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Kimberly Peirce on “Stop-Loss”

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03262008_kimberlypeirce.jpgBy Stephen Saito

In “Stop-Loss,” the unaddressed enemies of the conflict in Iraq are the hidden costs of war — the post-traumatic stress disorder, the broken relationships with loved ones, the disconnect with reality at home. While Kimberly Peirce based the film on the experience of her brother’s redeployment to Iraq after fulfilling his initial tour of duty, the “Boys Don’t Cry” writer-director probably never envisioned making a war movie. Little did she know that it would be a fight on many different fronts.

After a nine-year hiatus in which she was asked to direct everything from an adaptation of Dave Eggers’s “A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius” to the grand scale “Memoirs of a Geisha,” Peirce is returning to an unforgiving marketplace for complex dramas, never mind films even tangentially related to the war in Iraq. She’s also re-entering the cultural conversation at a time when the Internet is a driving force. But Peirce has embraced all of it, first by incorporating YouTube videos of real soldiers into her story of three enlisted men who respond in different ways to returning home to Texas and subsequently discovering that they have been “stop-lossed” — in other words, they must serve another stint on the front. Beyond the production, however, she has engaged in an ongoing exchange of ideas and war stories on the “Stop-Loss” Web site, where she’s fielded questions from Tucson to Tikrit in addition to posting video of her 24-city tour to promote the film. (“Stop-Loss” was in fact initiated from instant message conversations Peirce had with her brother while he was stationed overseas.) The battle-tested director explained to me how the Internet inspires storytelling and why “Stop-Loss” is anything but an Iraq War film.

After all the adaptations that you were offered to direct after “Boys Don’t Cry,” did it make sense that your follow-up turned out to be something personal?

“Boys Don’t Cry” was this huge gift to me. I was in grad school, I fell in love with the story, the character — it was personal. I made the movie, was very fortunate, [and] thought, okay, every project I do is going to be this meaningful to me. [I] opened myself up to what was being offered to me in Hollywood and just didn’t find it as deeply moving as something that came from me. Or if I did, I would walk in for the interview [and] it would be like “Wow, you’re great. Your take is really amazing.” And as we’d proceed, [it wasn’t] necessary what they were wanting. I want to get to the heart of it and tear it apart and reveal what’s underneath it and even though you’re offering me millions of dollars and lots of access and I can make a movie, I can’t do it unless it makes sense to me. So that was one reason for the delay.

The second one was that I fell deeply in love with another story, the William Desmond Taylor murder, the greatest unsolved murder of Hollywood. Robert Towne and King Vidor also tried to do movies on it. I cast Annette Bening, Evan Rachel Wood, Ben Kingsley, Hugh Jackman, was on the one yard line, ready to go — this was the end of ’03, so we weren’t too far out. The studio ran the numbers and they said, “Wow, we would love to see the $30 million version of this, but we only want to pay for the $20 million version. And we don’t want to see the $20 million version.”

03262008_stoploss1.jpgHow did “Stop-Loss” come about then?

The day that happened, I had already been working on this as an idea. I made a decision and said, for the next one, I’m not going to accept any development money. I’m going to use all my own money, I’m going to buy the tapes, I’m going to buy the camera. I just followed my curiosity and my passion, as I’d done on “Boys” and as I’d done on “Silent Star.” The difference was that nobody owned the material. I owned it. So I did research all around the country, interviewed real soldiers, interviewed my brother who was fighting in Iraq, interviewed my mother.

I hooked up with Mark Richard, this great novelist from Texas, and we started working. He got a blowup bed, he lived on my floor and we wrote the script for 10 or 11 weeks straight. [Associate producer] Reid Carolin and I cut together footage from interviews with soldiers and the soldier-made videos. We handed a script to Hollywood on a Friday night, and we handed them this trailer, which had the sensibility: it was the YouTube generation — fix up a camera, film themselves, film their friends, and put it up on the internet. [These videos] had great music — rock and roll, Toby Keith, patriotic music. [They] had young people who were good-looking, charismatic and noble and fighting, bands of brothers. By Saturday morning, we had four studios who wanted to make the movie — not just buy the script. I didn’t want to sell the script. I wanted to make the movie.

One of the striking things about “Stop-Loss” is how you mix media to tell the story. The film begins with choppy YouTube footage and by the end of the film, the orchestral swelling is reminiscent of old Hollywood melodramas. Did you feel that you were more free to experiment this time around?

In terms of music, like in “Boys,” I used “Dead Man” as an inspiration: off-key guitar, rough rock and roll, drums, so all that rock music is going into this score. Every now and then, you’ve got your country/western. The counterpoint [to that] is the patriotic processional stuff that Brandon [Ryan Phillippe] hears in his head, calling him back to duty — that’s going to be your snare drum and your military-type stuff, pulling Brandon back — family, duty and honor versus individualism, striking out, going across the country on a road trip.

