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Andrea Arnold on “Red Road”

Andrea Arnold on “Red Road” (photo)

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Andrea Arnold holds herself together remarkably well for someone who was out until 8am the night before (or is that morning of?). When I caught up with the UK-born Oscar-winner (for 2003 short “Wasp”) in New York, she was coming off a marathon night of celebrating with the other filmmakers of the Film Society of Lincoln Center’s prestigious New Directors/New Films festival — her debut, “Red Road,” was one of the bigger entries in this year’s line-up. The title refers to a looming cluster of slablike housing projects on the outskirts of Glasgow. Jackie (Kate Dickie) works as a CCTV operator, monitoring an array of closed circuit security cameras around the city and alerting the police when needed — until one night, when she spots a man she recognizes on screen. After tracking him for days, she traces him to the Red Road flats and finds a way to insert herself into his life for reasons that only gradually become clear.

“Red Road” is the first entry in the Advance Party trio, a planned set of three films from three first-time directors (Morag Mackinnon and Mikkel Norgaard round out the group) following a prescribed set of rules: the films must be set in Scotland and they must make use of a group of predefined characters. If this sounds a little…Danish, well, the project was conceived by filmmakers Lone Scherfig and Anders Thomas Jensen (who will serve as executive producers on each of the films) after a conversation with Dogme95 deity Lars von Trier. I spoke with Arnold about surveillance and working within the rules.

I’d read that some international journalists assumed that the CCTV station [in which Jackie, the main character, works] was your own invention.

When I was at Cannes, I had a lot of interviews where people didn’t believe that the whole CCTV was a reality. There were people from all over the world interviewing you, and there are lots of countries that don’t have those kinds of surveillance systems. They thought it was some kind of science fiction idea.

There is a bit of that look to it. Is the station in the film based on what the actual stations look like?

That’s a real place! That really exists, that place. They had a section on one end that they only used on special occasions — it wasn’t somewhere monitoring the city. We were able to use that area and fill the screens with our images. That place genuinely exists.

So with the characters, how much were you given, and how much did you build out yourself?

I can give you an example — Clyde [Tony Curran] was described as out of prison on early release for good behavior; he was 35; women liked him; he was guilty; and he hung out with his old prison friends. And I got most of those things in the film — they’re there. April [Natalie Press], who’s the girl who lives in the flat with Clyde, was given quite a brief description. She was described as being shy, never initiating the conversation. She’s a newcomer and in every film she’s arriving in that place, so I had her arriving with her bags from London.

She had a whole story that didn’t end up making the film. It was tempting to go off in directions once you got to know the characters — you wanted to have a film with each of them. I could have done a film with her, or with Stevie [Martin Compston]… You didn’t have to include all the elements — within those restraints, if something didn’t appeal to you, you just left it. There’s something about Jackie — I connected her and Clyde up almost immediately. I felt that they had to get together because something in her description and something in his made me feel that they were connected. So I did work that out from what I was given.

And each film in the series starts over fresh?

There won’t be anything carrying on from my film — it will be a different universe, [the other two directors] will do whatever they want with the characters. That was something we decided together. If we wanted to, we could have made a trilogy, but I think that would have been much harder work — we’d have to really really collaborate. We decided it would be more freeing and we’d be able to make more individual films if we didn’t make a trilogy.

As you went first, did you get more say over the casting? I know you’ve worked with Natalie Press before, in “Wasp.”

I’d like to think not, but the fact that my film was more developed meant that I knew what I was looking for. All of us, by accident, picked different characters as our leads — I picked Jackie and Clyde, Morag has Alfred, who’s the father-in-law, and Mikkel has April and Stevie — so we decided we’d give each other preference or at least say who’d we like for those roles. I think people thought we’d be really competitive over the casting but we weren’t we were really supportive of each other.

How did you end up finding the Red Road flats? They’re a remarkable location, and it seems like they shape the film in their own way — did you write the story around them, or vice versa?

No, the story started first. I knew that [Jackie] would be looking for [Clyde], and he had to live somewhere. I looked at places where they house ex-prisoners, and I drove around Glasgow and saw them and was very struck by them, and was able to incorporate them into the script. I wanted the place where she first goes to see him to be impenetrable, and they are impenetrable to start. And I wanted, as she got closer, for her to see the humanity in the place, because they look pretty oppressive from the distance, but when you get in closer you see the kids, you see all the people — there’s a lot of people living there — and it’s not what you think. There’s a little bit of that in the film, perhaps not so much as I would have liked.

What’s happening with them now?

