DID YOU READ

Chris Eigeman on “Turn the River”

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05082008_turntheriver1.jpgBy Stephen Saito

One of Chris Eigeman’s favorite performances in his directorial debut, “Turn the River,” comes from an actor who has all of three lines and plays a pimply faced donut shop employee who tells his potential customers that he already drank the coffee. It’s the kind of droll one-liner that one could easily imagine rolling off Eigeman’s tongue during his heyday as the quick-witted star of Noah Baumbach’s “Kicking and Screaming” and Whit Stillman’s trilogy of “Metropolitan,” “Barcelona” and “The Last Days of Disco.” But “Turn the River” isn’t the intellectual yukfest one might expect from an actor with a reputation for snark and smarts, but rather the heartfelt character study of Kailey (Famke Janssen), a mother forced to give up her son Gulley (Jaymie Dornan), who attempts to raise enough money through hustling at pool and poker to steal him away from his father. It’s an ill-conceived plan, to be sure, and Eigeman doesn’t pull any punches in its execution, nor does he shortchange any of the group of fine character actors he’s assembled, including friends like Matt Ross (“Big Love”) and Marin Hinkle (“Once and Again”) or veterans Rip Torn and Lois Smith. Eigeman recently sat down to talk about his first film as a writer/director, how pool scenes are like sex scenes, and the moment when he realized he was no poolhall hustler himself.

How did “Turn the River” come about?

I’d written a few little pieces of it, a couple of scenes here and there. I did a job with Famke as an actor called “The Treatment,” and as she and I were working together, it was a really good experience. I’d never known [Famke] before — she has a great cowboy spirit about her, both in her life and in her work. There’s a fearlessness about her. After that film finished, I went back to writing [“Turn the River”]. I wrote one of the bench scenes between the mother and the son, and it was incredibly evident I was writing for Famke — there’s something very defining about her, and it became a real path through the woods, having that as a sort of lodestone.

The interesting thing to me about the film was that it seemed more interested in the characters than the story it was telling. Were you conscious of that?

I’m a Jesuit when it comes to structure, but I really think that structure is defined by character. Everything serves that master. People will ask me “Why did Kailey do this?” I always wanted that if I turned the film off halfway through, the audience’s reaction would be “Well, I really loved Kailey and I really loved Gulley and I really loved Kailey and Gulley together, but I think this is a terrible plan of hers.” And that was something that propelled me through.

05082008_turntheriver2.jpgDid you feel like this was the right time in your career to direct your first film?

I don’t think there’s ever a great time, but a lot of this was born out of the fact that when I was just starting out, working with directors like Whit [Stillman] and Noah Baumbach, those scripts were bulletproof. Those were great scripts, and I got incredibly spoiled by that because as you go down the road in all sorts of mediums, you aren’t going to have those great scripts all the time. So I set about trying to write as well as I could, and that would be defined by every actor in the movie being able to do good work and to have fun.

This is a little bit of a technical question, but I remember listening to the commentary on “The Hustler” DVD and they were talking about how hard it was to shoot the pool scenes. Was that a challenge for you?

Oh. My. God. Are you kidding? It was truly fucking terrifying. There are a number of films out there with pool, but the two biggies are “The Hustler” and “The Color of Money,” [and] it’s interesting, you think of “The Hustler” as being wall-to-wall pool, but actually there isn’t that much. There’s a lot at the top and there’s a little at the bottom and that’s about it. There’s a huge middle section. I knew that wasn’t going to work for us because that can take an incredibly long time. The other way is “Color of Money” and we could’t do [that] because we just couldn’t afford it. Scorsese shot every possible point of view on that pool table, [with] those huge, long tracking shots with Tom Cruise singing “Werewolves of London” in synch to the music and sinking three shots. We didn’t have the support structure to try and pull something like that off, so we found a third way which was very controlled and very loose.

The controlled was we built maybe 20 or 30 pool shots — we took pictures of them, put them in a notebook and named them: Ann, Betty, whatever…all the way down. So we had these shots, and the last shot that Famke makes — Zelda — and we knew that was the shot that we would end all the pool with. Famke got good enough and John [Juback, who plays Duncan, the pool czar of the picture] is good enough that we could just let them play. We’d shoot 360 degrees and let them go.

I was always interested in how much I had to show. It can get really uninteresting watching balls fall into pockets — it’s a lot like sex scenes, here [what’s] going is infinitely less interesting than [the expressions on] people’s faces.

This might be my naïve view of the films you were making with Whit Stillman and Noah Baumbach, but this one had a similar feel of “let’s get together and make a movie in New York,” which it seems fewer films have these days. Has that changed over time?

05082008_turntheriver3.jpgIt has absolutely changed and I genuinely miss it. I worked very hard to bring these people together [on this film] and to try to form a tribe for at least a little while. To me, I look back on Whit’s films, on Noah’s, on “Kicking and Screaming,” [and] not only is that a movie I really like, but the experience of making it was so enjoyable. I never wanted to just be an actor for hire — that’s actually why I liked doing television a lot. Doing a year on “Gilmore Girls” was fun because I liked the tribe [aspect] of it. It’s like extreme sports — at this budget level, you’re either going to cling to each other with affection and hope for salvation or you’re going to knife each other. Somebody’s going to get poked in the eye. In this case, it was the former, which is great — if my next shoot is half as enjoyable as this one was, I will die a happy man.

This film has already surprised some people because of the kinds of characters you played as an actor. What have you made of the expectations that people have of you and the reception this film has received?

Look, if you’re an actor and the first movie you do, you’re wearing a cummerbund and cracking wise in a Noël Coward template, that is what people are going to assume and you can’t blame them. But yeah, I know. All the pool stuff came about because when I got out of college, I was shooting a lot of pool and thought I was good. I came to New York, and when I wasn’t parking cars to make money, I was shooting pool and getting my ass handed to me by people who were smarter, better players and very crafty about taking money out of my pocket. I still play, but I won’t play for money anymore. It’s important to know, if you’re in the land of gambling, what you’re good at. [laughs]

This was during the time of New York City when there were some great poolhalls that are gone now — you could easily spend a day shooting pool against people who were kind of famous. There was a poolhall called Chelsea Billiards which isn’t there anymore, but it was the last great room in Manhattan and I lost to this one guy so many times [it] drove me crazy. He was incredibly good, but I didn’t realize how good until I was out a lot of money and it turns out it’s this guy named Kid Delicious, and he just wrote a book about what it is to be a pool hustler. That’s where all that came from.

Are you planning to go back to acting any time soon?

I think basically I am an actor. Sometimes I’m an actor who’s writing and sometimes an actor who’s directing, but I think if I’m forced to fill out a form for my tax return, actor is the first thing I write down. I try not to fill out forms, but when I do, actor is what I write down.

[Photos: Famke Janssen in “Turn the River”; writer/director Chris Eigeman – Screen Media Films , 2007]

“Turn the River”opens in New York on May 9 and in Los Angeles on May 16.

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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…

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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. 

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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-Craft

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?”

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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).

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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.

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

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Get Physical

DVDs are the new Vinyl

Portlandia Season 7 Now Available On Disc.

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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.

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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.

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Forget Public Wifi

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

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Inter-not

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.

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Self Defense

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

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