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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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SO EXCITED!!!

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.”

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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. 

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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.

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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…

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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.

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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-Craft

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?”

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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).

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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.

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