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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]


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.