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Don Hertzfeldt on “I Am So Proud of You”

Don Hertzfeldt on “I Am So Proud of You” (photo)

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The Oscar category of animated short film doesn’t tend to get a lot of attention, but in 2001 it was host to one of the most unlikely and awesome nominations in recent Academy Award history. Alongside a tasteful watercolor-based work about a father and daughter and a stop-motion drama set in plague-era Europe was Don Hertzfeldt’s “Rejected,” a profane, hilarious and brilliantly absurd short filled with non sequitur-spouting stick figures and fluffy creatures bleeding from lower orifices, one that imagined an animator driven mad by his hopeless attempts to please corporate sponsors.

The film didn’t win, but did fuel a devoted fan base that’s followed Hertzfeldt in his staunchly independent career of crafting totally distinctive animated shorts that have grown in ambition and sophistication even as he’s continued to hand-draw his work and avoid computer influence. His last title, “Everything Will Be OK,” won the short film prize at Sundance last year with its devastating tale of a sad stick figure of an everyman named Bill whose perception is crumbling due to a mental disorder that may also be killing him. The just-completed “I Am So Proud of You” continues Bill’s story in the second part of what’s now a planned trilogy. To premiere the film, Hertzfeldt’s taking it on a 16-city tour, with stops planned everywhere from Omaha to New York — as the co-founder, alongside Mike Judge, of “The Animation Show,” he’s well aware that to find a place for animated shorts in theaters, you pretty much have to do the booking yourself.

When you began work on “Everything Will Be Ok,” had you already planned on it being the first part of a trilogy?

Not right away… in the earliest drafts of “Everything Will Be Ok,” I think Bill died at the end — which I guess might have made for an interesting trilogy anyway. I write and rewrite as I go, and some point early in there I realized there was much more to his story. it was also the most fun I’d had animating a movie in a while and I wanted to carry on, so I started work on “Proud” almost immediately after finishing “Ok.” “Proud” just wrapped up a little while ago, but I’m not nearly as ready to plunge right into part three. I had some leftover film, so a few weeks ago I shot maybe the first minute, but that’ll probably sit under the bed for a while.

Why does it seem somehow extra sad to see a stick figure contemplate his mortality?

I think it’s easier to project yourself into a simpler looking character. Maybe it’s because the drawings seem more candid or honest somehow — as some artists like to say, you have to leave room in the frame for people to dream. It’s probably why audiences will always invest more in a simple character like Charlie Brown than one of those overproduced digital fake humans.

10022008_donherztfeldt2.jpgHow did you come up with the multiple window visual motif used throughout “Everything Will Be Ok” and “I Am So Proud of You”?

Bill first turned up in a few comic strips I did a long time ago, and as I was trying to figure out the movie I couldn’t stop visualizing him in those same sorts of panels and frames, it just wouldn’t go away. I was sketching around and suddenly had the idea of splitting up the screen into independent panels. I dropped everything and raced to the studio to play with the camera to see if I could figure out a way to composite the whole movie that way. (The camera is literally just shooting through little black holes that are framed and sometimes stop-motion animated an inch or so from the lens.) After that, all the rest of the writing fell into place — suddenly everything just clicked.

Are there any particular films or filmmakers you’d cite as influences? I’ve seen everything from David Lynch to “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly” thrown at you in reviews.

Wow, well I wouldn’t argue with those influences, at least not in spirit… I’m not sure if I deserve them but that’s great company to have thrown your way. David’s legendary and “The Diving Bell” was easily my favorite film from last year.

“I am so proud of you” is your longest film yet at 22 minutes — I suppose this depends on the ultimate length of the third chapter, but the three parts together would seem to approach feature length. Is that how you would ever want them shown or thought of?

Not really. I’m not sure if I even rewatched “Ok” once the whole time I was working on “Proud”… which I guess is kind of strange. They share a lot of common threads, but I’ve been approaching each of the chapters as their own standalone movies. I think they’ve got to be strong enough to sink or swim independent of each other, I don’t want you to have to have seen part one to understand part two or three. We’re playing both “Ok” and “Proud” on this tour, but I’ve no idea how well the two will complement each other. “Ok” is a pretty exhausting movie to watch, and “Proud” is even more so… there’s so much going on, each of them are stuffed with ideas…having them come out in episodes, I think, is a little easier dosage for an audience to take. I’m afraid if somebody eventually watches all three of them back-to-back they might crawl under a sofa and weep.


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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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.