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Woody Allen on “Cassandra’s Dream”

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By Aaron Hillis

The word “nebbish” has been permanently forged into Woody Allen’s iconic identity (or at least, his weak-willed onscreen persona), but it’s probably a flippant misnomer for an auteur who, after working tirelessly now into his septuagenarian years, appears to be in no danger of abandoning his movie-a-year prolificacy. Originally premiering at festivals like Avilés, Venice and Toronto in 2007, the Woodster’s latest is “Cassandra’s Dream,” a familial cautionary tale and his third consecutive film set in London. Ewan McGregor and Colin Farrell star as two desperate brothers who may have found a solution to all their financial woes, that is, if both the law and their consciences will allow them to get away with murder. Before speaking with New York’s hometown hero by phone, I prepared myself for either cranky or jokey responses, but instead found Allen to be both surprisingly upbeat yet wholly serious.

“Cassandra’s Dream” focuses on nearly the same questioning of morality and fate that you explored in your last drama, “Match Point,” and even 1989’s “Crimes and Misdemeanors.” What keeps bringing you back to these themes?

Well, it turns out, my first attempt is to make a movie that will be entertaining to people. Over the years, I’ve made many comedies, but every now and then, I’ll get an idea like “Crimes and Misdemeanors,” “Match Point” or “Cassandra’s Dream” — something that’s more tense and suspenseful. Out of crime ideas, invariably, one is led to moral decisions. And those give the films more substance than just murder mysteries and whodunits. As you explore those issues, the films become richer and more detailed, and if they remain exciting, the moral dilemmas are fleshed out and give it another dimension that makes it interesting.

Your next feature, “Vicky Cristina Barcelona,” is set in Spain, but are the rumors true that you’re done with Europe and plan to return to New York?

Yes, I’m going to do a film in New York in about two months, [but] I’m not done with overseas. I did several pictures in London, and I did [“Vicky Cristina Barcelona”] last summer with Penélope Cruz, Javier Bardem and Scarlett Johansson, but I had a good New York idea and I’m going to do it. After that, it’s anybody’s guess. I could do 10 movies in New York, or go right to Paris and do one, because foreign investors come forward and keep asking me if I’ll make a movie in Rome, or Paris, and they’ll back them. These are often offers that I can’t refuse because they finance the films with no questions asked.

What if you were offered funding from someplace out of your comfort zone, like a distant island?

I don’t think I could go away and live for the four or five months it takes in some place that’s non-metropolitan. I don’t mind making a film in Barcelona, London, Paris or Madrid, but I think I’d have a tough time in Bora Bora.

In a recent interview, you said you’ve been framing scenes mainly in “master shots” out of laziness. How lazy could you possibly be if you’re still making a picture a year?

It’s laziness in the sense that I don’t have the incentive, and this left me many, many years ago. You know, to shoot a scene… her close-up, his close-up, her over-shoulder, his over-shoulder, and another angle; I don’t have the patience to do that. I like to shoot it and be done with it. Another filmmaker making a perfectly wonderful film can shoot a page and it’ll take him all day or two days to shoot with all these angles and changes. I’ll do five pages in a day because I’m shooting a master, and I can shoot quicker, get through it faster, and it holds my interest more. As far as making a film a year being a sign of not being lazy, it’s not as much work as you’d think. It really isn’t. You know, I make small films in a controlled situation, and they’re low budget. They don’t take more than a certain amount of months to do, and I have plenty of time to make one a year without really rushing myself.

Then, not to be morbid, but do you think you’ll ever slow down or retire, or will you continue to film a feature a year right up until the very end?

I think I’ll work like this until either something happens to me and I can’t, or someone says, “We won’t back your films.” If tomorrow, I couldn’t raise money for movies, I would certainly stop making them and maybe write a book or something. Or, if I felt exhausted, but I feel the same way as I did 50 years ago. I don’t feel any diminution at this point. That could set in all at once. You know, I’m 72. I could suddenly, at 73 or 78, say “God, I don’t want to do this anymore.” But right now, I feel just as energetic doing it as when I first started.

My hat’s off to you, sir. Has it become more difficult these days to get your projects financed?

It had gotten harder a while ago. I found it difficult when the film business changed and these mega-hit blockbusters became the thing to go for. They don’t care about investing $15 million so they can make five or six million dollars. Modest profits are of no interest to them. They’re interested in investing $70 million and making $200 million on a film. It’s a big-stakes game. In a situation like mine, I’ve always been puzzled. It’s almost a no-lose situation for them because my film is going to be made for, say, $15 million, so it’s [recouped] between foreign sales, domestic sales and auxiliary markets. You almost can’t lose money, and if you did, if the film was catastrophic, you might only lose a million or two. But their reasoning is: it’s a high risk business, they want a big reward, and in their way of thinking, they found a better business.

I was thinking about your heartfelt eulogy to Ingmar Bergman in the New York Times last year. As someone who has seen firsthand how much the industry has changed over the decades, how do you feel about film culture today? Does anything or anybody give you hope for its future?

Oh, sure. I think the filmmaker who made “There Will Be Blood” has made some wonderful stuff. I enjoyed “Magnolia” and “Boogie Nights.” I’ve certainly liked some films by Alexander Payne. The problem with the business is not that there aren’t talented people. It’s just that it’s so hard for them to get stuff done. It’s such a fight all the time. There are a lot of young, talented filmmakers out there who could be doing wonderful work, but it takes forever for them to get a film done, if they ever get it done. The companies are so reluctant to take chances, put up money, and not be hands-on. It’s such a sweat.

Do you ever read reviews of your films, or rather, do critics mean anything to you today?

They don’t, but not out of any contempt. They don’t because they never have. I’ve never had any interest in what they had to say because there’s nothing I can do about it. By the time critics get a hold of your film, it’s finished, it’s out, and there’s nothing you can do. You can’t change your style. There’s no help in reading them. They either tell you you’re brilliant and a genius, and you know that’s not true, or they think you’ve screwed up somehow. Maybe you have, maybe you haven’t, maybe it’s their personal taste, maybe not everybody will feel that way, or maybe everybody will. The best thing to do is make your films, keep your eyes closed, put your nose to the grindstone and just work. Over the years, that which you do which is good will last and people enjoy it, and stuff that’s junk drifts away.

Of course, you might just be your own worst critic. I’ve heard you don’t even like “Manhattan.”

I was disappointed in it when I finished, and I was surprised… You know, there’s no correlation between what I like and what gets accepted of mine. Sometimes I’ll finish a film, think it’s terrific, and then people don’t like it. Or I’ll finish the film and think, “I really made a fool of myself here,” and it gets embraced tremendously. That’s happened frequently over the years, where I’m at a loss as to why people embrace or reject something. I haven’t seen [“Manhattan”] in 30 years, but I remember having a very negative feeling: “My God, if this is the best I can do, at this point I should stop making films.”

“Cassandra’s Dream” is now in theaters.

[Photos: Left, Woody Allen on set; below, Colin Farrell and Ewan McGregor in “Cassandra’s Dream,” Weinstein Company, 2008]

Related: Check out Chazz Palminteri discussing Woody Allen’s directorial technique at the 2008 Tribeca Film Festival on AMC’s Shootout blog.

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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.


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…


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

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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.


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.

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