SXSW 2008: The Zellner brothers on “Goliath”

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03072008_goliath3.jpgBy Alison Willmore

If you know short films — and, given how hard it can be to see them, you’d be in a select crowd — then boy, do you know the Zellner brothers. David and Nathan Zellner are an Austin-based filmmaking team whose distinctively deadpan, frequently funny and unfailingly if oddly affecting shorts have earned them high praise on the festival circuit. This year marked their fourth in a row with a film at Sundance, and their first with a full-length feature, “Goliath,” which is both true to and expands upon the off-kilter sensibility that made their shorter work so successful. In simplest terms, “Goliath” is a film about a missing cat and the recently divorced man desperately searching for it. But, as director/writer David Zellner puts it, “I guess more stuff happens.” I checked in with the Zellners on the unseasonably cold day before “Goliath” was due to make its hometown premiere at SXSW.

What’s it like being bringing “Goliath” back to SXSW and Austin after Sundance? Any major differences?

David Zellner: They’re both cold.

Nathan Zellner: Yeah, just as cold here as it was there.

It was your first feature at the festival — that must have been an interesting experience.

DZ: Yeah, it was different from the shorts because you get more attention. And if you get attention, you know it’s for your film and not for another one in the block of shorts.

NZ: And in the Q&A, you know that every question’s directed to you. When you’re at a Q&A with a short [film] program there’s always one [film] that gets left out, until someone’s like “This question is for everyone.” “What was the question? What was the budget for your film? I can get that one.”

What’s the difference in your process between creating the shorts and developing a feature?

DZ: For “Goliath,” actually, very little, because we’d done a bunch of shorts and got all the mileage we could out of those, festival-wise and also in honing our skills and vision. We were ready to tackle a feature, and a couple of larger projects that were getting close to taking off didn’t, and we didn’t want to sit around for another year and we didn’t want to do another short. We had this script on the back burner and it happened very easily. We used the same crew we use with the shorts and it was easy to segue into it, to look at it like a bunch of shorts glommed together.

I’d read in one interview that part of impetus for the film came from your fixation on — is it… a pole saw?

DZ: The pole saw. Oh, yeah.

…and wanting to put that in a movie.

DZ: I’d seen them at Home Depot and I’d seen greenskeepers using them. You know what [a pole saw] is?

NZ: Like a chain saw with a —

DZ: —a spear with a chainsaw on it. It’s incredibly fun, and I hadn’t seen it in a movie before. I’d fantasized about using it in a movie when appropriate… and also, just for personal reasons, wanted to play with it. You know?

03072008_goliath1.jpgHow do you two divide up work on your films?

DZ: Ultimately everything overlaps. We each have a say, but I come from more of a creative background, Nathan from more of a technical background, so I’ll typically tackle more of the writing/directing and Nathan more of the editing and producing. That said, it all overlaps, and we definitely have to have a consensus before we go forward — which we usually do.

NZ: It’s a good structure, the checks and balances.

DZ: I have a film degree and he has a computer science degree—

NZ: Together we make…

The ultimate team?

NZ: Well, we need a third sibling with a business degree. And then another one with a PR degree. And one with a doctor degree in case someone gets sick.

DZ: A doctor degree?

Has working together this long ever caused problems? It doesn’t dredge up any old sibling grudges?

DZ: Not really. I think just because we’ve been doing it so long — it’s all an extension of what we’ve been doing from little home movies when we were kids. One thing leads to the next, and hopefully the quality improves over time.

NZ: No more in-camera editing.

DZ: Or movie spoofs. When you’re eight that’s about all you can do, right? Movie spoofs.

Can you tell me about your decision to both act in the movie?

DZ: That’s one thing that, if we had just started to do now, I’d be freaked out about, but since, for better or worse, it’s just an extension of what we’ve always done, it’s kind of second nature. Part of it is that we like to act and it’s built around our abilities — we’re going to try to be smart with our casting because we know that if people feel our performances suck then we deserve all the flack in the world for being vain bastards and putting ourselves in. We’re really hard on each other when we’re filming — we don’t mince words. We really like to do it, and when it’s appropriate it’s a lot of fun to do.

So who’s the cat owner?

DZ: That’s—

NZ: —our parents.

DZ: Our parents have had tons of animals, so we grew up around them. They still have way too many animals now.

NZ: We always find them adopting strays. Or strays adopt them.

DZ: It’s all our dad. Our mom is tolerant of our dad’s obsession with feral cats.

NZ: They appear in the yard and then he gives them a name and you’re like, “Oh, don’t give it a name because then it’s gonna start coming around.” “I call that one Two-Boots” or something. “Oh, I won’t adopt it. I’m just giving it a name.”

DZ: And then you have three male, kind of feral cats in the house that—

NZ: —don’t get along—

DZ: —and mark everything. Yeah, it’s bad news.

[Photos: David Zellner; David and Nathan Zellner in “Goliath,” Zellner Brothers, 2008]


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.