Ry Russo-Young Takes Some “Me” Time

Ry Russo-Young Takes Some “Me” Time (photo)

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When speaking to Ry Russo-Young, the adjective “abstract” will come up a lot in conversation in terms of the style of her films. But that shouldn’t be confused with the substance, which is so emotionally precise. Where many filmmakers have depicted the fear and uncertainty of twentysomethings with quirk and gorgeously lit indifference, Russo-Young portrays it in a grainy haze in her latest film “You Wont Miss Me,” the result of her practical use of a variety of formats, ranging from Flip cams to Super 8s, and the world-weary skepticism of her main character Shelly Brown (Stella Schnabel) that rarely allows for clarity.

As refreshingly tough-minded a character study as Brown is a character, the film was born out of Russo-Young’s desire to do something with Schnabel, a friend since elementary school, and developed from a three-hour interview where Schnabel first portrayed the wild, eternally frustrated Shelly into a loose-knit chronicle of the character’s exit from a hospital’s psychiatric ward that thrusts her into the playground of New York City where acting auditions, concerts and random hookups prove to be just part of a series of opportunities for rebellion. (Alison Willmore’s review of the film is here.) Recently, I got a chance to talk to Russo-Young about her unique cinematic style, blurring the line between reality and fiction and her next film, a collaboration with “Tiny Furniture” writer/director Lena Dunham.

12082010_ryrussoyoung1.jpgThis might not be dissimilar to your experience on your first film “Orphans,” but Stella Schnabel is credited as a co-writer on this film, so did having your lead as a collaborator on the script change your creative process?

I think when I was making “Orphans,” it was very preordained and very controlled in terms of the on-set environment and the relationship with the actors. It was almost like playing dress-up with dolls. It more reminded me of when I was a kid and I used to play imaginary games with my sister and be like okay, so you’re this princess and I’m this princess and we’re in this world and we’re running away from our orphanage. It was almost like putting people in straitjackets and I was just much more interested in what Stella had to bring to the project as an individual with ideas and with her own history. [For me] I think it was just a growing up thing, literally, and learning about the process of collaborating was really interesting to me. She was part of that. It’s not that the actresses weren’t interesting in “Orphans.” I think it was just I wanted to leave it a little more open and be a little bit more free.

12072010_YouWontMissMe4.jpgAs someone who has trained as an actress, does that affect what you do as a director?

I think certainly in the case of “You Wont Miss Me” and that whole me coming from that acting background is that if everybody had a really solid basis for where they were coming from, why they were in that scene and what the reality of that scene was, then you could be more free on set to improvise but it was steeped in character. Because that’s how I felt when I was an actor. I always felt like I needed to know what I was standing on.

I needed to know the origin of the carpet and why I was in the scene and who I was and what I was about. Then it was almost like the lines would play themselves out because there was a firm understanding of who I am. So what I tried to do for “You Wont Miss Me” is really prepare each person with like a backpack of who they are and what they’re about, why they’re there and why they’re in that situation and what the context is and then allow them freedom once in the scene within those confines.

One of the things I particularly loved about the film was all the different cameras you used. How did you decide that as a style for the film and did that make that filming more difficult or easier in some ways?

I think a little bit of both. After I did the interview with Stella, it was like okay, so what is this movie and how is this going to take a form – basically, who is this character? And the character was someone really outside of society and has such an emotional kind of range, an insane emotional temperature that’s oscillating constantly and is sort of always on the brink of self-destruction. So the best way to actually capture that, to feel that on an emotional level was to have these different textures and that is the different formats. Each format kind of is an expression of an emotional state.

Another texture you bring in is how you overlaid the dialogue over scenes of the experience. How did that become part of the film’s style?

12072010_YouWontMissMe2.jpgI love experimental films, everything from Stan Brakhage to Maya Deren to Jonas Mekas and that whole tradition and part of what I love about movies is the more tonal, abstract moments. That’s something that feels like you can do in film, so you need to film. You can have these musings and these impressionistic ideas – images that relate to concepts and the images can be very abstract and the way the way the aural consciousness connects to the visual can be really loose, but because you’re seeing those two things together, your mind automatically makes the connection. Have you ever seen that movie “Kurt Cobain: About a Son”?

