The “Public” Life of Ondi Timoner

The “Public” Life of Ondi Timoner (photo)

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Ondi Timoner seems less interested in making documentaries than immersive experiences, something both at odds and in harmony with Josh Harris, the internet pioneer and the subject of her latest documentary, “We Live in Public.” A man who claims his best friend growing up was his television, Harris made his millions by creating a web-based startup (Jupiter Communications) and selling it to Prodigy in the ’90s before spending money “like it’s sand through the fingers of time” on a Big Brother-esque bunker in New York where people volunteered to have their every movement captured on video.

Timoner was invited to bring in her own camera, and even after Harris’ bunker descended into chaos, she tagged along for his subsequent venture, a 24/7 webcam of his life with his then-girlfriend Tanya at WeLiveinPublic.com, and his unexpected life after the dot-com bubble burst. As Alison Willmore noted in her review on Indie Eye, Harris “might just be too good a subject for a film,” but Timoner’s aim is far larger than his. Just as her last film, “Dig!,” latched onto something far larger than the rock ‘n’ roll rivalry between The Brian Jonestown Massacre and The Dandy Warhols, “We Live in Public” deals with larger issues of human connectivity and isolation. Following a triumphant run at Sundance where the film picked up the nonfiction Grand Jury Prize, “We Live in Public” comes to the city in which it’s set to close out the New Directors/New Films Festival this weekend. With it comes Timoner, who talked to me about Twittering, being almost misquoted in her own movie and how her latest film is “really about you, so at the end of the movie, it’s kind of like ca-clunk. Think about it when you look down at your BlackBerry.”

When Josh first asked you to bring a camera to this thing, what kind of expectations did you have going in?

I had no idea what he was going to do. He said “Come document cultural history!” and I thought “Oh, Josh… what’s it going to be?” He said, “If you want to [do] something really special at the millennium, I’ll tell you that once you show up, I’ll make sure you get what you need.” That was his promise. I was shooting a pilot for a show that I was developing in Manhattan anyway, so it was like, let me just see what he’s doing. I went down there and it was this empty bunker. I couldn’t tell what exactly was going on, but he explained it and I just thought, I’ve got to capture this. I’ve got to be a part of this.

At what point did you know this was going to be your next feature, since you finished “Dig!” in the interim?

We thought it was a feature doc from the get go. I cut a version of the bunker alone in 2001, then the dot-com crash [happened], [and] we just stopped that project. I’m glad we did, because it took me until 2006, when I saw my first Facebook status update from someone driving down the freeway and I thought, What is that? Who cares if you’re driving down the freeway? Is this what we’re coming to? And hey, I Twitter now, too. It is fun, it is compelling to share and to be shared with. I started realizing that the bunker was actually a physical metaphor for how we react to surveillance and the Internet and this democratization of fame. We would submit to anything and everything to get attention.

04022009_weliveinpublic2.jpgI thought it was sort of sly on your part, the way you showed your own involvement in the film, in how it was shown and how it was mentioned. Was there was an internal debate about how much to include of yourself?

Not much. I didn’t want to do the voiceover. It’s not really my style. I’m not Morgan Spurlock or Michael Moore, but I do believe that the work comes first and that the form of the film should follow the content. And every film is its own organism. My films, at a certain point, trump me. The film itself has a way that it wants to become. I tried Josh Harris doing the voiceover, I tried Jason Calacanis doing the voiceover. I was sure we had it with Jason and we totally didn’t. It did not work for this film. And it came down to, like, what about you? And I don’t like omniscient narration. I like it to come from within a story if it has to be there at all. In my film “Join Us,” one of the cult members does the V.O. In “Dig!,” Courtney’s the V.O., I’m in the story, so then it became okay, well, now I need to be physically in the story so that people can anchor with knowing that I was there and it’ll make it feel more like the film has integrity.

