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Duncan Jones’ (Inter)stellar Debut

Duncan Jones’ (Inter)stellar Debut (photo)

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Making a cerebral sci-fi film on an indie budget isn’t easy, especially when it requires your star to tackle simultaneous dual roles. Yet that’s exactly what 38-year-old writer/director Duncan Jones — son of rock legend David Bowie, born Zowie Bowie — undertook with “Moon,” an assured, haunting saga set on a lunar outpost where the only inhabitant, Sam Rockwell’s miner, awakens from an accident to find that he has a new guest: himself. With its eerily contemplative mood, stark space station setting and calmly speaking robot (voiced by Kevin Spacey), Jones’ first foray into feature filmmaking after years spent making commercials reverently nods to past genre classics like “Silent Running” and “2001: A Space Odyssey.” But rather than overwhelming his tale, these references enhance what is, at heart, a melancholy inquiry into loneliness and the nature of self. While in Manhattan for the film’s Tribeca Film Festival premiere last May, Jones found time over breakfast to chat about the eroding mystery of the filmmaking process, his fondness for ’70s sci-fi, and his online social networking habits.

The first thing that struck me about “Moon” is how good it looks. How did you navigate such an elaborate production on an indie budget?

We had an initial ingredients list of things we knew we needed to do in order to make the film work. We already had an idea of what our budget would have to be for a first feature. It ended up being approximately $5 million. And just to give you a relative statistic, “Sunshine” is considered an independent science fiction film, and that was $50 million. We also worked out that we needed to have a completely controlled shooting environment, because at our budget and with our shooting time — we had 33 days to shoot the film — we needed to find a way to control our environment as much as possible. So we wanted to be on a soundstage for the entire shoot, and knew we weren’t going to be able to have a huge cast.

We ended up shooting at Shepperton Studios in England, and we built two soundstages, one which was the interior of the moon base, which was a completely closed set with a ceiling on it, and the second was the actual lunar landscape, where we shot with model miniatures. In commercials-land, I’d shot a few hybrid commercials where I used live action and enhanced it with post-production techniques, so using model miniatures was something I was used to, and knew how to get the most bang for the buck out of. We used the miniatures as a basis for the image, and then did enhancements like lens flares, bits of dust and digital set extensions on the landscapes, which was the most cost-effective way to do it.

Given how crucial “Moon”‘s central optical illusion is, when sitting down to write, did you first have to investigate whether the effect was feasible?

I can’t remember what order it happened in. I knew about the effect, and roughly how to do it. Then we watched the “Dead Ringers” Criterion DVD, which — speaking of making-ofs — has a fantastic feature with some of the original raw rushes of how they shot the scenes where Jeremy Irons plays multiple characters. That was basically a film school on that effect, and it was pretty easy for us to extrapolate how we could push the boundary a bit and do things differently. But as far as writing it, and using that effect throughout the story, we just went for it, and then worked out how we were going to do it.

06022009_Moon3.jpgThere’s a very tactile, lived-in quality to “Moon”‘s environments and costumes, and I know you showed the film at NASA. How important was it to retain an element of realism, in terms of both setting and technology?

It was really important. It was science fiction, but at the same time, I wanted to feel a certain confidence that there was an integrity to the world we were building. If the world that Sam’s character is in didn’t make sense, then I think I would have felt it difficult to really throw my enthusiasm, my belief, behind it. When I told Sam “this has to be like this because of this,” I wouldn’t have been able to do that if the rest of the world didn’t make sense. It would have been just throwing random elements together.

Clearly, this film has a distinct ’70s-era feel to it. What is it about that era’s sci-fi, as opposed to today’s efforts, that appeals to you?

I love modern science fiction as well. I love explosions, I like great set pieces, great action scenes, heroic archetypes. All of that stuff is great fun, it’s entertaining, and that’s why I want to go see films. But there are things absent [from today’s sci-fi] that I miss from films in the past. For example, in the late ’70s and ’80s, you had sci-fi films where the guy was a little less glamorous, more blue collar, and it was just about a real human being. In our case, as in the case of “Silent Running” and “Outland” and “Alien,” these are blue collar, normal guys and gals who are working in unusual environments. And because you see them as real people against this sci-fi backdrop, I think in some ways you see them with a lot more contrast. You really get to see the details. If you do a contemporary film about miners in a mining town, it might work as a drama, but because you don’t have that separation, that shock value from the environment they’re in, you perhaps don’t notice some of the intricacies of the characters, and the things that make them human. I think putting people in a science fiction setting makes you see what makes them human.

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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.

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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…

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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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