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Paul Andrew Williams on “London to Brighton”

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Born in Portsmouth on England’s southern coast, 34-year-old Paul Andrew Williams began his career as a TV actor (appearing in such British series as “No Bananas” and the long-running soap “Eastenders”) before trying his hand at writing and directing in 2000. Short films, viral ads and music videos followed, but it’s Williams’s BAFTA-nominated feature debut that might finally raise his profile stateside. Set in a social circle of cockney criminals, “London to Brighton” might appear at first glance like it belongs in Guy Ritchie’s oeuvre, but if anything, it shares more in common with the kitchen sink dramas of Mike Leigh and Alan Clarke. Unfolding largely in flashbacks, the gritty tale follows a badly beaten prostitute named Kelly (Lorraine Stanley) and 11-year-old runaway Joanne (Georgia Groome) from a bathroom in London to you-know-where, all the while pursued by their pissed-off pimp Derek (Johnny Harris) and a vengeful gangster who wants to know why his father has been found bleeding to death in his mansion. I chatted with Williams about British cinema today and the responsibilities of filming violence. [WARNING: Minor spoilers follow.]

Instead of developing all-new characters, what made you decide to revisit Kelly and Derek from your 2001 short, “Royalty”?

It wasn’t anything in particular, to be honest. I had the idea just walking down the road. I pictured these two girls walking into the house, into a really grand room, and that piece of music [Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata”]. It was only a few days later that I actually knew those girls, what they would be doing, and maybe one of them could be Kelly. The story of the feature has nothing to do with the short; it just features two of the characters. I always wanted to work with [Lorraine Stanley] again.

Making short films on the side is one thing, but how does one take the plunge from full-time actor to career filmmaker?

It wasn’t anything sort of pre-planned. I’ve always had ideas, and one day I was out with a friend, we were in the lounge, and I said, “I’ve got this idea for this short film.” He said, “Sure, let’s make it then.” And that was that. We raised a bit of money, made it on film, and set up the production company. I was still acting, and then we made another one, I was still acting, and then afterwards I was like, “Actually, I’d like to be a director.” The thing is, when you’re an actor, there’s only so much you can do. It’s much easier to create something as a director because you can start with nothing. It’s in your control, whereas as an actor, you’re so much more reliant on outside influences to work and create.

It seems like the bulk of British dramas that make their way across the pond are of the crowd-pleasing variety: “The Full Monty,” “Billy Elliott,” “Kinky Boots,” et al. As someone closer to the scene, what do you think about the state of British cinema today?

Well, it’s not as big as America. In order for a British film to travel, especially to the States, you have to be a little easy to get. Anything too challenging might be difficult. And I don’t mean that American audiences are stupid, but our sort of independent and low class life is much different than the States. So any independent film that focuses on that — I don’t know, it’s not something that’s already at the attention of an American audience. Does that make sense?

I suppose, but I’m not even talking about what gets widely distributed by the mini-majors. I feel like I don’t see the British represented very often at film festivals and on the arthouse circuit.

For an independent film, it’s still really difficult. In America, it’s not looked at with a stigma. The independent side of making films is much more open, and people, especially nowadays, are more interested in seeing it. It has a much bigger following. Over here, so few British independent films ever see the light of day. Without a big distributor’s push, it’s hard to get into festivals around the world. I would also say a fair selection of British independent films aren’t very good. In America, there could be ten times as many independent films being made, so you have ten times more films coming out. Whereas in England, it’s probably the same kind of ratio of what makes it to what doesn’t, only we don’t have as big of an industry.

I’ll buy the smaller industry argument, but you mentioned a “stigma” and that some British indies may just be lackluster. You think both of those come directly from a lack of industry resources?

There are definitely less facilities to call on. In L.A. especially, you know, it’s a way of life rather than an industry, from [what I’ve witnessed] there. In England, I think most people would have to be proved wrong that British independent film is any good. For films of all genres, there will always be a preconception, but especially in Britain. We don’t call them independent films so much over here, but low-budget films. The stigma is that it’s going to be [amateurish]. Maybe that’s changing because of “Once” and maybe “London to Brighton” as well. Sometimes they classify films like “The Queen” and “The Last King of Scotland” as independent films, and those are like $15 million.

With underage prostitutes comes a much harsher word: pedophilia. Were you ever worried that a drama with the “p-word” might be difficult to sell to both distributors and audiences?

Yeah, there were those concerns, but the fact is we made this film for about $150,000. We didn’t show it to any funding body or anything like that. We purely raised the money privately, and made the film without any preconceptions of what would happen to it. I mean, it was the best reviewed British film in 2006. Five stars pretty much across the board, it was crazy. We had no idea this was going to happen. We were just a group of people who wanted to make a movie, and that’s what happened. I knew some would be offended, but those people may well have been offended by however I would’ve tackled the subject. The idea was always to make something not gratuitous, and I stand by that; there are no gratuitous scenes in there. You don’t really see that much violence, a lot of it is suggested. I mean, look at “Saw IV” and shit like that, which is made to shock and disturb. Our film is not that.

However, there is one particularly distressing knifing. We see tons of blood, the image is repeated in more than one flashback segment, but I didn’t feel the morality of the act is addressed. Do you feel you have a responsibility to make violence matter, not just to the characters but to the audience?

We shot the whole scene of that, and nobody had a problem with it — you know, distributors and funding bodies — when we were showing the film council and other people. Although you have a young girl stabbing someone, there’s no naked flesh. I mean, there’s legs, but only what you would wear on a beach. [Georgia Groome] was one of the most mature people on the whole set. She just finished a film for Paramount, she’s just remarkable. And her mum was just five feet away during the whole filming. The idea of seeing the blood was just to show that that was an injury that could kill him. It wasn’t necessarily, “Look at all this blood.” It was to say that if you get stabbed in this area, this is what happens. There was no rape, no molestation, none of that. It was purely the violence of trying to escape, not violence for violence’s sake. She was trying to save Kelly’s life, that’s why the young girl did it.

