The World According to Lee Daniels

The World According to Lee Daniels (photo)

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Director, producer and general force of nature Lee Daniels is a hot property these days. So hot that two studios, Lionsgate and the Weinstein Company, are suing each other over the rights to distribute his second directorial effort, “Precious,” the winner of both the jury and audience awards at Sundance earlier this year. Lawsuits willing, “Precious” opens in the fall, and in the meantime Daniels has “Tennessee” in theaters, a small-scale Americana-steeped road movie he produced under his own banner of Lee Daniels Entertainment. “Tennessee,” directed by David Cronenberg nephew Aaron Woodley, has the distinction of containing the first Mariah Carey acting role to officially see theaters since “Glitter,” something that was looked upon as potentially laughable when the film premiered at Tribeca last year, but that seems a lot less so now, in light of the singer’s praised turn as a social worker in “Precious.”

It’s that fearlessness with material, casting and subject matter that’s made Daniels’ filmmaking career so fascinating, from its 2001 start with the Oscar-winning “Monster’s Ball” through his… let’s just call it “indescribable” debut as a director with 2005’s Helen Mirren-Cuba Gooding Jr. assassin drama “Shadowboxer.” “Often times people ask me, ‘How do you get into the film business? What do you do?’ And I don’t have that answer,” Daniels told me over the phone. “The only thing I have is determination, and determination is what ultimately got me my first movie made.” And certainly a willingness to color outside the lines, which may be why our interview didn’t into any typical Q&A template. Instead, it seemed better to just let Daniels describe for himself the idiosyncratic path he’s been blazing, with what’s so far been remarkable success, through the indie film world.


I came to Hollywood to write, and found out I don’t have the attention span. I moved on to a nursing agency as a receptionist just to get a job, and ended up managing it, which led to me opening my own — say your mom is sick and needs someone to help her, then you call something like what I had, a home health agency.

I was taking care of the mother of this producer who [hadn’t realized] that I was black and 22 and had, like, 500 nurses. We became friends. I think he was blown away that I was so young. His mother was in my hands! I hadn’t gone to med school. He said, “I think you’d be a really good producer. You know talent. You should start out [as a] PA.” He was working on “Under the Cherry Moon,” Prince’s film. So I sold the nursing agency; just sold it. Like I’m crazy. Made a couple million and was running around as a PA in a Porsche and an Armani suit.


I left to open a casting agency, casting these Harlequin romances and working at Warner Bros. I was bored, because they stereotyped me into just casting for African-American things. It was pre-Spike Lee and post-the black exploitation era, so there wasn’t much of anything for me. I said, “Okay, I’ll start managing actors.” I took everything I knew about the arts and mixed it with the concept of representing nurses. I navigated actors’ careers, mostly African-American, eclectic, off-the-wall people I was obsessed with, not your run of the mill actors. I focused, really, in theater, though TV was where the money was. In walks an actor that I saw in a play at Julliard. His name was Wes Bentley. I put him in “American Beauty,” his first job, which was the norm for me because I was finding actors in weird places.

06102009_monstersball.jpg“Monster’s Ball” (2001)

Wes was one of the first white actors that I was representing. Incredible material started coming to me. I decided it was time for me to produce. Wes was going to be a vehicle for me producing — he’d just completed “American Beauty,” the hottest thing out at that moment — except he didn’t do what I asked him to. He committed to “Monster’s Ball” and at the last minute pulled out. Lionsgate was like, “Okay, you have 48 hours to find another star,” or the movie was gonna be canned. Literally, the 48th hour, Heath Ledger agreed to do it. That was my first film. I was the sole producer, and I was learning.

I didn’t have the sensibilities of your ordinary filmmaker, let alone your ordinary African-American filmmaker. My heroes were John Waters, Pedro Almodóvar, and actors that were part of that world. Different. Tons of famous directors wanted to do [“Monster’s Ball”], and I knew that to get recognition as a producer I had to find a discovery. I didn’t want to ride on anybody’s coattails and I didn’t want to get anybody like famous so I could be their producer. So I chose Marc [Forster] — I was blown away by the little film that he gave me, and I knew he’d bring a fresh eye to racism because he was European, he wasn’t from that world.


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.


Get Physical

DVDs are the new Vinyl

Portlandia Season 7 Now Available On Disc.

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GIFs via Giffy

In this crazy digital age, sometimes all we really want is to reach out and touch something. Maybe that’s why so many of us are still gung-ho about owning stuff on DVD. It’s tangible. It’s real. It’s tech from a bygone era that still feels relevant, yet also kitschy and retro. It’s basically vinyl for people born after 1990.


Inevitably we all have that friend whose love of the disc is so absolutely repellent that he makes the technology less appealing. “The resolution, man. The colors. You can’t get latitude like that on a download.” Go to hell, Tim.

Yes, Tim sucks, and you don’t want to be like Tim, but maybe he’s onto something and DVD is still the future. Here are some benefits that go beyond touch.

It’s Decor and Decorum

With DVDs and a handsome bookshelf you can show off your great taste in film and television without showing off your search history. Good for first dates, dinner parties, family reunions, etc.


Forget Public Wifi

Warm up that optical drive. No more awkwardly streaming episodes on shady free wifi!



Internet service goes down. It happens all the time. It could happen right now. Then what? Without a DVD on hand you’ll be forced to make eye contact with your friends and family. Or worse – conversation.


Self Defense

You can’t throw a download like a ninja star. Think about it.


If you’d like to experience the benefits DVD ownership yourself, Portlandia Season 7 is now available on DVD and Blue-Ray.