They’re going to get pulled down. I felt annoyed with myself, because when they were looking for a title, I couldn’t think of anything — it needs to come organically for me, a title, it needs to really feel right, but the financiers needed it for their documents. I had to think of something, so I said “Why don’t we call it ‘Red Road’?” And it stuck. I didn’t really think about what it meant to call a film by the place in which it’s [set]. I didn’t mean for it to be so deliberately connected to that area — I’m not trying to say “This is Red Road.” I wished I’d changed the title, because people do live there, and the film is showing a certain perspective. I think it was not right, but it’s too late now.

What have the reactions been like from people who’ve lived there?

A lot of the people who were in the film lived around there in the flats, and they all came to the premiere, and I’ve only had positive feedback. But — they were all in the film, they felt like a part of it. I haven’t had any feedback from someone who hasn’t been involved in the film.

Almost half of the film is taken up by the main character’s involvement in surveillance before she actually engages in the narrative — in terms of films like “Rear Window,” did you feel like your film is a reference or an update?

I didn’t think about those films at all — I’d seen “Rear Window” a long time ago, but hadn’t had it in my brain until the editor mentioned it while we were editing. When I saw it, there were some amazing [correspondences] — this woman in the cafe… though I guess if you’re looking out the window at a bunch of people living across the road, there are going to be a lot of similarities in what everybody sees, because life is life.

So what are your thoughts on CCTV? Invasive? Effective?

I deliberately made the decision to be ambivalent in the film — just to show it, not take a stance, because I thought that would interfere with the story. I didn’t want to be heavy-handed with my feelings about it. I thought showing it is interesting in itself, and a lot of people won’t know about it, so they’ll be able at the end of it to think, well, what do I think about this — is this okay or not okay, and what does this mean for my life?

“Red Road” opens in New York and LA on April 13th (official site).

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A-O Rewind

Celebrating Portlandia One Sketch at a Time

The final season of Portlandia approaches.

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Most people measure time in minutes, hours, days, years…At IFC, we measure it in sketches. And nothing takes us way (waaaaaay) back like Portlandia sketches. Yes, there’s a Portlandia milepost from every season that changed the way we think, behave, and pickle things. In honor of Portlandia’s 8th and final season, Subaru presents a few of our favorites.

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Put A Bird On It

Portlandia enters the pop-culture lexicon and inspires us to put birds on literally everything.

Colin the Chicken

Who’s your chicken, really? Behold the emerging locavore trend captured perfectly to the nth degree.

Dream Of The ’90s

This treatise on Portland made it clear that “the dream” was alive and well.

No You Go

We Americans spend most of our lives in cars. Fortunately, there’s a Portlandia sketch for every automotive situation.

A-O River!

We learned all our outdoor survival skills from Kath and Dave.

One More Episode

The true birth of binge watching, pre-Netflix. And what you’ll do once Season 8 premieres.

Catch up on Portlandia’s best moments before the 8th season premieres January 18th on IFC.

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WTF Films

Artfully Off

Celebrity All-Star by Sisters Weekend is available now on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Sisters Weekend isn’t like other comedy groups. It’s filmmaking collaboration between besties Angelo Balassone, Michael Fails and Kat Tadesco, self-described lace-front addicts with great legs who write, direct, design and produce video sketches and cinematic shorts that are so surreally hilarious that they defy categorization. One such short film, Celebrity All-Star, is the newest addition to IFC’s Comedy Crib. Here’s what they had to say about it in a very personal email interview…

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IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Celebrity All-Star is a short film about an overworked reality TV coordinator struggling to save her one night off after the cast of C-List celebrities she wrangles gets locked out of their hotel rooms.

IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Sisters Weekend: It’s this short we made for IFC where a talent coordinator named Karen babysits a bunch of weird c-list celebs who are stuck in a hotel bar. It’s everyone you hate from reality TV under one roof – and that roof leaks because it’s a 2-star hotel. There’s a magician, sexy cowboys, and a guy wearing a belt that sucks up his farts.

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IFC: What was the genesis of Celebrity All-Star?

Celebrity All-Star was born from our love of embarrassing celebrities. We love a good c-lister in need of a paycheck! We were really interested in the canned politeness people give off when forced to mingle with strangers. The backstory we created is that the cast of this reality show called “Celebrity All-Star” is in the middle of a mandatory round of “get to know each other” drinks in the hotel bar when the room keys stop working. Shows like Celebrity Ghost Hunters and of course The Surreal Life were of inspo, but we thought it
was funny to keep it really vague what kind of show they’re on, and just focus on everyone’s diva antics after the cameras stop rolling.

