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Interview: Adam Yauch on “Gunnin’ For That #1 Spot”

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06252008_adamyauch2.jpgBy Aaron Hillis

Beastie Boys founding member and filmmaker Adam Yauch (that’s “MCA” to you, sucka!) isn’t giving up the studio and stage for a life in Hollywood, though he’s certainly passionate about the medium. Besides directing many of his band’s videos and the multi-camera Beasties concert doc “Awesome; I Fuckin’ Shot That!”, Yauch recently launched his own indie film label and sales company called Oscilloscope Pictures. Their first project? “Gunnin’ For That #1 Spot,” a doc helmed by Yauch himself, about the 24 high school b-ball prodigies who competed in 2006’s first annual “Boost Mobile Elite 24 Hoops Classic,” held in Harlem’s Rucker Park. With a predictably well-curated soundtrack of hip-hop and break beats, the film chases eight of the competitors down the court and behind the scenes, as the media, shoe companies, money-eyed advisers and coaches line up to woo them with future NBA dreams. I passed the mic to Yauch, who rapped about the new film, his relationship with the enigmatic Nathaniel Hörnblowér and how much Brooklyn has changed since his childhood. Ch-check it out…

Late in the film, some critics discuss the danger of hyping up these kids at such a young age, but those factors aren’t investigated in their backstories leading up to the game. Why did you choose not to pursue that angle more extensively?

I think we do demonstrate it for a second going into that section where [announcer Bobbito Garcia] screams out, “Come on, Tariq. You’re on the cover of a magazine, show me something!” Similarly, there’s a scene at the beginning where Jerryd Bayless is talking about Tariq and says, “He’s on the cover of what? Who’s on there?” He’s sort of annoyed. I guess we don’t explore it that in-depth, but there are things that elude to it. My personal feeling is that some of the press stuff is probably alright, and if these kids really are interested in pursuing a career in the NBA, getting a taste of media along the way [shows them] what their job is going to be if they make it into the league. [Someone in the film] says, “If a kid doesn’t do well, everybody says, ‘Oh, the kid didn’t pan out,’ but nobody blames the media. He didn’t ask to be on the cover of a magazine when he was in the sixth grade.”

It’s definitely an interesting perspective, but on the other side of the coin, these guys are pursuing an extremely competitive sport. It’s part of what they’re going to face, too. Certainly, the question is, what does it mean when they’re minors as opposed to being adults? One could say that we’re guilty of the same thing in making the documentary, but personally, I’m not trying to do anything that’s harmful to the kids. Just taking a little time to look at that world.

A few F-bombs get bleeped out in the film. Were you concerned about a harsher rating?

Yeah, we wanted a PG-13 rating. I thought it was a good movie for kids to see, so I did beep out a few of the curses here and there. You still know what they are. I don’t mind my daughter seeing it, and she’s nine years old. I think kids have their own censorship of that kind of stuff. If I’m driving my car and somebody swings next to me with the car and I say “Aw, fuck,” she’s like: “Papa, don’t say that!” I don’t think it hurts kids to hear a few exclamations, but that being said, you have to beep some stuff out if you want to make sure your rating’s right.

06252008_adamyauch3.jpgYou use them both here and in your early videos. Please sing to me your praises on why you love the fish-eye camera lens.

Alright, I’ve got a short list. [laughs] The main reason is I like the surreal feeling that it gives. It takes things that are close and makes them look bigger, and things that are further away look even further away, so you get this stretching effect. I also like that the focus is very even because what I like to do is very run-and-gun and experimental. By having that focal plane where everything is in focus, if it’s across the street or one inch from the lens, it allows you to let things happen — you’re more likely to catch the action. I grew up in the ’70s, and if you open old magazines from the late ’60s, early ’70s, every advertisement is a fish eye lens. Not every car ad, but there’s a lot of it. In the early ’80s, when we started making videos, there wasn’t any of that. I always remembered that look from being a kid.

Where did your nom de plume Nathaniel Hörnblowér come from, and why did you abandon it for this film?

I think the first time I used it was when I took the picture of the cover of “Paul’s Boutique.” I wanted to throw some credit in there for that photo, but I thought it would look weird if one of the band members were credited as the photographer for the cover of the record. It seemed strange, too incestuous. So I put a fake name there, and then I started using it for any record covers I was designing or video stuff I was doing. Then it became a whole persona. But since this was not a Beastie Boys-related thing, it just made more sense to set that aside for a minute.

What was the impetus for starting Oscilloscope Pictures?

It’s something I’ve been thinking about for a while, doing film distribution. I’ve been going to film festivals for a while, and I often look at movies and think, “Wow, it’d be cool to put that out,” or “I can’t believe that movie never came out.” Especially growing up around indie record labels, I had this idea of applying some of the principles to making a small indie film distribution company. As I was finishing “Gunnin’,” it just felt like this was the time to do it. I went to start the company rather than going out to another distributor. So I went to David Fenkel from ThinkFilm for his thoughts, and he was down. So he left Think, Dan [Berger] left with him, and they came and did it with me.

Criterion’s “Beastie Boys Anthology” was one of the greatest marriages of music and DVD. Do you have any further plans to innovate like this?

I don’t know, that one just felt like it made sense. When I first heard about DVD, like what DVD was going to be, someone was explaining to me that there are going to be multiple audio and video channels. It just sort of hit me, thinking about that: “Oh wow, I could sync up this outtake footage from videos, like whole takes, sync up remixes, and you could choose between different takes.” Once I thought of the idea, I couldn’t let it go until it was done.

06252008_adamyauch1.jpgDoes the wavelength animation at the beginning of that DVD’s menu screen have anything to do with Oscilloscope?

Yeah, I guess so. The oscilloscope is a machine that I’ve been partially obsessed with for many years. So I had the studio named that, but the Criterion disc pre-dates that. I even have oscilloscopes in other videos and things like that. It’s a cool machine; I’ve always liked it since I was a kid.

Are there any plans to get your Beastie brethren involved in your films? I’ve wanted to see Ad-Rock in front of the camera again after his comic sidekick performance in 1992’s “Roadside Prophets.”

It would be cool, yeah. It was great having them involved in this; they helped with some of the scoring. I think Adam is a really good actor and I don’t think that’s his best work. It’s a pity that he stopped acting. I feel like he kept getting typecast in these momma’s boy roles, these kind of wimpy roles, which I think is weird. He can play much stronger roles, but that’s neither here nor there. I think he’s sick of acting right now.

As a downtown Brooklyn transplant, I’d like to pick a native’s brain. You live in lower Manhattan now, but what do you think of Brooklyn in 2008 compared to when you were growing up?

It’s definitely really different. If you went over to [the now restaurant hotspot] Smith Street, it was rough. On Smith, when I was a kid, there were just a few bodegas with the plexiglass in front of them, where you were handed what you wanted through the [window]. Boerum Hill was much rougher. Not so much Cobble Hill, but even through Carroll Gardens and what-not. But I like where Brooklyn is at right now. I feel like Manhattan has gotten too gentrified in many ways, and I really enjoy whenever I visit Brooklyn, hang out at my parents’ house, or walk around, go to Prospect Park. I think about [moving back] all the time. I feel like Brooklyn still has the multi-cultural aspects that I love about New York. Manhattan just seems like a world of stock brokers. [laughs]

[Photos: Director Adam Yauch; “Gunnin’ For That #1 Spot,” Oscilloscope Pictures, 2008]

“Gunnin’ For That #1 Spot” opens in New York and Los Angeles on June 27th.

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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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GIFs via Giphy

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.

via GIPHY

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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