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The Ghosts of Conor McPherson’s Past

The Ghosts of Conor McPherson’s Past (photo)

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Conor McPherson insists it’s his lead Ciarán Hinds who provides “instant soul” to his latest film “The Eclipse,” but it’s the 37-year-old Irish playwright who’s responsible for the ghosts. As has been his habit in his acclaimed plays like as “Shining City” and “The Seafarer,” McPherson once again conjures up the supernatural for a love story about a grieving widower (Hinds) who finds a connection with a writer of ghost stories (Iben Hjejle) when he volunteers at a literary festival in the small Irish town of Cobh, serving as a driver to a loutish bestselling author (Aidan Quinn) who’s equally entranced by her. While the film’s gravitas and unexpected wit has led to that even more elusive spirit — buzz of a distribution deal — McPherson’s preoccupation with ghosts even prompted fellow playwright John Patrick Shanley to finally ask about it during the Q & A that followed the film’s premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival. Following the premiere, McPherson took the time to answer that as well as speak to the ghost of his unreleased-in-America Michael Caine comedy “The Actors,” at the DIRECTV Tribeca Press Center.

How did this film come about?

The whole idea came together when a friend of mine, whose also a playwright, Billy Roche, was writing a book of short stories. He was e-mailing me these stories as he was finishing them, so every few weeks, I’d get one. He sent one which was set against the backdrop of a literary festival, about a guy volunteering who becomes obsessed with this poet, and she’s there because she’s meeting up with this other, famous writer. I thought hey, that could be kind of funny. I didn’t even think of it as a spooky film at that time.

I was talking then to my wife about it and because in the story, the guy is married and he has kids, my wife said, you’ve got to kill his wife because women won’t like him if he’s a married guy with kids and is obsessed with this other woman. I thought, oh God, yeah, I suddenly could see that he could be grieving and haunted and it could be spooky. I’ve always been very interested in the supernatural.

I know you’re a playwright, but had you attended one of these literary festivals yourself before?

I’ve been at film festivals in the past and theater festivals, but I had never really been to a literary festival before we started working on it because as a playwright, in a sense, you don’t really have anything you can read. You could go and act out the parts, it’s a bit weird. But we went to one in Ireland, the Listowel Writers Festival in County Kerry, and to be honest, it was very low key — it wasn’t as crazy as I supposed I wanted it to be, so the festival in our movie is a little heightened, and actually the writers are treated probably way better than they would be in reality. [laughs] It’s a fantasy. Here’s the celebrated writer!

04302009_TheECLIPSE2.jpgOne of the aspects of the film that was particularly striking was the lighting — the use of silhouettes and shadows — and as a playwright, it’s a crucial element on stage. Did you find yourself paying particular attention to it in “The Eclipse”?

When I started writing plays, I was quite young, 17 or 18. I was at college and there was a drama society and to put a play on, you had to direct it — I didn’t know anyone who was a director or anything like that, soI just started directing plays at the same time I started writing. Over all those years, I learned so much about lighting and sound and I love it all. I love the visual aspect. So when it came to doing the movie, I had a very strong vision of what I wanted it to be. I wanted it to have a certain coolness of the way Stanley Kubrick shoots things, a stillness, not too cutty. In terms of lighting, I was very taken with movies like “The Exorcist” — it’s very, very dark and very mysterious, and it was quite daring. There’s a lot of shots in [“The Eclipse”] where the actors are silhouettes.

Because we’d spent so long working on the script over four years, I pretty much knew all the shots I wanted, paid a tremendous amount of attention to those details and visited all of the locations probably three or four times. When I arrived to shoot, I knew exactly where the lights would be, exactly the time of day to shoot at. I remember reading David Mamet talking about film directing, and he [said] films are all in the preparation — on this one, I really felt that. I spent 50 times longer prepping than we did shooting, which paid off because we didn’t have a lot of time to shoot.



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.


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.