Interview: Josh Koury on “We Are Wizards”‏

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11202008_wearewizards1.jpgBy Aaron Hillis

Even if you’re the rare bird who has never heard of a Muggle, Hogwarts or Lord Voldemort, you won’t feel left out while watching “We Are Wizards,” a heartfelt and hugely entertaining doc about the Harry Potter fan phenomenon. Directed by Josh Koury (of 2002’s “Standing By Yourself”), the film isn’t just about groupies but what the Potter-verse has inspired among a few chosen subjects, including wizard rock bands like Harry and the Potters, Draco and the Malfoys, and the pint-sized Hungarian Horntails. Self-made activist Heather Lawver chronicles her successful fight against Warner Bros. over their persecution of Potter fan sites, and eccentric artist Brad Neely explains his “Wizard People, Dear Reader,” a hilarious audio commentary to be played in conjunction with the first “Harry Potter” film. Koury, who also teaches on the film faculty at NYC’s Pratt Institute, spoke with me between classes about his own Potter fandom, the ambiguities of copyright infringement and his decision to abandon the Brooklyn Underground Film Festival.

You yourself are a “Harry Potter” fan. What do you think it is about the series that has roused you and this legion of super-fans?

The books are very well-written, and everybody likes the underdog story. When it comes to the fan base, we try to let the people in the film speak for themselves. It’s always a personal relationship. What I think is significant about the series is that it’s been a part of people’s lives for so long. Let’s take [The Leaky Cauldron fan site founder] Melissa Anelli, who is 26 right now. The first book came out when she was 16. They were still an important part of her life back then. This film is about these people and their personal stories, but at the same time, it’s about using this inspiration as a stepping stone for other creative endeavors.

But how did this subculture get so big? We’re so inundated with media, viral successes are still typically fleeting, and yet this series continues to appeal to kids and adults of all demographics.

It’s the scope; it reaches people all over the world. What’s different about this particular tale is that “Harry Potter” was the right story at the right time and place. There’s also “Lord of the Rings” and “Chronicles of Narnia”; this isn’t the first great piece of literature that’s captured a generation, but it came out at a time for the communication age to grab hold of it and move it in an interesting direction. The wizard rock scene and the Harry Potter fan base don’t just stay concealed in a room. These aren’t nerds hanging out in their parents’ basements and going into chat rooms. They get their guitars and groups together and take it to the streets. It’s almost like a family.

11202008_wearewizards2.jpgDo you think wizard rock is a legitimate rock subgenre, or a novelty that will eventually wither?

It will fade in time. I’d like to be optimistic and say it’s going to last forever, but it’s not. Look, the last book came out a year ago, and it’s still as strong as it’s ever been, but you can tell that over the next year or two, things will start to slow down. But some of the more popular bands are just excellent musicians. Recently, I went to a wizard rock show where Draco and the Malfoys, the gentleman from the Whomping Willows, and some other fellow from a band that’s not in the movie all got together and played different songs. Man, they just wailed.

With such a wild array of possibilities, how did you track down and curate your subjects?

The process for finding our characters was basically Internet research. Also, people we interviewed would lead us into interesting directions. It would be pretty impossible to make an 80-minute movie that’s truly a retrospective of Harry Potter since the fan base is so long, and there’s an infinite amount of wizard rock bands and fan sites. From the beginning, we didn’t want to make a “Trekkies”-style documentary where you make fun of the nerdy kids. We wanted to focus our efforts and energy on finding people that we felt had something great to offer: real musicians, or Brad Neely, [who] is a great artist and a comedian. A lot of these are people that I was excited to hang out with, not just because we made the movie or in reference to the movie. Paul and Joe DeGeorge of Harry and the Potters are two terrific guys and great friends of mine now, and Brad Neely is a terrific guy to hang out with. That’s what inspired us.

The film chronicles the story of Heather Lawver and PotterWar, the fan organization that campaigned against Warner Brothers’ copyright bullying in 2001. Wouldn’t it be in a studio’s best interest to allow fans to grow the myth?

Yeah, it does, and that’s what they figured out. We make Warner Bros. a bad guy for a few seconds, but at the end of the day, we do try to paint them as a progressive company. 2001, which was only seven years ago, feels like a century in the Internet world. I think they were developing their attitude towards the fan base at the time, and realized quickly that it’s probably not in their interest to turn off the fan outlets out there. Warner Bros. has definitely pulled back and opened their arms to the fans out there. With the recent exception of J.K. Rowling and Warner Bros. versus RDR Books, which was in the news in the past six months, they have a really terrific relationship with the fans. They probably wouldn’t admit this, but my opinion is that it mainly came to develop because of this PotterWar instance.

