This browser is supported only in Windows 10 and above.


Griffin Dunne on “Fierce People”

Posted by on

By Aaron Hillis

IFC News

[Photos: Left, Chris Evans and Anton Yelchin in “Fierce People”; below, Griffin Dunne, Lionsgate, 2007]

Owing to the cult favoritism paid to his roles in “After Hours” and “An American Werewolf in London” (or if you’re feeling really perverse, the Madonna vehicle “Who’s That Girl?”), Griffin Dunne may forever be known first as an actor, then as a director. But since his 1996 short “The Duke of Groove” was nominated for an Oscar, Dunne has stayed busy behind the camera, having helmed half a dozen features, both studio fare (“Practical Magic,” “Addicted to Love”) and indies (“Lisa Picard is Famous”). His latest is “Fierce People,” a dark and lurid coming-of-ager adapted by Dirk Wittenborn from his 2002 novel of the same name. Anton Yelchin stars as a New York teen whose 1978 summer plans to survey an indigenous South American tribe with his anthropologist dad are squashed when he’s busted buying coke for his masseuse mother (Diane Lane). To repair their relationship and sober herself up, Lane brings her son to the haut monde Jersey estate of a billionaire ex-client (Donald Sutherland) whose aristocratic offspring (including hot-to-trot granddaughter Kristen Stewart) seem to Yelchin as foreign and dangerous a tribe as the Iskanani Indians he had hoped to study. Dunne, who is already busy with post-production on a new rom-com called “The Accidental Husband,” spared some time to chat with me from his home in NYC.

How did you get your hands on this story before it was even published?

Well, I knew Dirk socially, but I didn’t know much about his writing. I knew he was a novelist. He had written this incredible yarn, but he was stuck on the ending. He gave it to a couple of his friends, of which I was one, just to get an impression of it. It ended at this incredibly mysterious, tense place where the ending could have gone [in two different directions]. He had sort of painted himself into a corner there. I wasn’t sure how to get out of the corner, but I knew I wanted to tell the story in a movie, so I told him I’d option the book. When he finished the ending, he sold it very handsomely to Bloomsbury. When there were movie inquiries, I had already gotten there before anyone.

I haven’t read the book, unfortunately, but I’m told the movie has a significant alteration.

The ending is different. It ended with the kid getting the inheritance of the estate. Dirk had written it — and you can get away with the tone in a novel — as a sort of ironic, bittersweet, almost cynical ending. But in a movie, it suddenly translates into a happy ending. After what this kid had gone through, paying him off with a lot of money wasn’t very satisfying. It came across [that after] the brutalization the kid goes through, “Well now, this should make it better, here’s some millions of dollars,” as opposed to the theme of the movie being the ultimate coming of age of what kind of man he’ll grow up to be in light of the brutality and fierceness he’s seen in society. How will he take that and become a better person?

Having grown up with high-profile writers like your father Dominick and aunt Joan Didion, did you personally recognize any of the behavioral traits of the different classes represented in the story?

I’ve always believed that people who have acquired vast amounts of power or fortune have made great sacrifices on their own morality somewhere along the line. A lot of the decisions are made at the expense of someone else to come out on top. That’s how society, power and the economy work, so I recognize this. I was brought up in Los Angeles, not amongst old money, but Dirk was quite familiar with it. It’s actually more autobiographical to his life than to mine. I related very strongly to the kid being at a point in life before you’ve ever fallen in love, when you’re seeing your parents and adult figures having moments of real weakness and frailty, and the line between being the son, the friend and the one who takes care of the mother. All these things, I relate to as both a parent and remembering myself as a kid.

Not to make any insinuations, but what attracts you to a dysfunctional family story?

Oh, I think every family is dysfunctional, or everyone assumes their family is. There’s almost a competitive pride in people’s dysfunctions. It’s a natural inclination to assume we are the result of the way we were brought up. We spend our lives trying to overcome, embrace or blame that, use it as an excuse. People love telling stories about it: “You think that was bad? You know, when I was a kid…” I think about what kind of stories my kid is going to tell about me. But I actually find dysfunction in families a humorous subject rather than any sad-sack tragedy. The next movie I’m doing is about the siblings of the parents who wrote and appear in the illustrations of a book like “The Joy of Sex,” and how they’ve been brought up with that their whole life. Family never ceases to interest me.

What creative itch does directing scratch that acting doesn’t?

I think directing always exercises both the pragmatic and creative instincts. You know, I love acting, but going from job to job as an actor was never quite enough for me. I didn’t like the lack of control, both of what the next job would be, as well as being a cog in the overall picture. One of my strengths as a director is performance and working with actors, having been one. I feel like I get to play all the parts internally without having to wear the make-up.

After “Lisa Picard is Famous,” would you ever cast yourself again in something you directed?

Yeah, I would do it. I had cast and then fired myself in both “Addicted to Love” and “Practical Magic.” Both scenes in which I’d given myself a part involved hundreds and hundreds of extras. It was a huge production day, and I thought like an actor in that singular way. But when it got to really imagining all the logistics, I suddenly thought: no, no, no. I called someone up in the middle of the night and said, “Step in for me.” I laid it off to “This is the wrong day to multi-task.” “Lisa Picard” was great to put myself in because there was an improv aspect to it. I was directing, sort of controlling it, and throwing the actors off, whatever they were going to do. That was very natural, but yeah, it’s something I would like to do. I just haven’t had the right opportunity.

I enjoyed all the late ’70s gems on the soundtrack like the Dead Kennedys and the Talking Heads, and I thought the score blended in nicely.

A guy named Nick Laird-Clowes did the score. He was in a band called Dream Academy, and he’s someone whose work I really like. His roots are very much in the sort of Nick Drake, Joe Boyd-produced, early Pink Floyd kind of feel. My temp track was filled with early Neil Young like “Cortez the Killer,” and guitar-driven sounds that went from acoustic to a velvety kind of electric strum — half junky, then its gets a little ominous. I guess that’s still my favorite era of music. I’ve never quite outgrown it, but luckily, it keeps coming back with every new group reinventing that sound.

So if I looked at your iPod right now, this is what I would see?

It would be riddled with it, plus Broken Social Scene and these new groups doing the same old thing. My battery just died on my iPod, hang on… I’m still into Arcade Fire, they’re all good. Citizen Cope. Devendra Bernhardt. I used Explosions in the Sky on the temp track for a while… Interpol, and all those guys. If I could get that guitar sound of Pavement, I would’ve loved to have had Steve Malkmus do my score.

“Fierce People” opens in limited release on September 7th (official site).

Watch More

A-O Rewind

Celebrating Portlandia One Sketch at a Time

The final season of Portlandia approaches.

Posted by on
GIFs via Giphy

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.


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.

Watch More

WTF Films

Artfully Off

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

Posted by on

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…


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.


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).


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.


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

Watch More

Reality? Check.

Baroness For Life

Baroness von Sketch Show is available for immediate consumption.

Posted by on
GIFs via Giphy

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.


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.



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 and the IFC app.

Watch More