and got a beautiful set of vintage, Russian LOMO anamorphic lenses. It wasn’t a huge set, only four — 35, 50, 75, and 100. They found these lenses around the same time they found Besedka Johnson. Now that the film is done, where is it headed?
The domestic opening for Starlet for theatrical release will be on November 9th in LA and NY. Starlet premiered at South By Southwest Festival (SXSW), and have done several festivals prior to HIFF.
I was encapsulated by this film and after meeting and having a couple drinks with Radium, makes me love this indie gem even more. Go to www.starletfilm.com to check out more stuff about the film!