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Mr. Lipes’ Opus

Mr. Lipes’ Opus (photo)

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Though best known for his lyrically stunning work as the director of photography on “Afterschool” and “Wild Combination: A Portrait of Arthur Russell,” Jody Lee Lipes would rather be known as a filmmaker than as a cinematographer. His directorial feature debut, the provocative doc “Brock Enright: Good Times Will Never Be the Same,” premiered at SXSW ’09. It’s then that Lipes met director Lena Dunham and agreed to shoot her Manhattan dramedy “Tiny Furniture,” making its world premiere at this year’s fest.

However, he’s a filmmaker first: Lipes’ second feature (as co-directed with Henry Joost) is the Emerging Visions entry “NY Export: Opus Jazz.” Commissioned by two members of the New York City Ballet, this conceptual staging of Jerome Robbins’ titular “ballet in sneakers” (like a raw B-side to “West Side Story,” here followed by a fun behind-the-scenes doc profiling Robbins and the project) is a jaw-droppingly gorgeous marriage of choreography and cinematography. In fact, has there been a richer dance performance committed to film, with camerawork catching subtle details instead of the typical lazy wide shots, this side of Bob Fosse?

Loosely structured into an abstract narrative about youth expressing themselves in forbidden venues, five dance movements are filmed in an NYC we haven’t yet seen: a geometric guys-and-dolls dance-off colorfully fills Brooklyn’s McCarren Pool, a dusty-floored warehouse overlooking the nighttime skyline becomes a mating call between a lithe beauty and her gentlemen suitors, and a sexed-up, limb-entangling duet in the knee-high grass of the High Line railyards could change the minds of those without a regular taste for modern dance. (Okay, at least one!) I spoke with the New York-based Lipes after he had been shooting all day, and just before we both headed down to Austin.

As the doc shows, Jerome Robbins had a cinematic eye and placed bulky cameras in seemingly odd set-ups. Did you take anything from his notes?

We definitely did. The only movie that Henry and I watched together before shooting was “West Side Story.” That’s the best example of dance on film that we’ve seen. One of the most intelligent things he did was to integrate the movement into the actual space that they were shooting. We needed to stay true to the choreography as much as possible, but the dancers are having to negotiate around train tracks or the pillars in the second movement. On stage, it’s just people walking in from both sides.

03172010_OpusJazz2.jpgNew York City is one of the most photographed locations in the world. Was it difficult to find new ways to illustrate it through cinematography?

Definitely. Location was a huge part of the film. Luckily, we had a lot of time to look. We had years to keep our eyes open. There’s a quality to it where you know it’s New York, but it’s not the New York you usually see. A lot of it is run-down New York that used to be something else. That was a huge part of the film for me, finding spaces that would work that we didn’t have to change much.

I’ve never interviewed a shooter before, so I’d love to hear you riff on the technical methods you’ve picked up from others or accidentally discovered for yourself. Is there a specific approach to your style?

I can say that Gordon Willis is the biggest influence on me in terms of cinematography. One of the biggest imprints that the camera makes is that each one of the movements is shot in its own unique style. The first movement is all on stick, all totally static camera except for one pan, the second is almost all on Steadicam, the third movement is the most handheld, the fourth is on a crane, and the fifth movement is almost all on a dolly. By making those rules for yourself, you force yourself to have to renegotiate the way you normally do things.

Do you have that — a way you normally approach material?

In general, I try to cover things as minimally as possible. If there’s a way to show something without having to cut [and] that’s not distracting, that’s the best way. Lighting is the hardest thing to learn about cinematography because it’s so technical. It takes so much practice to find out what you like and don’t like, and you never stop learning. That’s why successful cinematographers are usually in their forties or older because it takes so long to have that experience.

03172010_lipes.jpgAlso, most people who graduated from film school in the past few years don’t use film much anymore. I was right on the cusp of that changeover. I was pushed hard to work on film, and lucky enough to do a bunch of projects that did. I’m part of the last generation of people who are comfortable working on film. It was such a battle to raise the money to be able to shoot on anamorphic 35mm, which is obviously expensive. Jerome Robbins only directed one movie and it was on 70mm, so we wanted to make sure we were shooting on the best format possible. I shot anamorphic before on “Afterschool,” and it has this retro quality, but it’s also very high quality.

So many filmmakers are purists who don’t want to shoot digitally. Having done both, what do you like about video that you can’t do with film?

For example, the shoot I did tonight was shot on the same camera that [“Tiny Furniture”] was. It’s a digital SLR, so really it’s just a still camera that shoots video. What’s amazing about that is that it’s extremely sensitive to light in a way you can never get with film. Part of the reason we shot Lena [Dunham’s] movie on that camera is because there are a lot of night exteriors, and we literally didn’t have any money to light. That’s really the only camera in existence that can see that way. They had come out a week or two before we started, so we did a quick test, but it was just jumping in. Shooting on film, it just would’ve been black.

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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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G.I. Jeez

Stomach Bugs and Prom Dates

E.Coli High is in your gut and on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Brothers-in-law Kevin Barker and Ben Miller have just made the mother of all Comedy Crib series, in the sense that their Comedy Crib series is a big deal and features a hot mom. Animated, funny, and full of horrible bacteria, the series juxtaposes timeless teen dilemmas and gut-busting GI infections to create a bite-sized narrative that’s both sketchy and captivating. The two sat down, possibly in the same house, to answer some questions for us about the series. Let’s dig in….


IFC: How would you describe E.Coli High to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

BEN: Hi ummm uhh hi ok well its like umm (gets really nervous and blows it)…

KB: It’s like the Super Bowl meets the Oscars.

IFC: How would you describe E.Coli High to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

BEN: Oh wow, she’s really cute isn’t she? I’d definitely blow that too.

KB: It’s a cartoon that is happening inside your stomach RIGHT NOW, that’s why you feel like you need to throw up.

IFC: What was the genesis of E.Coli High?

KB: I had the idea for years, and when Ben (my brother-in-law, who is a special needs teacher in Philly) began drawing hilarious comics, I recruited him to design characters, animate the series, and do some writing. I’m glad I did, because Ben rules!

BEN: Kevin told me about it in a park and I was like yeah that’s a pretty good idea, but I was just being nice. I thought it was dumb at the time.


IFC: What makes going to proms and dating moms such timeless and oddly-relatable subject matter?

BEN: Since the dawn of time everyone has had at least one friend with a hot mom. It is physically impossible to not at least make a comment about that hot mom.

KB: Who among us hasn’t dated their friend’s mom and levitated tables at a prom?

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

BEN: There’s a lot of content now. I don’t think anyone will even notice, but it’d be cool if they did.

KB: A show about talking food poisoning bacteria is basically the same as just watching the news these days TBH.

Watch E.Coli High below and discover more NYTVF selections from years past on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

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