Is there any concern about using the words “Harry Potter” on the packaging of a film not sanctioned by Warner Bros.?

11202008_wearewizards3.jpgWe’ve taken it to a copyright lawyer, and it should be cool and the gang. Warner Bros. is obviously a huge company and can do whatever they want, but as a documentary filmmaker, you have certain rights. We’ve also been very careful in making the movie. There’s no music, we don’t use any [licensable] fonts, and there’s no footage involved. We tried to be as respectful as possible, and that helps a lot. We do have to express that this is not a Warner Bros. or official Harry Potter product, which we’re more than happy to do.

Brad Neely’s “Wizard People, Dear Reader” is hosted on a site called illegal-art.org. Do you think its underground mystique helps it grow, or does it only limit its potential audience?

Brad is kind of a minor celebrity at this point. He does a lot of work these days, [like] that George Washington movie and [animated shorts] for Super Deluxe. But what that Web site does is promote work that’s in the gray areas of copyright. Brad has every right to distribute his audio. I think where they got into problems was when venues would rent the original “Harry Potter” flick and play it along with it. I don’t know what the solution to that is, whether everybody just brings an iPod into the next screening [or not]. “Wizard People, Dear Reader” is just really funny. It’s good comedy. The guys who do “Mystery Science Theater” released their own audio track to play with the first “Harry Potter” film, and it’s available for download, very popular, and they’re making lots of money off of it. So why is Brad’s illegal but theirs is not? The easy answer is, neither are, but if you’re a tiny artist like Brad, you can get scared and pushed around easier than some of the bigger dogs can. Once Warner Bros. started to shut down those screenings, that’s when people became interested very quickly about his audio release. He was on NPR and in Time. Everybody wanted a piece at that point. [laughs]

Do you think it was a cop-out when J. K. Rowling announced that Dumbledore was gay after the series ended, instead of on the written page where her influence could’ve opened minds?

To a degree, it was. But I also believe that she probably didn’t have to say anything. That was blurted out at some sort of convention, where the question wasn’t “Does Dumbledore have any sexual interest?” There was nothing that led to that [directly]. I’m glad she said it, because it does open up people’s minds. Those who are upset about Dumbledore being gay are not really fans. They’re the people who think they have the right to tell people what to think and what they should read. There are wizard rock songs that make light of that issue, playing with it and having fun. That’s great because that’s what being open-minded is about. It’s a great reflectance when the fan community embraces it and celebrates.

11202008_joshkoury.jpgYou were the programming director for the Brooklyn Underground Film Festival, which ended in 2006. Why is the fest no longer around?

Well, the film festival is no longer around because the two founders, myself and Miles Kane — who’s actually the editor of “We Are Wizards” and helped develop the film with me — decided to close it for two reasons. One: It was difficult — you only have so much spare time in your life because we both have full-time jobs. We wanted to spend that time doing something creative. Instead of spending it on Brooklyn Underground, we decided to make a new movie. Two and a half years later, we have “We Are Wizards.”

The other reason is that we started the Brooklyn Underground Film Festival [because] we felt that there was sincerely a lack of venues for smaller films, and I think that’s been eradicated. Talking about the internet and communications, for a lot of great films — thanks to YouTube and other festivals that have emerged — there’s just less of a need. If you have a good work, it’s short, and people want to see it, they will see it. At a certain point, the reason for having a film festival becomes just to have a party, and that’s not what we were doing. Also, film festivals in general are more open to this work. Every year at Sundance, you see films that are getting more and more experimental, even the narratives. Hollywood films are getting more open-minded as well. What do we need another underground festival for?

[Photos: Harry and the Potters; Draco and the Malfoys; the Hungarian Horntails; director Josh Koury – Brooklyn Underground Films, 2008]

“We Are Wizards” is now open in New York.

SAW, Shawnee Smith, 2004. ph: Greg Gayne/©Lionsgate/courtesy Everett Collection

Saw's Death Traps

The Creepiest Death Traps From the Saw Movies

See Jigsaw's creepiest traps.

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The deathtraps featured in the Saw movies are basically what would happen if Rube Goldberg and Hellraiser had a demon hell child. Jigsaw (and his assistants) build devices of such staggering complexity that it’s a wonder what they could actually accomplish if they used their skills for good instead of for ironic punishment.

