Sean Baker’s “Red Rocket” utilizes *NSYNC’s 2000 pop song “Bye Bye Bye” throughout the movie in various forms, but it wasn’t easy for “The Florida Project” director to secure rights to use the track as he searched for the perfect breakup song.
At one point, Strawberry (Suzanna Son) plays a stripped-down version on her keyboard. It informs her story as a young woman who takes delight in the attention she’s getting from Mikey (Simon Rex), who encourages her to pursue a career in adult films, and she goes from a boyfriend of her own age to Mikey, who’s twice her age.
The idea to use the song came when Baker learned Son was a musician. Baker and music supervisor Matthew Hearon-Smith went through every breakup song to find something that would contextually fit the storyline and her arc. “I started reading the lyrics and it felt so right,” Baker says.
Then, Hearon-Smith (“The Florida Project”) had to secure the song right, which meant letting all five *NSYNC members, Chris Kirkpatrick, Justin Timberlake, JC Chasez, Joey Fatone and Lance Bass, read the script about a former porn star who winds up back home in Galveston, Tex, and catches the eye of a 17-year-old donut shop worker.
“We had to go through the process of all the members [of *NSYNC] signing off on it,” Baker says. “That meant they had to see the script and see the last scene of the film.”
While Baker didn’t divulge how much the song cost, he did say it was not a part of their original movie budget.
Elsewhere, the film pays homage to Italian eroticism through its cinematography. Cinematographer Drew Daniels came highly recommended to Baker by “Waves” filmmaker Trey Edward Shults. Daniels was a good fit, since he hails from Texas, the setting for “Red Rocket.”
Baker found the “sex shots” between Son and Rex the easiest to shoot because they were so detailed in choreography and he had definite ideas in mind. Baker pointed Daniels to Italian genre films from the ’70s so he could pay homage to the craft and style of films by Fernando Di Leo (“The Italian Connection”) and Umberto Lenzi (“Spasmo”). “I looked at them because of how they tackled sexploitation films and eroticism in cinema,” Baker says. “I wanted Drew to look at the snap zooms, certain ways of framing and dolly moves.”
Daniels cites Steven Spielberg’s “The Sugarland Express” as visual inspiration for the scenic lensing. “I particularly liked the way they shot the driving,” he says. “It was anamorphic and had the colors that are representative of Texas — the colors I knew we would get from shooting sunsets against refineries: that crazy mix of greens and oranges from the pipes with the natural beauty of the sunsets.”
Daniels’ camerawork tracks Mikey as he navigates around Galveston on his beach cruiser bike. Says Baker: “We wanted to show this meandering lifestyle, but we wanted to take in the environment. We could use him as our tour guide through the city.”
Baker also served as the film’s editor. “The editing was a balancing act in terms of tone — I was dealing with this reprehensible character that I was delivering to the audience with humor, and that made it tricky.” He didn’t want to paint Mikey as a big bad wolf, nor get into inappropriate territory. “We found that in the edit room,” Baker says. “I always consider my editing 30% of my directing, because it’s truly cemented there.”
Listen to Son’s version of “Bye Bye Bye” below.