You mentioned how kind most of the UK press has been, and I agree, having The Guardian call your debut “the best British film of the year” must feel amazing. But then I stumbled upon two negative reviews, both American. Do you think there’s anything in the film that might not translate culturally?

I don’t know, and in a sense, when you make a little film for that sort of money, the last thing you think about is wherever it’s going to travel and get a release in the States. It’s a story, that’s all it is. It’s make-believe. I would say I attempted to do something that felt real, but that’s going to be up to an audience to agree with. You know, they call it… is it “middle America” where they’re very conservative? What can I do about that, man? It’s a big country. But the fact is, 99-point-whatever percent of Americans are not going to see this film. I think it’s the sort of film you would have to want to go see rather than, you know, go with your girlfriend on a date and say, “Actually, let’s go see this tiny little British film about pedophilia and gangsters and killing.” I don’t know if it’s going to be that sort of movie, so I imagine that most people going into the film will be prepared for what might be in it.

“London to Brighton” opens in limited release February 8th.

[Photos: “London to Brighton,” Outsider Pictures, 2007]

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SO EXCITED!!!

Reminders that the ’90s were a thing

"The Place We Live" is available for a Jessie Spano-level binge on Comedy Crib.

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Unless you stopped paying attention to the world at large in 1989, you are of course aware that the ’90s are having their pop cultural second coming. Nobody is more acutely aware of this than Dara Katz and Betsy Kenney, two comedians who met doing improv comedy and have just made their Comedy Crib debut with the hilarious ’90s TV throwback series, The Place We Live.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Dara: It’s everything you loved–or loved to hate—from Melrose Place and 90210 but condensed to five minutes, funny (on purpose) and totally absurd.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Betsy: “Hey Todd, why don’t you have a sip of water. Also, I think you’ll love The Place We Live because everyone has issues…just like you, Todd.”

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IFC: When you were living through the ’90s, did you think it was television’s golden age or the pop culture apocalypse?


Betsy: I wasn’t sure I knew what it was, I just knew I loved it!


Dara: Same. Was just happy that my parents let me watch. But looking back, the ’90s honored The Teen. And for that, it’s the golden age of pop culture. 

IFC: Which ’90s shows did you mine for the series, and why?

Betsy: Melrose and 90210 for the most part. If you watch an episode of either of those shows you’ll see they’re a comedic gold mine. In one single episode, they cover serious crimes, drug problems, sex and working in a law firm and/or gallery, all while being young, hot and skinny.


Dara: And almost any series we were watching in the ’90s, Full House, Saved By the Bell, My So Called Life has very similar themes, archetypes and really stupid-intense drama. We took from a lot of places. 

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IFC: How would you describe each of the show’s characters in terms of their ’90s TV stereotype?

Dara: Autumn (Sunita Mani) is the femme fatale. Robin (Dara Katz) is the book worm (because she wears glasses). Candace (Betsy Kenney) is Corey’s twin and gives great advice and has really great hair. Corey (Casey Jost) is the boy next door/popular guy. Candace and Corey’s parents decided to live in a car so the gang can live in their house. 
Lee (Jonathan Braylock) is the jock.

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Dara: Because everyone’s feeling major ’90s nostalgia right now, and this is that, on steroids while also being a totally new, silly thing.

Delight in the whole season of The Place We Live right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. It’ll take you back in all the right ways.

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New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

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Jenny Jaffe has a lot going on: She’s writing for Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, developing comedy projects with pals at Devastator Press, and she’s straddling the line between S&M and OCD as the creator and star of the sexyish new series Neurotica, which has just made its debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib. Jenny gave us some extremely intimate insight into what makes Neurotica (safely) sizzle…

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IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon.

IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. You’re great. We should get coffee sometime. I’m not just saying that. I know other people just say that sometimes but I really feel like we’re going to be friends, you know? Here, what’s your number, I’ll call you so you can have my number!

IFC: What’s your comedy origin story?

Jenny: Since I was a kid I’ve dealt with severe OCD and anxiety. Comedy has always been one of the ways I’ve dealt with that. I honestly just want to help make people feel happy for a few minutes at a time.

IFC: What was the genesis of Neurotica?

Jenny: I’m pretty sure it was a title-first situation. I was coming up with ideas to pitch to a production company a million years ago (this isn’t hyperbole; I am VERY old) and just wrote down “Neurotica”; then it just sort of appeared fully formed. “Neurotica? Oh it’s an over-the-top romantic comedy about a Dominatrix with OCD, of course.” And that just happened to hit the buttons of everything I’m fascinated by.

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IFC: How would you describe Ivy?

Jenny: Ivy is everything I love in a comedy character – she’s tenacious, she’s confident, she’s sweet, she’s a big wonderful weirdo.

IFC: How would Ivy’s clientele describe her?

Jenny:  Open-minded, caring, excellent aim.

IFC: Why don’t more small towns have local dungeons?

Jenny: How do you know they don’t?

IFC: What are the pros and cons of joining a chain mega dungeon?

Jenny: You can use any of their locations but you’ll always forget you have a membership and in a year you’ll be like “jeez why won’t they let me just cancel?”

IFC: Mouths are gross! Why is that?

Jenny: If you had never seen a mouth before and I was like “it’s a wet flesh cave with sharp parts that lives in your face”, it would sound like Cronenberg-ian body horror. All body parts are horrifying. I’m kind of rooting for the singularity, I’d feel way better if I was just a consciousness in a cloud.

See the whole season of Neurotica right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

The-Craft

The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”

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Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).

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Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.

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And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.