There was a debate over when I say “I’ve been reborn by the cereal bar [where people eat at the bunker].” They wanted me to cut it off at “I’ve been reborn,” and I was like no, I was not reborn by the bunker. At all. At times, I enjoyed [being there], but at times, I thought it was so disturbing because of the way people reacted to their chance at fame. People [were] just clamoring for attention there, being grosser and more overt and more sexual, and as much as I appreciated the whole spectacle of it, it really made me uncomfortable. I felt like I was seeing the dark side of humanity. When the movie fell into place for me in 2006 and 2007, I realized that that was part of what I was suppose to feel there, that I needed to make this film now because it’s so important for people to be conscious as they use the Internet, not unconscious.


New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

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Jenny Jaffe has a lot going on: She’s writing for Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, developing comedy projects with pals at Devastator Press, and she’s straddling the line between S&M and OCD as the creator and star of the sexyish new series Neurotica, which has just made its debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib. Jenny gave us some extremely intimate insight into what makes Neurotica (safely) sizzle…


IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. 

IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. You’re great. We should get coffee sometime. I’m not just saying that. I know other people just say that sometimes but I really feel like we’re going to be friends, you know? Here, what’s your number, I’ll call you so you can have my number! 

IFC: What’s your comedy origin story?

Jenny: Since I was a kid I’ve dealt with severe OCD and anxiety. Comedy has always been one of the ways I’ve dealt with that. I honestly just want to help make people feel happy for a few minutes at a time. 

IFC: What was the genesis of Neurotica?

Jenny: I’m pretty sure it was a title-first situation. I was coming up with ideas to pitch to a production company a million years ago (this isn’t hyperbole; I am VERY old) and just wrote down “Neurotica”; then it just sort of appeared fully formed. “Neurotica? Oh it’s an over-the-top romantic comedy about a Dominatrix with OCD, of course.” And that just happened to hit the buttons of everything I’m fascinated by. 


IFC: How would you describe Ivy?

Jenny: Ivy is everything I love in a comedy character – she’s tenacious, she’s confident, she’s sweet, she’s a big wonderful weirdo. 

IFC: How would Ivy’s clientele describe her?

Jenny:  Open-minded, caring, excellent aim. 

IFC: Why don’t more small towns have local dungeons?

Jenny: How do you know they don’t? 

IFC: What are the pros and cons of joining a chain mega dungeon?

Jenny: You can use any of their locations but you’ll always forget you have a membership and in a year you’ll be like “jeez why won’t they let me just cancel?” 

IFC: Mouths are gross! Why is that?

Jenny: If you had never seen a mouth before and I was like “it’s a wet flesh cave with sharp parts that lives in your face”, it would sound like Cronenberg-ian body horror. All body parts are horrifying. I’m kind of rooting for the singularity, I’d feel way better if I was just a consciousness in a cloud. 

See the whole season of Neurotica right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.


The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”


Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).



Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.


And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.


Get Physical

DVDs are the new Vinyl

Portlandia Season 7 Now Available On Disc.

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GIFs via Giffy

In this crazy digital age, sometimes all we really want is to reach out and touch something. Maybe that’s why so many of us are still gung-ho about owning stuff on DVD. It’s tangible. It’s real. It’s tech from a bygone era that still feels relevant, yet also kitschy and retro. It’s basically vinyl for people born after 1990.


Inevitably we all have that friend whose love of the disc is so absolutely repellent that he makes the technology less appealing. “The resolution, man. The colors. You can’t get latitude like that on a download.” Go to hell, Tim.

Yes, Tim sucks, and you don’t want to be like Tim, but maybe he’s onto something and DVD is still the future. Here are some benefits that go beyond touch.

It’s Decor and Decorum

With DVDs and a handsome bookshelf you can show off your great taste in film and television without showing off your search history. Good for first dates, dinner parties, family reunions, etc.


Forget Public Wifi

Warm up that optical drive. No more awkwardly streaming episodes on shady free wifi!



Internet service goes down. It happens all the time. It could happen right now. Then what? Without a DVD on hand you’ll be forced to make eye contact with your friends and family. Or worse – conversation.


Self Defense

You can’t throw a download like a ninja star. Think about it.


If you’d like to experience the benefits DVD ownership yourself, Portlandia Season 7 is now available on DVD and Blue-Ray.