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Fantastic Fest Presses the Start Button for Their All-New Indie Game Gala

Fantastic Fest Presses the Start Button for Their All-New Indie Game Gala (photo)

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Film buffs know where to go if they want to watch a flick decked out as a zombie, see the premiere of a future cult classic like “Gentlemen Broncos” or hear directors such as Paul Thomas Anderson talk about their love of celluloid. That place is Fantastic Fest, which bills itself as “the largest genre film festival in the United States.”

Taking place in Austin for the last five years, the festival was founded by film-loving locals Tim League, Harry Knowles, Paul Alvarado Dykstra and Tim McCanlies. It quickly became an annual celebration of films sharp enough to draw blood, gasps or laughs (or even a mix of those responses) that brings thousands of people to Austin for a collective freak-out.

This year sees the addition of Fantastic Arcade, a schedule of events from September 23-26 that celebrate the collision of indie film and indie games. The neophyte Arcade curates blocks of programming that brings together films based on the video game phenomenon and indie game developers. ’80s video game movies like “The Last Starfighter” and “Nightmares” will be screening at the beloved Alamo Drafthouse’s South Lamar location and the nearby Highball will be transformed into an old-school arcade with stand-up machines.

Also on tap will be a machinima film competition judged by Burnie Burns of “Red vs. Blue” fame, panels by renowned indie designers and a chiptune concert powered by Game Boys and other retro gaming devices.

It’s going to be an intense four days — I spoke to Fantastic Arcade organizers Mike Plante and Tim League to find out the inspirations and aspirations for the inaugural fun fest.

07162010_fantasticarcade3.jpgFantastic Fest has long been a well-established film festival focused on genre cinema. Why did you guys feel that now was the time to add on a video game component to FF?

Mike Plante: At the same time I wanted to do a game festival in the way I’ve been working with film festivals, Tim was trying to find a way to incorporate games into Fantastic Fest — it’s a natural extension for the FF audience, and Austin is a bit of an indie-gaming hub, much like it is an indie filmmaking hub. Like freeway overpasses, we came together.

What were the indie games that lit the fire that sparked Fantastic Arcade?

MP: I saw Eddo Stern‘s work at the New York Underground fest and at Cinematexas, real interactive games that were fun to play but gave you a deeper experience you remembered. Eddo is now a co-curator for the Arcade with us. Then I encountered Maya Churi’s Forest Grove, which we had as part of Sundance 2005 (I’m an Associate Programmer there). A game that felt like an independent movie with lots of thought in the story, design and game play. Of course I’ve been playing all kinds of games over the years (born in 1970) but these felt like individuals making a game instead of a company only interested in money.

There’ll be art installations by Cory Arcangel and chiptune performances during Fantastic Arcade. Do you think the level of technical skill required to bring game influences into other mediums is a barrier?

MP:You can learn tech equipment, or collaborate with smart technicians. Lots of filmmakers talk about what camera they used as a selling point. I could not care less. Making a plot and characters and using style is what counts. Even if it is incredibly minimal — that’s a choice that can be done in an interesting way.

07162010_fantasticarcade2.jpgIt’s the same with games and crossing over mediums, the real skill is doing it with your own voice infused and making it entertaining, and at times even thoughtful. We like what Cory and Chiptunes and others are doing in those ways. When I first saw Cory’s “Super Mario Clouds” I was taken in by the work — what it was doing and how that made me feel. It was an added layer to see the hacked Nintendo duct taped on the floor.

Austin’s one of the American gaming scenes strongest development hubs. What’s the response been from local developers about having the first Fantastic Arcade there?

MP: So far, it’s been great. The opportunity to showcase Austin to the game world and the chance to see indie games and their developers in the same room is promising. We hope to have many locals on panels as well.

Making games is collaborative, even for smaller dev outfits. Do you think it’s possible to get the singularity of vision of directors like Roger Corman or Sam Raimi? What game designers do you think achieve auteur status?

