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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.

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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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G.I. Jeez

Stomach Bugs and Prom Dates

E.Coli High is in your gut and on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Brothers-in-law Kevin Barker and Ben Miller have just made the mother of all Comedy Crib series, in the sense that their Comedy Crib series is a big deal and features a hot mom. Animated, funny, and full of horrible bacteria, the series juxtaposes timeless teen dilemmas and gut-busting GI infections to create a bite-sized narrative that’s both sketchy and captivating. The two sat down, possibly in the same house, to answer some questions for us about the series. Let’s dig in….

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IFC: How would you describe E.Coli High to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

BEN: Hi ummm uhh hi ok well its like umm (gets really nervous and blows it)…

KB: It’s like the Super Bowl meets the Oscars.

IFC: How would you describe E.Coli High to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

BEN: Oh wow, she’s really cute isn’t she? I’d definitely blow that too.

KB: It’s a cartoon that is happening inside your stomach RIGHT NOW, that’s why you feel like you need to throw up.

IFC: What was the genesis of E.Coli High?

KB: I had the idea for years, and when Ben (my brother-in-law, who is a special needs teacher in Philly) began drawing hilarious comics, I recruited him to design characters, animate the series, and do some writing. I’m glad I did, because Ben rules!

BEN: Kevin told me about it in a park and I was like yeah that’s a pretty good idea, but I was just being nice. I thought it was dumb at the time.

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IFC: What makes going to proms and dating moms such timeless and oddly-relatable subject matter?

BEN: Since the dawn of time everyone has had at least one friend with a hot mom. It is physically impossible to not at least make a comment about that hot mom.

KB: Who among us hasn’t dated their friend’s mom and levitated tables at a prom?

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

BEN: There’s a lot of content now. I don’t think anyone will even notice, but it’d be cool if they did.

KB: A show about talking food poisoning bacteria is basically the same as just watching the news these days TBH.

Watch E.Coli High below and discover more NYTVF selections from years past on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

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