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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.

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A-O Rewind

Celebrating Portlandia One Sketch at a Time

The final season of Portlandia approaches.

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Most people measure time in minutes, hours, days, years…At IFC, we measure it in sketches. And nothing takes us way (waaaaaay) back like Portlandia sketches. Yes, there’s a Portlandia milepost from every season that changed the way we think, behave, and pickle things. In honor of Portlandia’s 8th and final season, Subaru presents a few of our favorites.


Put A Bird On It

Portlandia enters the pop-culture lexicon and inspires us to put birds on literally everything.

Colin the Chicken

Who’s your chicken, really? Behold the emerging locavore trend captured perfectly to the nth degree.

Dream Of The ’90s

This treatise on Portland made it clear that “the dream” was alive and well.

No You Go

We Americans spend most of our lives in cars. Fortunately, there’s a Portlandia sketch for every automotive situation.

A-O River!

We learned all our outdoor survival skills from Kath and Dave.

One More Episode

The true birth of binge watching, pre-Netflix. And what you’ll do once Season 8 premieres.

Catch up on Portlandia’s best moments before the 8th season premieres January 18th on IFC.

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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…


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.


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).


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.


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.


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.



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 and the IFC app.

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