Oscar-nominated 'Florida Project' shows the dark side of the happiest place on Earth

Star Willem Dafoe hopes nomination will bring attention to small film

LOS ANGELES – "The Florida Project" is set on the outskirts of the happiest place on earth and focuses on struggling families whose lives are anything but.

"One of the first questions was how much of this was invented and how much of this existed. [Director Sean Baker] basically said it exists, and we are going to shoot where it exists," actor Willem Dafoe said.

Dafoe sought out the project and is now nominated for a best supporting actor Oscar.

For one year, filmmakers met with families who live in cheap motels along the Route 192 corridor near Walt Disney World.

Many locals played extras, giving the film almost documentary-like authenticity.

Dawn Spencer and her 9-year-old twins have lived in an Orlando motel for three years. She was an extra in the film.

"We live it every day ... trying to get out is hard," Spencer said. "But we're working on it."

Dafoe plays a motel manager who tries to do his job as well as manage the families especially the children. They try to create a normal childhood out of a desperate situation.

The Oscar-nominated actor says he is grateful for the accolades but wants more people to see a film he is really proud to be a part of. 

"The cool thing is, with this nomination, hopefully the movie will be seen," Dafoe said.

The 90th annual Oscars airs on Local 10 at 8 p.m. Sunday.