The videos do the same thing. Here are boys turning the cameras on themselves, turning the cameras on their friends. That’s going to make it rough, it’s going to be handheld. I think we do that at four or five points in the movie. Then you have your more classical photography that [cinematographer] Chris Menges is doing in 35MM throughout. Hopefully, you’re getting inside and outside their psyche and their experience.

03262008_stoploss2.jpgBesides the YouTube-type footage in the film, the marketing campaign for “Stop-Loss” has really embraced the Internet as a forum for discussion, where many real-life veterans have shared their experiences. Has that been as gratifying for you?

I love it. I think my deepest passion is being a director, but my other passion is telling stories and hearing stories. Did you see the post today, the woman who posted her beautiful husband who looks like Matt Damon and her little daughter? She’s like, “He’s done three tours, he’s about to do his fourth. This has to stop.” It’s hugely gratifying. The Internet is transformational to our culture and our society, and I love that it puts the power of communication into the hands of the people. It’s not just people passively looking at a television. It doesn’t have the gimmicks of commercials, it’s just story, story, story.

In some circles, the film has already been dismissed as “just another Iraq War” movie. Have you been affected by that personally?

It’s not an Iraq War film. And certainly people have asked me is this going to be an issue, and I actually write about it on the [film’s web site]. We’ve screened it in all these cities and so many people love the movie and what they say is “Thank you for making an emotional story. Thank you for making a story that’s [about] this generation.” We’ve had vets stand up at nearly every screening, like last night, and say “This is authentic” or “This is the story of my generation.” I mean, look [points at the film’s poster which features stars Phillippe, Channing Tatum and Joseph Gordon-Levitt sitting on the hood of a truck], it’s a band of brothers. You haven’t had that yet. Add Victor [Rasuk, who plays the fourth soldier in the squad who is wounded in battle] in there. You have these young people who are cast age appropriately. They’re energetic. They’re involved in engaging stories. It’s not about the Iraq War. It’s about coming home, connecting with each other and trying to connect with their families. It’s exciting, it’s moving, it’s American.

[Photo: “Stop-Loss,” Paramount Pictures, 2007]

“Stop-Loss” opens in wide release on March 28th.


Hacked In

Funny or Die Is Taking Over

FOD TV comes to IFC every Saturday night.

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We’ve been fans of Funny or Die since we first met The Landlord. That enduring love makes it more than logical, then, that IFC is totally cool with FOD hijacking the airwaves every Saturday night. Yes, that’s happening.

The appropriately titled FOD TV looks like something pulled from public access television in the nineties. Like lo-fi broken-antenna reception and warped VHS tapes. Equal parts WTF and UHF.

Get ready for characters including The Shirtless Painter, Long-Haired Businessmen, and Pigeon Man. They’re aptly named, but for a better sense of what’s in store, here’s a taste of ASMR with Kelly Whispers:

Watch FOD TV every Saturday night during IFC’s regularly scheduled movies.


Wicked Good

See More Evil

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is on Hulu.

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GIFs via Giphy

Okay, so you missed the entire first season of Stan Against Evil. There’s no shame in that, per se. But here’s the thing: Season 2 is just around the corner and you don’t want to lag behind. After all, Season 1 had some critical character development, not to mention countless plot twists, and a breathless finale cliffhanger that’s been begging for resolution since last fall. It also had this:


The good news is that you can catch up right now on Hulu. Phew. But if you aren’t streaming yet, here’s a basic primer…

Willards Mill Is Evil

Stan spent his whole career as sheriff oblivious to the fact that his town has a nasty curse. Mostly because his recently-deceased wife was secretly killing demons and keeping Stan alive.

Demons Really Want To Kill Stan

The curse on Willards Mill stipulates that damned souls must hunt and kill each and every town sheriff, or “constable.” Oh, and these demons are shockingly creative.


They Also Want To Kill Evie

Why? Because Evie’s a sheriff too, and the curse on Willard’s Mill doesn’t have a “one at a time” clause. Bummer, Evie.

Stan and Evie Must Work Together

Beating the curse will take two, baby, but that’s easier said than done because Stan doesn’t always seem to give a damn. Damn!


Beware of Goats

It goes without saying for anyone who’s seen the show: If you know that ancient evil wants to kill you, be wary of anything that has cloven feet.


Season 2 Is Lurking

Scary new things are slouching towards Willards Mill. An impending darkness descending on Stan, Evie and their cohort – eviler evil, more demony demons, and whatnot. And if Stan wants to survive, he’ll have to get even Stanlier.

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is now streaming right now on Hulu.



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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GIFs via Giphy

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.”


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. 


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.