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Gareth Edwards’ “Monsters” Mash

Gareth Edwards’ “Monsters” Mash (photo)

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For a first-time filmmaker, there are worse things that could happen than the fear of getting kidnapped. At least, this is what I surmised when Gareth Edwards gave me a roll of the eyes when he thought I was about to ask about the budget of “Monsters,” the micro-budget sci-fi film that has become one of the year’s most talked-about debuts after premiering in March at SXSW amidst rumors that it cost a mere $15,000.

Not that Edwards would be reluctant to talk about it. Right now, he appears ready to talk about nearly anything, brimming with an enthusiasm that’s hard to come by — even by the standards of those who know they’ve pulled off their first magic trick — but money was hardly what was on Edwards’ mind as he backpacked across Costa Rica, Guatemala, Belize, Mexico and Texas with actors Whitney Able and Scoot McNairy, a boom operator and a camera.

While there are roughly 250 special effects shots in “Monsters,” of downed helicopters, of trees infected with fluorescent pods, and of the octopus-like creatures that threaten the lives of Americans Samantha and Andrew (Able and McNairy) as they try to find safe passage through Central America after an alien invasion, the most special effect of Edwards’ film has nothing to do with computer graphics or camera trickery. Instead, it is the vitality of shooting in areas rarely seen outside of National Geographic back issues as a springboard for a tale that feeds on both the joy of the region’s indigenous cultures and the dread that as societies they’ve been left behind.

In a genre that’s known for subtext, the fact that Edwards brings these things to the surface is only one of the refreshing things about his debut, which doesn’t shy away from showing its “Monsters,” whether it’s the full glory of his CG creations or the random ferry operator who exploits the Americans out of a higher fare for their travel.

09052010_GarethEdwardsMonsters.jpgFortunately, Edwards knows what scares an audience more than what to be afraid of himself, asking complete strangers from the area to interact with McNairy and Able on their journey and dealing with the harsh terrain of the jungle, only to come home to the daunting task of waking up every morning to do every CG shot for the film. (“Computers are like dogs – they can smell fear,” says Edwards.) On the eve of facing an even more intimidating task — walking the red carpet for “Monsters”‘ premiere at this year’s Toronto Film Festival — Edwards talked about the evolution of special effects, how he turned nearby gunmen into production value and the cheap version of “Avatar.”

With the limitless potential of CG special effects, it seems like we keep getting the same movie. How did you make yours different?

I think the background being in computer graphics is you just become bored with it and I love computer graphics — there are some things that are so much easier to do in the computer than they are to create in front of the camera, so it is an important tool and you do need them, but I think also people rely on them for its own sake. They don’t sit there and picture okay, what would be a good film. Okay, how the hell do we do that? A lot of people sit down and go, okay, we can do anything we want in the computer. What’s not been done? Let’s try and do that instead and it’s not necessarily a good idea to do that because it’s not using computers in the right way.

09052010_Monsters2.jpgIt seems it took awhile for computers to catch up with your ambitions. When did you know this would be possible?

I kept trying to pull this off since 1997, not this film, but I bought a computer after I graduated film school and tried to learn CGI because I just figured it would be the future of filmmaking. Every year, I’d have a little pet project, not necessarily a movie, but something and it just was never good enough or never quite how I imagined it. It was like those embarrassing short films and experiments that you want to hide and delete and never have anyone see. I just kept trying and trying and I kind of get back to a point where I think why didn’t I do this earlier? You look back and think well, I actually couldn’t have done this five years ago for a few reasons.

The main one was a camcorder that you can run around with in your hand only recently have these special adapters that allow it to look like 35mm film, so you can have that narrow depth of field and look beautiful and cinematic, but still like very cheap and you can film for hours on end without it being expensive. And before that, computer graphics were really slow.

It’s very easy to think computers were always the way they are today, but you forget how slow and rubbish they were five years ago. I remember how long it took the software took — a day [for] every time you moved a frame forward and it would like slowly update after a few seconds — whereas now with high definition, I can play around with it in real time. It’s very fluid, and thank God, the technology’s at a point now where I don’t look like such an idiot as I did before when I used to try these things.

It’s equally ambitious to set your first film in Central America and Mexico when you’re not familiar with the region and I’ve heard stories of bigger film shoots that have shied away from the area for fear of kidnapping. Had you been warned?

09052010_Monsters3.jpgEverybody in the film in the daylight that’s got a gun is a real policeman and what happened was I was filming and I noticed the guys with guns, I was thinking this is great. This really helps our film — brilliant, get them in shot. And in another scene, I’d realize it was the same guy and I’d be like “Hang on, why is this guy also here? He was also at the other place.” The producer said, “No, no, no, they’re our bodyguards. The government has supplied them for free, so we don’t get kidnapped.” So you think oh shit, okay, that’s how dangerous it is here.

It’s funny because whilst we were there, all kinds of crazy stuff happened — there was a shooting outside the hotel, there was a prison break and they decapitated some prisoners, there was a week before we arrived into town, they machine-gunned everyone in this café. So when we arrived, there was these coffin protests in the street and all this stuff was going on and I was constantly shitting myself the whole film, but it was never about these things. I was constantly shitting myself that maybe I hadn’t got enough shots. Maybe something was out of focus. Maybe the film is rubbish, you know what I mean? That’s what was worrying me.

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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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