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Five Rules For Making a Modern Spoof Film

Five Rules For Making a Modern Spoof Film (photo)

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“Dance Flick,” from a group perhaps best described as the Wayans Brothers: The Next Generation (Keenen Ivory’s nephew Damien Dante produced and directed the film, which stars his cousin Damon Jr.) opens today, the fifth parody movie (or spoof) since the start of last year. This astonishing burst of productivity has coalesced around a new set of rules for making spoof films that places them in stark contrast to watershed predecessors like “Young Frankenstein” or “Airplane!”

Here are five reliable new school spoofing guidelines. There’s a 50/50 chance these will work for “Dance Flick” too, though there’s only a ten percent chance of that.

1. You can never have too many references.

It’s not that the spoofs of yesteryear didn’t reference other movies — they did. But they were traditionally woven into the film by way of flashbacks or dream sequences – think of the “Battleship Potemkin”/”Untouchables” opening to “Naked Gun 33 1/3: The Final Insult.” Recently, spoofmakers have dispensed with these devices in order to pile on the parodies. A single scene from last year’s “Disaster Movie” by Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer contains 14 different pop culture send-ups, including “Superbad,” “Wanted,” “Juno,” “High School Musical” and most surreally, “No Country For Old Men.” What does one have to do with the other? Or, for that matter, the notion of disaster movies? Absolutely nothing. At a certain point, all the non-sequiturs become simply nonsensical. But modern spoofs prize topicality over all else; to compete with the immediacy of an ever-shortening news cycle and the world of Internet video, they must sacrifice coherence and selectivity, not to mention the benefit of hindsight.

05222009_DisasterMovie.jpgThe spoof genre’s epochal texts feasted on the clichés accumulated over decades of formulization. Their creators were historians with senses of humor. Now, spoofers must play cultural meteorologists, forecasting which movies we’ll be talking about by the time their next one comes out. Guess wrong, and you get “Disaster Movie,” with references to such conversational non-starters as “10,000 B.C.,” “The Love Guru” and “Jumper.” Perversely, these “timely” spoofs are already more dated than their decades-old predecessors, though they do come close to fulfilling the now-ominous line from the trailer to 1998’s “Fugitive” spoof “Wrongfully Accused.” “It’s not just a movie,” it warned, “It’s every movie!” Something like “Disaster Movie” very nearly is.

2. Spoofing a celebrity is just as good as spoofing a movie.

True to its title, the trailer for Friedberg and Seltzer’s “Epic Movie” promises parodies of cinematic epics as varied as “The Chronicles of Narnia,” “Harry Potter,” “Pirates of the Caribbean,” and… Paris Hilton? Yes, betwixt all the movie spoofs appears a dead-on Hilton look-alike who coos “I’m hot” before getting cartoonishly flattened. She’s not the only one, either: the trailer also promises an appearance by a P. Diddy P. Doppelganger, who appears during a “Narnia” sketch, dances around awkwardly and gets smashed in the face with a bottle of Cristal. Sensing a pattern? It goes something like this: dress someone up like a celebrity (like, say, Michael Jackson), drop them into an incongruous movie spoof (like, say, “Speed Racer”), konk them over the noggin (like, say, with the trunk of a car), repeat.

05222009_EpicMovie.jpgThe audience gets hit over the head with this stuff too: despite the fact that the impressions make it perfectly clear who’s getting mocked, the filmmakers always have someone announce who they’re razzing — “Look! It’s Michael Jackson!” — before they do it. There’s not much more to these gags than the discrepancy between the celeb and the setting they’re placed in, with a couple of outlandish pratfalls tossed in; often these bits smack less of satire than outright bitterness. David Zucker, the old school spooficist behind “Airplane!” and “Naked Gun” series, even deployed an unflattering celebrity impersonation as the lead of his last film, 2008’s right-wing diatribe “An American Carol,” where Kevin Farley stood in for documentarian Michael Moore. To Zucker’s credit, the Paris Hilton cameo in his movie was provided by the real deal.



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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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.