Christopher Doyle on “Paranoid Park”

Christopher Doyle on “Paranoid Park” (photo)

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There are cinematographers, there are great cinematographers, and then there’s Christopher Doyle. Boasting an eccentric résumé that includes stints as an oil driller in India and a cow herder in Israel, and notorious for his hard-drinking ways, the Australian-born cameraman, who was never formally trained, first made a cinematic name for himself with Edward Yang’s “That Day, on the Beach” in 1983. But it’s his long-standing collaboration with Hong Kong auteur Wong Kar-wai that’s cemented Doyle’s reputation as a visionary, his constantly mutating yet highly distinctive style — most often typified by strikingly expressionistic color and lyrical, sharply defined compositions — resulting in numerous awards and a legion of devotees. Having by and large confined himself professionally to Asian shores, Doyle has, during the past decade, gradually branched out into American productions, the latest being Gus Van Sant’s aesthetically intoxicating “Paranoid Park.” Doyle recently traded e-mails with me about re-teaming with Van Sant, his disdain for artifice and the way that spaces provide inspiration.

You’ve worked with Gus Van Sant before, on his 1998 remake of Hitchcock’s “Psycho.” What was it that made you want to collaborate with him again?

I had shunned Hollywood for many years, for all the right reasons. When Gus came along with the ultimate “conceptual film” that our “Psycho” is, I felt there was hope for art and that, in his integrity, I could actually find a space. I just had to get the colors right and get to work on time… I think I got the colors okay. So when the producers of “Paranoid Park” promised to actually get me to work on time, how could I refuse?

How did you and Van Sant develop the visual style for “Paranoid Park”?

Most of the filmmakers I work with (myself included) tend to avoid artifice. We often abhor anything that looks “lit” (“It looks like a movie” is our most negative response). “Paranoid Park” is a diary. It is subjective and episodic. I feel the only valid response to the personal nature of the main character’s experience was to allow the “kids” themselves to take us where the film should go.

03052008_chrisdoyle.jpgWhat plays the largest role in your choosing a project? The director? Actors? Script?

The people. Why would you want to spend all your energies and intellect and emotion and trust most of any day for anything from the six weeks to years that some films take to make if you didn’t like who you were spending such energy and time with? S&M you can find online.

What informs your approach to a given work, and what specifically informed your approach to the look of “Paranoid Park”?

The space. The location. In this case, the climate (it rains 151 days on average in Portland) and the process itself. Most films actually do make themselves. How well they make themselves depends on our openness to, and global understanding of, all the elements that contribute to a “work.” The actors respond to a space. The production designer and the director and cinematographer have chosen or manipulated or created the space. The light defines the space, but if the light is “natural,” it may be temperamental… changing in unexpected ways… and what if the actors are new to their craft? And what if someone falls ill? The parameters have to be engaged. Film is life, too… I try to “go with the flow.”

There’s a powerful, intrinsic interplay between image and sound in “Paranoid Park.” Did you know before filming began what type of sonic design would be employed, and did you try to meld the cinematography to it?

I would hope that the cinematography engaged the sound. I would suggest that the rhythms are there… but Gus gave them resonance. I hate the concept that an idea is “unique” or “inviolate.” Like a date or a conversation, one thing triggers another, so you either end up in bed or in jail or have the best soundtrack I can remember (because Gus dares).

03052008_paranoidpark2.jpgYour work has always struck me as deeply lyrical, and that can certainly be felt in “Paranoid Park”‘s skateboarding sequences. Why differentiate them visually from the rest of the film?

There are a large variety of sources and inspirations and debts and contributors to what is on screen and how it was filmed. In the context of this interview, I feel I should acknowledge that this film wouldn’t look and work and feel as “skaterly” as it hopefully does without the input and access and respect that skaters and skater filmmakers gave us. And it wouldn’t be as poetic as you suggest, or as coherent as we believe the film is, if the tone wasn’t right, if that integrity and respect and exuberance and pride wasn’t built into the spirit of the whole film.

How important is it for you to feel a connection with the story you’re shooting?

One connects with an idea or two. One sees in space somewhere to go. The ideas initiate the one idea that may center a piece, the one image that is really all a good film needs… or none of the above. Shakespeare writes okay — how many good Shakespeare films can you name? The process is what makes a film… through the people… the people can only be no more or less than they are. So real people make good films and fake people pat each other on the awards back

Given how long you’ve lived and worked in Hong Kong, is it strange to work on American features? Does it require a process of acclimating yourself to the States, especially with a project like “Paranoid Park,” which seems very intent on placing viewers in a particular American time and place?

In my experience, the more specifically and directly and openly one addresses ones own predicament, the more universal the experience is. At heart, we are not too dissimilar, even given what is often superficial cultural disdain. Sure, I feel more at home in Asia. Yes, many American obsessions are not my own. But when our common humanity can be explored and communicated with people of “heart” with real intention to “share,” there are no boundaries. I have made many films in many languages and cultures I am not of, but I rarely feel foreign. Watch the faces and the images. The subtitles are only a tool.

[Additional photos: Christopher Doyle and director Gus Van Sant on set; skateboarders, IFC Films, 2007]

“Paranoid Park” opens in limited release March 7th.


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…


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.


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 ’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?”


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).



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.


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


Get Physical

DVDs are the new Vinyl

Portlandia Season 7 Now Available On Disc.

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GIFs via Giffy

In this crazy digital age, sometimes all we really want is to reach out and touch something. Maybe that’s why so many of us are still gung-ho about owning stuff on DVD. It’s tangible. It’s real. It’s tech from a bygone era that still feels relevant, yet also kitschy and retro. It’s basically vinyl for people born after 1990.


Inevitably we all have that friend whose love of the disc is so absolutely repellent that he makes the technology less appealing. “The resolution, man. The colors. You can’t get latitude like that on a download.” Go to hell, Tim.

Yes, Tim sucks, and you don’t want to be like Tim, but maybe he’s onto something and DVD is still the future. Here are some benefits that go beyond touch.

It’s Decor and Decorum

With DVDs and a handsome bookshelf you can show off your great taste in film and television without showing off your search history. Good for first dates, dinner parties, family reunions, etc.


Forget Public Wifi

Warm up that optical drive. No more awkwardly streaming episodes on shady free wifi!



Internet service goes down. It happens all the time. It could happen right now. Then what? Without a DVD on hand you’ll be forced to make eye contact with your friends and family. Or worse – conversation.


Self Defense

You can’t throw a download like a ninja star. Think about it.


If you’d like to experience the benefits DVD ownership yourself, Portlandia Season 7 is now available on DVD and Blue-Ray.