As part of A24’s participation in Deadline’s The ContendersThe Disaster Artist director James Franco appeared today to discuss the genesis of the project at New Line, why he felt compelled to make the film, and the bizarre process of directing in character. Based on Greg Sistero’s best-seller, The Disaster Artist follows Tommy Wiseau (Franco)’s making of The Room, a cult classic regarded as one of the worst films ever made—a film so bad, it’s good.

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Coming off a number of “literary, artsy” adaptations of Faulkner and Cormac McCarthy, The Disaster Artist was a palette cleanser for Franco and the right project to finally bring his brother, Dave Franco, into the fold. The actor discussed the project’s transition from New Line to A24 as an act of generosity on the part of New Line execs, who released their claim to the film, feeling at the time that they were not in the best position to release this particular film.”I think they were coming off Kong, and they were actually protecting the movie,” Franco said.

Knowing Wiseau’s predilection for James Dean—and coming to recognize the actor’s “reverse body dysmorphia,” fancying himself a James Dean type—Franco came to feel that he and Wiseau “were sort of destined for each other.” Franco played the iconic actor in a 2001 film of the same name, and he later found out that Wiseau had watched that film countless times.

Franco
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Of his decision to direct in-character—in full prosthetics—Franco wasn’t flexing his muscle, or attempting to show off. Ultimately, “it was just plain easier” for the actor to stay in character. “I think it helped the other actors, because our set was a movie set, and they’re playing characters who are actors. I think it helped the vibe to just be Tommy all the time.”

Appearing with Saoirse Ronan and Laurie Metcalf moments prior, Lady Bird writer/director Greta Gerwig discussed the roots of her independent family drama, and the extent to which it was autobiographical. “The heart of the movie is very close to my heart, but actually the character of Lady Bird is almost the opposite of who I was I was,” the actress told Pete Hammond of her solo directorial debut. “I was much more of a rule follower and a people pleaser. When I wrote the character, she was kind of courageous and out there.”

Gerwig, Metcalf and Ronan
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Starring Saoirse Ronan as the titular Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson, the film follows an adolescent girl in her last year of high school, through her combative, complicated relationship with her mother and her pursuit of a new life in New York. At The Contenders, Gerwig discussed the process of finding her characters in conjunction with her actors, also revealing the reasons behind Christine’s chosen name. “In a way, it’s almost like a rock star renaming themselves,” she explained. “It’s both this supreme confidence in herself, and it also means she thinks who she is on her own is not enough, which is an interesting dichotomy. It’s sort of becoming who you already are.”

Also appearing at A24’s The Contenders panel today were The Florida Project writer-director Sean Baker, and his young star, Brooklynn Prince, whose moving and gorgeously rendered drama is in theaters now. Set at a rundown motel in the shadow of Walt Disney World, the film follows six-year-old Moonee and her ragtag pals, who get into all kinds of trouble over the course of the summer, becoming close with motel manager Bobby (Willem Dafoe).

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With a title inspired by Walt Disney’s original name for his Florida property—intended to keep his big 1972 project “down low, so they didn’t have to compete with competitive land buyers,” The Florida Project stemmed from an idea brought to Baker by his co-writer, Chris Bergoch. “He was sending me news articles about what’s happening [in Florida]—that’s how it came to my attention,” Baker said, in conversation with Deadline’s Anthony D’Alessandro. “I’d always wanted to make a film about kids. We saw this as our opportunity to make the modern-day Little Rascals.

A unique combination of childlike wonder and tragedy, as families are ravaged by poverty, the film emerged from Baker’s typically unorthodox casting process, with Moonee’s mother Halley (played by Bria Vinaite) found on Instagram. “We really tried to mix up conventional and non-conventional ways of casting. We had a local casting company [in Florida], and that’s where the kids came from,” the director explained. “Then, of course, there was some street casting involved. I found little Valeria [Cotto] at Target, and I found the mother, Bria, on instagram. I just happened to find her Instagram by accident, and she won me over.”

Of his young star Brooklynn Prince, who delivers a powerhouse performance beyond her years in maturity, Baker said, “She is one of the most powerful dramatic actors I’ve ever worked with, and I wasn’t expecting that.”