Before you catch the Saw movie marathon on IFC, check out the most creepiest traps from each movie which, of course, are very NSFW unless you work for Jigsaw.

1. The Reverse Bear Trap, Saw

The Reverse Bear Trap was the most visually distinctive contraption of the original movie and set the macabre template for the rest of the series. A large metal machine is connected to the victim’s face. If they fail the test, powerful motors will open their jaw to a truly fatal degree. It basically takes all of our dental surgery fears to a horrifying new level.

2. The Razor Box, Saw II

The Razor Box presents a serious dilemma: A poisoned victim sees a clear box containing an antidote. But if they reach in to grab it, razors cut into their arms. Just a few seconds of examination would have revealed the trap’s key on top of the box. It turns out that when you’re locked in a filthy pit of death traps by a lunatic, the most obvious solution completely goes out the window.

3. Amanda’s Test, Saw III

Amanda survives the Reverse Bear Trap from the first movie and goes on to work with Jigsaw. (And you thought your job interview was bad.) Unfortunately it turns out that most people building death traps don’t actually want their victims to survive. When Amanda shoots someone rather than releasing them from a shotgun collar, Jigsaw explains that that was Amanda’s test. Just after manipulating his other apprentice into shooting her in the neck.

4. See No Evil, Speak No Evil, Saw IV

Two men wake up wearing collars chained to a winding cylinder. One has his eyes sewn shut, the other his mouth, so they’re not really in a condition to take a calm look at the situation. The result is a perfectly brutal tragedy of miscommunication and mutilation.

5. The Fatal Five Teamwork Traps, Saw V

Five victims face a series of traps which can be non-lethally solved with the power of teamwork. (Jigsaw could’ve had a great side career as a corporate trainer.) Unfortunately for the five (then four, then three…) they compete with and kill each other until the final test, where they have to sacrifice a total of ten pints of blood to escape. With only two people left, it doesn’t go well.

6. Breathing Room, Saw VI

A health insurance executive and his company’s heavy-smoker janitor are locked into crushing vices connected to breathing masks. The more they breathe, the tighter the vices close, until only one survives. We’ll be honest; we love this because someone specifically built it so that the “breathing room” pun isn’t the most painful aspect.

7. The Love Triangle, Saw 3D: The Final Chapter

The many Saw sequels meant that Jigsaw and his cohorts had to get even more creative to keep their deathtraps fresh. The Love Triangle took things into the outside world by sticking three actual bodies in a mall display full of actual saws. How did Jigsaw install a murder machine and three actual living humans in a public display booth without being caught? And where is Batman when you need him? Jigsaw is really approaching Joker territory here.


Bob & David Are Back

Watch David Cross, Bob Odenkirk and Scott Aukerman in the Hilarious ‘With Bob & David’ Trailer

Catch David Cross in the return of Todd Margaret on January 7th at 10P on IFC.

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David Cross (Todd Margaret), Bob Odenkirk (Better Call Saul) and Comedy Bang! Bang! host Scott Aukerman are back with the trailer for the long-awaited Mr. Show “non-reunion” reunion, W/ Bob & David.

The upcoming Netflix sketch comedy show reunites Bob and David with Mr. Show writers and performers John Ennis, Jay Johnston, Paul F. Tompkins, Brian Posehn and Mr. Hot Saucerman himself, Scott Aukerman. But this is not a Mr. Show reunion. In March, Odenkirk told Rolling Stone that W/ Bob & David is “a new sketch-comedy show featuring the writing and performing of the great and special Bob and David and please use those terms because it’s like [the] King of Pop — the Great and Special Bob and David.”

Still, Bob and David fans will notice that the new show tackles topics like time travel, police interrogations and eccentric tech wizards with the same absurdist wit that made Mr. Show a comedy classic. Also, lots of wigs. You can’t have a sketch show without wigs.

After you’ve binge-watched W/ Bob & David in November, be sure to catch David in the third season of Todd Margaret when it premieres Thursday, January 7th at 10P ET/PT on IFC. The first three episodes of the six-episode series air back-to-back on January 7th, with the remaining three episodes premiering the following week on Thursday, January 14th at 10pm ET/PT. Finally those cans of Thunder Muscle you’ve been hoarding for a rainy day will come in handy.


Masters of Disguise

10 Celebs Who Went in Disguise For a Laugh

Catch David Krumholtz in Gigi Does It starting October 1st at 10:30P on IFC.