IFC: Every celebrity in Celebrity All-Star seems familiar. What real-life pop personalities did you look to for inspiration?

Sisters Weekend: Anyone who is trying to plug their branded merch that no one asked for. We love low-rent celebrity. We did, however, directly reference Kylie Jenner’s turd-raison lip color for our fictional teen celebutante Gibby Kyle (played by Mary Houlihan).

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IFC: Celebrity seems disgusting yet desirable. What’s your POV? Do you crave it, hate it, or both?

Sisters Weekend: A lot of people chase fame. If you’re practical, you’ll likely switch to chasing success and if you’re smart, you’ll hopefully switch to chasing happiness. But also, “We need money. We need hits. Hits bring money, money bring power, power bring fame, fame change the game,” Young Thug.

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IFC: Who are your comedy idols?

Sisters Weekend: Mike grew up renting “Monty Python” tapes from the library and staying up late to watch 2000’s SNL, Kat was super into Andy Kaufman and “Kids In The Hall” in high school, and Angelo was heavily influenced by “Strangers With Candy” and Anna Faris in the Scary Movie franchise, so, our comedy heroes mesh from all over. But, also we idolize a lot of the people we work with in NY-  Lorelei Ramirez, Erin Markey, Mary Houlihan, who are all in the film, Amy Zimmer, Ana Fabrega, Patti Harrison, Sam Taggart. Geniuses! All of Em!

IFC: What’s your favorite moment from the film?

Sisters Weekend: I mean…seeing Mary Houlihan scream at an insane Pomeranian on an iPad is pretty great.

See Sisters Weekend right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib

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Reality? Check.

Baroness For Life

Baroness von Sketch Show is available for immediate consumption.

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Baroness von Sketch Show is snowballing as people have taken note of its subtle and not-so-subtle skewering of everyday life. The New York Times, W Magazine, and Vogue have heaped on the praise, but IFC had a few more probing questions…

IFC: To varying degrees, your sketches are simply scripted examples of things that actually happen. What makes real life so messed up?

Aurora: Hubris, Ego and Selfish Desires and lack of empathy.

Carolyn: That we’re trapped together in the 3rd Dimension.

Jenn: 1. Other people 2. Other people’s problems 3. Probably something I did.

IFC: A lot of people I know have watched this show and realized, “Dear god, that’s me.” or “Dear god, that’s true.” Why do people have their blinders on?

Aurora: Because most people when you’re in the middle of a situation, you don’t have the perspective to step back and see yourself because you’re caught up in the moment. That’s the job of comedians is to step back and have a self-awareness about these things, not only saying “You’re doing this,” but also, “You’re not the only one doing this.” It’s a delicate balance of making people feel uncomfortable and comforting them at the same time.

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IFC: Unlike a lot of popular sketch comedy, your sketches often focus more on group dynamics vs iconic individual characters. Why do you think that is and why is it important?

Meredith: We consider the show to be more based around human dynamics, not so much characters. If anything we’re more attracted to the energy created by people interacting.

Jenn: So much of life is spent trying to work it out with other people, whether it’s at work, at home, trying to commute to work, or even on Facebook it’s pretty hard to escape the group.

IFC: Are there any comedians out there that you feel are just nailing it?

Aurora: I love Key and Peele. I know that their show is done and I’m in denial about it, but they are amazing because there were many times that I would imagine that Keegan Michael Key was in the scene while writing. If I could picture him saying it, I knew it would work. I also kind of have a crush on Jordan Peele and his performance in Big Mouth. Maya Rudolph also just makes everything amazing. Her puberty demon on Big Mouth is flawless. She did an ad for 7th generation tampons that my son, my husband and myself were singing around the house for weeks. If I could even get anything close to her career, I would be happy. I’m also back in love with Rick and Morty. I don’t know if I have a crush on Justin Roiland, I just really love Rick (maybe even more than Morty). I don’t have a crush on Jerry, the dad, but I have a crush on Chris Parnell because he’s so good at being Jerry.

Jenn: I LOVE ISSA RAE!

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IFC: If you could go back in time and cast yourselves in any sitcom, which would it be and how would it change?

Carolyn: I’d go back in time and cast us in The Partridge Family.  We’d make an excellent family band. We’d have a laugh, break into song and wear ruffled blouses with velvet jackets.  And of course travel to all our gigs on a Mondrian bus. I feel really confident about this choice.

Meredith: Electric Mayhem from The Muppet Show. It wouldn’t change, they were simply perfect, except… maybe a few more vaginas in the band.

Binge the entire first and second seasons of Baroness von Sketch Show now on IFC.com and the IFC app.

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