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Henry Selick and “Coraline”

Henry Selick and “Coraline” (photo)

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A puppet is posed, the camera clicks a frame, then an ever so slightly different pose, and another click. Creating stop-motion animation must be one of the most painstaking artistic processes of filmmaking, and yet the visionary work of director Henry Selick (“The Nightmare Before Christmas,” “James and the Giant Peach”) is so seamless that you’d think it just comes easy to him. With “Coraline,” based upon the best-selling novella by Neil Gaiman, Selick was in production for 18 months (following another two years of pre-production) on the first stop-motion animated film ever to be photographed in 3D — a thrilling, suspenseful fantasy of adventurous youth and parallel realities. After her family relocates to an eerie country manor, 11-year-old Coraline (voiced by Dakota Fanning) discovers a secret passage to another world that looks exactly her own, except every meal tastes like a decadent banquet, parades of mice perform acrobatics and her parents pay her far more attention… but why do they have buttons for eyes, and why does something seem so sinister behind the façade? Selick chatted with me about what scared him as a child, the Oscar-nominated movie he’d like to see in 3D, and how he feels about Tim Burton getting all the credit for his hard work.

“Coraline” delves into some dark corners of the imagination. How does it feel knowing you’ll be giving nightmares to little children for years to come?

I’m hoping parents take the PG thing seriously, look at their kids and say, “Are they ready for it or not?” We’re not out to traumatize three-year-olds. We’ve been thinking it’s more, you know, eight and up. Below that, only the very bravest children should go to the film. If they’re ready, I think they’ll be the brave ones, the parents will be scared, but the children will hold their hands and assure Mommy and Daddy it’s okay.

It’s not overt, though. It’s more about the scariness of the imagination, like in Grimm’s fairy tales.

Yeah, it hasn’t been done for a while in animation. The fact is, the first Disney films were tapping into the same sort of primal fears of Grimm’s fairy tales, [like] the death of Bambi’s mother. If you go back and see them, you realize the Queen actually wanted Snow White’s heart delivered to her in that box. That’s the order she gave to the hunter. Pinocchio’s best friend is turned into an animal, and it’s not a funny animal. In some sense, Neil’s book tapped into classic fairy tales and just put it in a modern setting. They’re classic because they’ve been told for hundreds of years, and kids love a good scare.

02052009_Coraline1.jpgWhat fantasies scared you as a kid?

One of the first films I saw was “The 7th Voyage of Sinbad” when I was four or five. It’s kind of a cheesy movie, but it has Ray Harryhausen’s special effects, and the Cyclops is stop-motion. Cyclops, that’s like this primal fear. I had dreams for years that the Cyclops was a small creature living in our huge fish tank at home, and at night, it was going to grow to full size and come after me.

Constructing a story one frame at a time, how do you maintain such patience? Are you as patient in other aspects of your life?

I’m… [laughs] Yeah, I can’t talk about my life because I’m not very good at most of the other aspects, but I have great patience for animation. I learned very early there’s a price to pay: a huge amount of time and a certain level of frustration. But the reward is phenomenal. You are literally giving life to puppets. It’s every kid’s greatest dream that their toys — their stuffed bear or their G. I. Joe, whatever it might be — come to life. That’s what we get to do. As a director, I’m not the one animating every frame, every shot. I’m moving around like a surgeon on rounds, or a farmer checking in on all the plants being grown, pruning and adjusting. For me, it’s a very exciting job. I work with some of the finest artists in the world. I’m in constant motion, making thousands of decisions a day. But for the animators themselves, it’s a great labor of love. Sometimes those sweet little puppets seem to be nothing more than vampires sucking your life out before your eyes.

At least a couple of your films had you dabbling in part live-action. Besides the immediacy of not needing to spend six times as long on a shoot, what do you like about that kind of filmmaking that you don’t get from animation?


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.