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Tony Goldwyn on the Many Trials of “Conviction”

Tony Goldwyn on the Many Trials of “Conviction” (photo)

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Even though Tony Goldwyn’s surname has long conjured up the heady days of Hollywood’s Golden Era and of his grandfather Samuel, he has long carved out his own path as an actor, most famously in “Ghost,” and as a director of films such as “The Last Kiss” and “A Walk on the Moon” that has always put a modern spin on the old fashioned. (This could be demonstrated by his decision to star in the recent remake of “The Last House on the Left” and then on Broadway in a revival of “Promises, Promises,” either of which taken alone might be considered reinvention, but when done back to back, becomes something radical.) The irony of his latest film as a director is that it might be the first that could’ve been made at his grandfather’s old studio Paramount.

Ultimately, “Conviction” had to be produced independently, the product of an era where the social issue drama has all but vanished into the realm of television, even though, when done well, it can hold a power over an audience in a theater unlike few other genres. As Goldwyn explains below, it took nearly a decade to bring “Conviction” to the screen, a grueling wait only exceeded by the one in the story he tells of Betty Anne Waters, a Massachusetts woman spends 18 years attending law school and filing briefs with the sole purpose of overturning the murder case against her brother Kenny.

Being an actor himself, it should come as no surprise that Goldwyn’s film is lifted by its performances from a cast including Hilary Swank, Minnie Driver, Juliette Lewis, and particularly Sam Rockwell (made more impressive by having little time to prepare, as he told Matt Singer recently), but also by the unusual shape Goldwyn and “Walk on the Moon” screenwriter Pamela Gray give to the classic underdog tale. Shortly after the film’s premiere at the Toronto Film Festival, Goldwyn spoke about the film’s long road to the big screen, invoking real-life names like Martha Coakley and how filmmaking’s become a full-time career.

How did you get involved initially?

Nine years ago, my wife saw a piece on the news, I think it was “60 Minutes” about Betty Anne and Kenny right after his exoneration and I missed the segment. She told me about it and I asked myself, God this woman spent 18 years, what was that bond between those two people that she had such faith in him? He could’ve been guilty. She could’ve been wrong. She could’ve failed and yet she knew – that fascinated me.

10142010_Conviction3.jpgSince all three of your other three films have been romances, did you ever see yourself using that template for this film where it’s obviously a platonic love, but one that endures similar kinds of obstacles?

I always saw this as a love story between a brother and a sister. I never apply any template. Every story I tend to approach, you’re exploring a theme — that connection, that love between this brother and sister — that was my guiding thing. In “A Walk on the Moon,” it was about a woman who found herself in a life not of her choosing really and in a marriage, she suddenly woke up and found herself in her 30s, going I didn’t choose this life and through her romance with this man, this affair that she has, she explores a part of herself she didn’t know. That was the theme I was exploring and something I had been going through at that time about being in my 30s, so that’s more my approach. I wouldn’t say it’s a template.

Yet it fits in so nicely into Hollywood tradition. Are you surprised you had to make this independently?

No, I’m not. [slight laugh] I was surprised along the road. But I’m not. Here’s the thing about a movie like this. First of all, dramas are very difficult to sell. Studios are very nervous about them, especially female-driven dramas and a true-life story like this could easily be done as a TV movie version; it might be good, but it’s not terribly interesting or innovative, so a marketing department goes we don’t know how to sell this if it has a generic quality to it. I knew that wasn’t the movie I wanted to make.

Although [the studios] saw the sort of “Erin Brockovich” potential in it, they were hesitant, so we developed it at a studio and it was at one point greenlit. Then it all fell apart for various reasons. Even when we had Hilary attached, they were like “Oh we want to do it,” but they wouldn’t greenlight it. They were waiting for some insurance policy. I begged the studio to give it back to me in turnaround, I said, “Please just admit to me you don’t want to make this and let me take it out and set it up independently.” Even that was incredibly difficult to finance because it’s all a numbers game. But we persevered and we got very lucky and then of course, once it’s made, even then it took a studio like Fox Searchlight to see it and they got it. They said, “We know how to sell this movie.” With others, they said “We love it, it’s great, but it makes us nervous.” So it’s just a very tough marketplace out there.

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A-O Rewind

Celebrating Portlandia One Sketch at a Time

The final season of Portlandia approaches.

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Most people measure time in minutes, hours, days, years…At IFC, we measure it in sketches. And nothing takes us way (waaaaaay) back like Portlandia sketches. Yes, there’s a Portlandia milepost from every season that changed the way we think, behave, and pickle things. In honor of Portlandia’s 8th and final season, Subaru presents a few of our favorites.

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Put A Bird On It

Portlandia enters the pop-culture lexicon and inspires us to put birds on literally everything.

Colin the Chicken

Who’s your chicken, really? Behold the emerging locavore trend captured perfectly to the nth degree.

Dream Of The ’90s

This treatise on Portland made it clear that “the dream” was alive and well.

No You Go

We Americans spend most of our lives in cars. Fortunately, there’s a Portlandia sketch for every automotive situation.

A-O River!

We learned all our outdoor survival skills from Kath and Dave.

One More Episode

The true birth of binge watching, pre-Netflix. And what you’ll do once Season 8 premieres.

Catch up on Portlandia’s best moments before the 8th season premieres January 18th on IFC.

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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…

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

Jenn: I LOVE ISSA RAE!

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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 IFC.com and the IFC app.

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