Yeah, it’s a great film.

I think it’s kind of incredible and it’s all about how you hear this and you’re seeing these things that visually very loosely relate. At first when I started watching it, my mind was kind of freaking out. It was like [in mock bewilderment], “I don’t understand. I’m not seeing exactly what I’m hearing.” Now, the more it goes on, you’re starting to understand that departure’s okay. It’s like this nether zone of cinema that’s really exciting.

So that’s something I think with the more abstract things that [Shelly is] talking about and then seeing these images of her, they become these almost like subconscious dreams that she can access, or as an audience member, you access. Then it becomes about the kind of dichotomy between how we validate ourselves to ourselves and then the way we are in the rest of the world and usually the juxtaposition between those two things, how violent it can be sometimes.

There’s a great line in the film where a director (Aaron Katz) tells Shelly, “The distinction between reality and fiction may be hard for you.” Is that a theme you wanted to explore when you have many personal connections to the cast and to the city yourself?

It’s a heavy question and it operates on a lot of different levels. For me, a big part of that is the character couldn’t tell the difference between fiction and reality in a way. I’ve always been fascinated by documentaries and our societal obsession to understand what is real and what is not and it seems so irrelevant to me. I was interested in blurring those lines. The movies I’ve been attracted to in the past deal with that territory like “F is for Fake” or “Close-Up.” Those are films that really ask you to question of what’s authentic and what’s not and the origins of all those things, of even those questions themselves.

12072010_YouWontMissMe7.jpgI’ve read you’re already starting work on a film called “Nobody Walks.” Is that next?

Yeah, I co-wrote it with Lena Dunham and I think I’m going to direct it in March or April. It takes place in Los Angeles and it’s about a 23-year-old artist who’s a photographer making her first film about bugs, and she goes to Los Angeles and stays in the pool house of the sound designer. His family lives in the house, the wife and two kids, and it’s about her artistic process working with the father and sound designer on this film, but then also about how her presence affects everyone in the house. It’s going to be fun to shoot in Los Angeles, just visually for me because I’m so inspired by cities and locations.

How much does place inform the rest of a film for you?

It depends on the movie, but place and location is definitely a huge part of it. I think it’s characters, place and theme. Those are the three things that I can sink my teeth into first when I know absolutely nothing. Maybe everyone works like that, but it’s when conceiving of what you’re going to make a movie about, it’s such a desert. It’s like I can do anything and it can get really overwhelming. Well, what do I want to see? Do I want to see palm trees or do I want to see buildings? What kind of buildings are they? And just like that, you can start to anchor yourself back yourself into an idea.

“You Wont Miss Me” opens in New York on December 10th.

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Bro and Tell

BFFs And Night Court For Sports

Bromance and Comeuppance On Two New Comedy Crib Series

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“Silicon Valley meets Girls meets black male educators with lots of unrealized potential.”

That’s how Carl Foreman Jr. and Anthony Gaskins categorize their new series Frank and Lamar which joins Joe Schiappa’s Sport Court in the latest wave of new series available now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. To better acquaint you with the newbies, we went right to the creators for their candid POVs. And they did not disappoint. Here are snippets of their interviews:

Frank and Lamar


IFC: How would you describe Frank and Lamar to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?
Carl: Best bros from college live and work together teaching at a fancy Manhattan private school, valiantly trying to transition into a more mature phase of personal and professional life while clinging to their boyish ways.

IFC: And to a friend of a friend you met in a bar?
Carl: The same way, slightly less coherent.

Anthony: I’d probably speak about it with much louder volume, due to the bar which would probably be playing the new Kendrick Lamar album. I might also include additional jokes about Carl, or unrelated political tangents.

Carl: He really delights in randomly slandering me for no reason. I get him back though. Our rapport on the page, screen, and in real life, comes out of a lot of that back and forth.