MP: Mark Essen and Cactus are great — each a crazy one-man band turning out fun lo-fi games every month it seems, each one stylish and smart. Jakub Dvorský’s “Samorost” and “Machinarium” are perfect for us too — a rad fantasy narrative with beautiful art, like if Terry Gilliam or Jan Svankmajer made a game. Paolo Pedercini (Molle Industria) has a string of great political work, taking oil, priests and McDonald’s and making games with biting satire. Ask a big film studio to turn one of those into a $100 million film.

Although Corman might.

Can you talk a bit about how you chose the machinima films that’ll be shown during the festival?

07192010_redvsblue1.jpgTim League: Jack Patillo from Rooster Teeth (“Red Vs. Blue”) — an Austin company, by the way — was a big part of that. Rooster Teeth have been hugely influential in the machinima scene and have their finger on the pulse of all manner of cool stuff in this space. If there is an authority on finding “the goods,” Jack is it.

What inspired the idea to have attendee-created machinima movies as part of the event schedule? Will there be any kind of coaching going on for folks who might be doing this for the first time?

TL: We’ve sponsored filmmaking contests as part of Fantastic Fest since year one. Each year we have a slightly different theme. With the advent of Fantastic Arcade, we thought it would be appropriate to introduce machinima as the format this year. We won’t have any coaching prior to the contest, but during the event itself, we’ll have experts from “Red Vs. Blue” and “The Spartan Life” explaining their process and actually crafting a machinima film live during the panel sessions.

The Rooster Teeth guys are probably the most well-known pioneers of machinima. How’d you get them to participate in such a big way?

TL: Henri Mazza, the Alamo’s creative director, actually used to get his ass kicked routinely in “Halo” online games by Burnie Burns and his crew, before they were doing “Red Vs. Blue.” We’ve had a long relationship with them over the years. They have premiered episodes at the Alamo and have even produced “Red Vs. Blue” “don’t talk” PSAs for the theater.

07162010_joysticks.jpgLooking over the films that will be shown during the festival, it’s pretty striking how there’s been a shift away from movies like the “Last Starfighter” and “Nightmares” that focused on the players. Now, most video game movies — except “The King of Kong” — focus on the in-game characters. What do you think the change in focus represents?

MP: I’m completely guessing here, it would take a bigger analysis of all the filmmakers and writers and studios to find out the nitty-gritty. But I think there is simply a different generation making the movies now. You definitely didn’t have kids making the big studio films in the ’70s and ’80s, their parents (and grandparents) were making them. Now you have filmmakers that grew up with games. It’s just different concerns and viewpoints. Not that one is better than the other, some older movies are good and some new ones are one-minute ideas stretched into two hours. Isn’t someone making the “Leisure Suit Larry” movie by now? It’s too late to cast Elisha Cook, Jr, unfortunately.

Film and video games are both visual mediums, but film-watching’s a communal pursuit while game-playing is a solitary one. As guys who’ve been curating a fringe film festival, what do you think enthusiasts of each medium can learn from each other?

TL: The experience is something I work with a lot in fests. Sometimes a comedy only works with a huge crowd, and sometimes you show a “difficult” themed movie knowing only 20 people would dare show up. That’s fine. Some games need two to four players to really work, which is a big thing to consider before putting it in an arcade. And some games will not be popular, for their gameplay or their themes. But, that’s ok; people can still have an experience of a certain kind with them.

10212009_Antichrist4.jpgOn the overlap between creators, each medium can learn from the other on dealing with its characters, pacing, how much time someone looks at a specific image, the underlying soundwork, for instance. Do you want your audience to go away frustrated or satisfied? Do you want your audience to think for themselves? That’s a big issue with both mediums and you can learn from what each choose to do.

Just as important as the creators, the audience for one will be surprised by the other. If you liked “Antichrist,” you will find games here just as challenging and technically vibrant.

(On that note, when is “Antichrist – The Game” coming out?? That’s another goal, getting industries to work together, it could be great. “Induction: The Game” is obvious and probably a lot of fun, but I would play any game made from a Bela Tarr film. Actually, [dev studio] Tale of Tales is on that tip. Also, “Wendy and Lucy: The Game.” Isn’t there a “Tetsuo: Iron Man” game by now? Japan is always so far ahead of us.)

The Fantastic Arcade, part of Fantastic Fest, will take place in Austin, TX from September 23-26.



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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GIFs via Giphy

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.