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Greg Mottola’s Best Worst Summer Job

Greg Mottola’s Best Worst Summer Job (photo)

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While going to Columbia University in the late ’80s, writer/director Greg Mottola (“Superbad,” “The Daytrippers”) worked in a Long Island amusement park, the embarrassing experiences from which form the backdrop of his wonderful third feature “Adventureland.” Jesse Eisenberg stars as James, a smart, neurotic college grad whose big plans to trek through Europe are squashed when his family suffers some economic duress (oh, it never ends!) just before the summer of 1987. Instead, the poor kid takes on the humiliation of the aforementioned job from Hell (here transplanted to Pennsylvania), where he runs game booths, avoids roller coaster vomit, tunes out the all-day loops of “Rock Me, Amadeus” on the loudspeakers and falls in love for the first time with arcade girl Kristen Stewart. It’s a bittersweet coming-of-ager made all the more hilarious by a top-notch supporting cast that includes Martin Starr, Bill Hader, Kristen Wiig and Ryan Reynolds. I sat down with Mottola in Austin, just after his film’s regional premiere at the SXSW Film Festival, to discuss an even more bizarre summer job he once held, the two best things 1987 had to offer, and how he once blew it with Brian Setzer.

If we can just define “semi-autobiographical” for a moment, how much of this film directly mirrors your real-life encounters at the amusement park where you worked?

Let me put it this way: I didn’t meet anyone as beautiful as Kristen Stewart or Margarita Levieva. But there were girls I was in love with. Everyone is a composite of or direct reference to somebody I’ve known. Martin Starr’s character Joel is based on people I’ve met over the years, the kind of guys who I’ve felt are smarter than me, better read — the people who turned me on to great books, movies or cool music — but who were for some reason just stuck. They’re self-sabotaging, or let their bitterness get the best of them, and they were kind of constipated in life. [laughs]

I have real affection for a lot of those people because they personally gave me things along the way, so I wanted that character to be portrayed with a certain degree of compassion, and Martin’s got a soulfulness that makes him really likable. I knew a rocker dude similar to the Ryan Reynolds character who was someone we laughed at behind his back, but also looked up to at the same time. We had that strict dichotomy, like, this guy’s ridiculous, but we also thought he was cool.

Then there’s the central story of first love, which was very much taken from relationships I’ve had — the learning curve of having naïve fantasies that falling in love was about finding the person who’s perfect for you, and realizing that actually, falling in love is about accepting the person for who they are, because everyone has flaws or baggage. It’s rare you meet someone at the perfect point in their life, especially when you’re young. To me, whatever drama the film has, it’s [James] trying to decide whether to run toward or away from someone who’s complicated [and] in the middle of their own personal tragedy. I wanted to capture that in a way that feels real to people and isn’t just the Hollywood wish fulfillment of boy meets girl, they’re soulmates and everything is perfect, because that doesn’t happen in the real world. [laughs]

04012009_Adventureland_2.jpgIf working at the park and first love didn’t intertwine for you in real life, what would you say was your defining summer?

The next summer, because I was so ashamed having worked a minimum wage job at an amusement park, I thought I had to get out of town and not go home to Long Island. I went to Chicago for a summer. About a week into it, I realized I needed to make money because I don’t come from any. I started to apply for jobs, and realized no one’s going to hire me as a waiter because I’d never done it before, and it was the same thing all over again: I ended up working at an elevator parts factory. I felt like I was in a turn-of-the-century novel. They were moving from the city to the suburbs, so I was categorizing and packing up elevator parts all summer long. But it was my first actual urban living. It was the first time I ever saw The Smiths. I kept reading about this band, before “The Queen is Dead” had come out, and I thought, “I should just check them out.” Literally, the first time I heard the band was live, and I’m kind of an emo nerd, so it totally changed my life.

I love all the music in the film, too. How much of it seemed appropriate for the story and characters, and how much of it was just your own personal nostalgia from that era?

It runs the risk of being indulgent or the audience feeling like: “The filmmaker is making me listen to their record collection.” But it had to be the music I cared about because it didn’t make sense to me to pick someone else’s music. I had rough times in college when I was very lonely and depressed, and I was that guy who got a lot of solace from music. The Replacements saved my life at certain points. [laughs] It was exciting to discover that stuff. I almost feel bad for young people today, maybe because I’m sentimental about how we heard music — it just doesn’t seem the same to me that anyone can say, “I’ll just go to iTunes and download it,” rather than to try to tune in to the college radio station that you can only get in the middle of the night because the signal’s so weak, and hear these bands for the first time.

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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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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.

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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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