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Are you ready for Gigi Rotblum? Armed with a hefty bank account left to her by her late hubby, the 76-year-old yenta is grabbing life by the balls and shocking everyone within earshot with her no-nonsense attitude.

But it turns out there’s a man behind the granny — Yes, the star of the new IFC series Gigi Does It is actually actor David Krumholtz, who you probably know from shows like Numb3rs and movies like Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle. Krumholtz causes all kinds of trouble when he encounters people while undercover as his prosthetically enhanced alter ego.

In honor of the premiere of Gigi Does It, join us for a look at a long line of celebrities who’ve gone undercover for laughs.

1. David Krumholtz

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Krumholtz isn’t the first big-name celeb to become unrecognizable for a good, old-fashioned prank, but he’s definitely our new favorite. Accompanied by her trusty male nurse, Gigi isn’t afraid to give an art gallery curator her creative opinion on the works in his collection, or to tell a bunch of grannies how she slipped a nip in front of her grandkids. (Click here to watch a free episode of Gigi Does It.)

2. Drake

Despite his immense stardom, Drake is a polarizing figure. There are many people who have no patience for him or his music, and to weed these people out for himself, the hip hop star went undercover on the street in California. Thankfully, Jimmy Kimmel and his “I Witness News” team were on hand to watch the whole thing play out.

3. Channing Tatum

Everyone loves Channing Tatum. It’s not rocket science. But add in a special early screening of Magic Mike XXL, male strippers, and an added surprise, and it’s no wonder people couldn’t contain themselves. The added surprise was Tatum going undercover as an old man conducting a survey with the attendees. People laughed when he later gyrated on the lap of a woman in the front row, but the party really took off when he revealed his true identity.

4. Arnold Schwarzenegger

Ah-nuld can’t really go anywhere without getting noticed. So in order to promote the After School All-Stars charity, the Terminator star disguised himself as a trainer at a Gold’s Gym who just happened to sound exactly like Arnold Schwarzenegger. Thankfully his intense mustache didn’t scare folks off from ever setting foot inside a gym again.

5. David Beckham

Ellen DeGeneres likes to use her powers for good, making some of the celebrity guests on her talk show go in disguise to prank regular folks. For David Beckham, the comedienne had him pose as a Target employee and say and do ridiculous things to get customers to smell his cologne. Like Schwarzenegger, however, people caught on pretty quickly that it was really the soccer star under that fake mustache and glasses.

6. Ashton Kutcher

The That ’70s Show star made a career out of pranking people with Punk’d, so he decided to use his skills in this arena to sell some tablets. The actor became Coordrey, a product engineer for Lenovo, in order to get customers to purchase their new product. Normally we would denounce those who would shamelessly use their powers for commercial purposes, but this is pretty amusing.

7. Kim Kardashian

Raise your hand if you would like to tell Kim Kardashian what you really think of her — to her face, no less. Some people inadvertently got to do that when the princess of the Kardashian clan went undercover on an episode of Celebrity Undercover. The premise was that candidates were being interviewed for a job as Kim’s assistant, while the reality star herself got to hear what everyone was saying about her.

8. Bryan Cranston

Cranston pulled the perfect prank at Comic Con 2013 by walking around the show floor as his Breaking Bad alter ego Walter White. The mask was so spot-on, no one realized it was the actual Heisenberg underneath.

9. Johnny Knoxville

The Jackass maven had a huge comedy hit by disguising himself under prosthetic make-up to play a cranky senior. Perhaps he should drop by Gigi’s place for a cocktail or two.

10. Sacha Baron Cohen

Whether as Borat, Ali G or Bruno, Sacha Baron Cohen has made a career out of pranking people with his outrageous characters.


Balls to the Wall

Meet a Dysfunctional Dodgeball Team on Ball or Nothing

Catch new Comedy Crib episodes every Tuesday.

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In the first episode of Comedy Crib‘s Ball or Nothing, Chloe just wants to hit her ex in the face — with a dodgeball. Since her ex really, really deserves such a fate, her teammates are more than happy to have her back on this one.

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The new series will take you onto the sidelines of an adult dodgeball team, revealing that like on Benders, sometimes real life happens on the sidelines. The show is written and created by Megan Rosati of the hit comedic web series 52 Ways to Break Up and features actress Brea Grant (Heroes, Real Housewives of Horror) as the very intense teammate Chloe.

Also on Comedy Crib this week, the latest episode of Does Dave Know We’re Here? shows how a group of friends kill time in the car while waiting for their pal Dave. If you’ve ever wanted to get into the tuxedo shirt business, this episode is for you.

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