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After teasing the trailer of their latest film campaign for Kenzo last month, creative directors Humberto Leon and Carol Lim headed to Hollywood to celebrate the release of Snowbird (now available at kenzo.com) on Tuesday night with a star-studded crowd that included Carrie Brownstein, Natasha Lyonne, Miranda July and Miguel.
Directed and written by Sean Baker, whose 2015 film Tangerine received rave reviews, the 11-minute flick follows a young woman named Theo (Mad Max: Fury Road‘s Abbey Lee) roaming around in the desert community of Slab City, Calif., to share her homemade cake with the local residents.
Unlike most fashion film campaigns, which lack a story, the trio agreed that they wanted to tell a narrative with this pic.
“To find a small narrative with some universal theme with such an exotic location was what my goal was,” said Baker, who then took two trips to the former military base to meet the locals. After meeting the right folks fit for the movie, he pitched the film to them and found “they were all into it. Not only were they acting for us, but they were letting us into their homes and allowing us to shoot.”
Though the thought of working with a cast of non-actors could have been seen as a challenge, Baker said Lee “was totally up for improvising and as you can see, she had no ego there. She allowed the other people to talk, but her reactions were always wonderful.”
SNOWBIRDS: Director Sean Baker and actress Abbey Lee at the film’s premiere (Photo: Getty Images)
Lee had originally reached out to Baker after seeing Tangerine (“She had paid for Tangerine twice in the theaters!” said a laughing Baker) to see if she could be involved in his next project. At the time of the email he wasn’t working on anything, but when Kenzo came up, Baker couldn’t think of anyone more fitting for the role. “On top of that, we were going to have her in a dust storm and she just did that in Mad Max,” the helmer said.
While Snowbird was shot entirely on an iPhone, that wasn’t the original plan. But it made sense since many of the castmembers were non-professionals save for Lee, Clarence Williams III, Mary Woronov and Cameron Gentry.
“It’s first and foremost a communication device. … I thought, ‘OK what can we do to help take away that intimidation factor?’ And there you go, it was the iPhone,” revealed Baker, who said he was initially nervous about pitching that idea to Leon and Lim, only to find out that they were totally up for the idea.
Said Lim: “We knew what he could accomplish because he had done it already, so it was exciting.”
With the gritty desert city contrasting with Kenzo’s graphic spring 2016 collection (which Slab City actually helped inspire, since Leon and Lim had a photo of it on their inspiration board while designing that range), Snowbird doesn’t necessarily scream high fashion. And that was the intention.
“It was exciting to see because everyone wearing Kenzo. It felt really real,” shared Leon. “The clothing isn’t in the forefront of the characters, which is super exciting. We gave no rules as to outfits that needed to be worn or looks from the runway that needed to be represented. We really wanted to get into the character.”
Now that the film is released, Lim noted that “it will go into festivals and the format we’re going to promote it in movie theaters as well. We’re really excited to get it out there.”
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