IFC: In what way is Frank and Lamar a poignant series for this moment in time?
Carl: It tells a story I feel most people aren’t familiar with, having young black males teach in a very affluent white world, while never making it expressly about that either. Then in tackling their personal lives, we see these three-dimensional guys navigate a pivotal moment in time from a perspective I feel mainstream audiences tend not to see portrayed.

Anthony: I feel like Frank and Lamar continues to push the envelope within the genre by presenting interesting and non stereotypical content about people of color. The fact that this show brought together so many talented creative people, from the cast and crew to the producers, who believe in the project, makes the work that much more intentional and truthful. I also think it’s pretty incredible that we got to employ many of our friends!

Sport Court

Sport Court gavel

IFC: How would you describe Sport Court to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?
Joe: SPORT COURT follows Judge David Linda, a circuit court judge assigned to handle an ad hoc courtroom put together to prosecute rowdy fan behavior in the basement of the Hartford Ultradome. Think an updated Night Court.

IFC: How would you describe Sport Court to drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?
Joe: Remember when you put those firecrackers down that guy’s pants at the baseball game? It’s about a judge who works in a court in the stadium that puts you in jail right then and there. I know, you actually did spend the night in jail, but imagine you went to court right that second and didn’t have to get your brother to take off work from GameStop to take you to your hearing.

IFC: Is there a method to your madness when coming up with sports fan faux pas?
Joe: I just think of the worst things that would ruin a sporting event for everyone. Peeing in the slushy machine in open view of a crowd seemed like a good one.

IFC: Honestly now, how many of the fan transgressions are things you’ve done or thought about doing?
Joe: I’ve thought about ripping out a whole row of chairs at a theater or stadium, so I would have my own private space. I like to think of that really whenever I have to sit crammed next to lots of people. Imagine the leg room!

Check out the full seasons of Frank and Lamar and Sport Court now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

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Millennial Wisdom

Charles Speaks For Us All

Get to know Charles, the social media whiz of Brockmire.

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He may be an unlikely radio producer Brockmire, but Charles is #1 when it comes to delivering quips that tie a nice little bow on the absurdity of any given situation.

Charles also perfectly captures the jaded outlook of Millennials. Or at least Millennials as mythologized by marketers and news idiots. You know who you are.

Played superbly by Tyrel Jackson Williams, Charles’s quippy nuggets target just about any subject matter, from entry-level jobs in social media (“I plan on getting some experience here, then moving to New York to finally start my life.”) to the ramifications of fictional celebrity hookups (“Drake and Taylor Swift are dating! Albums y’all!”). But where he really nails the whole Millennial POV thing is when he comments on America’s second favorite past-time after type II diabetes: baseball.

Here are a few pearls.

On Baseball’s Lasting Cultural Relevance

“Baseball’s one of those old-timey things you don’t need anymore. Like cursive. Or email.”

On The Dramatic Value Of Double-Headers

“The only thing dumber than playing two boring-ass baseball games in one day is putting a two-hour delay between the boring-ass games.”

On Sartorial Tradition

“Is dressing badly just a thing for baseball, because that would explain his jacket.”

On Baseball, In A Nutshell

“Baseball is a f-cked up sport, and I want you to know it.”

Learn more about Charles in the behind-the-scenes video below.

And if you were born before the late ’80s and want to know what the kids think about Baseball, watch Brockmire Wednesdays at 10P on IFC.

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Crown Jules

Amanda Peet FTW on Brockmire

Amanda Peet brings it on Brockmire Wednesday at 10P on IFC.

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GIFS via Giphy

On Brockmire, Jules is the unexpected yin to Jim Brockmire’s yang. Which is saying a lot, because Brockmire’s yang is way out there. Played by Amanda Peet, Jules is hard-drinking, truth-spewing, baseball-loving…everything Brockmire is, and perhaps what he never expected to encounter in another human.

“We’re the same level of functional alcoholic.”

But Jules takes that commonality and transforms it into something special: a new beginning. A new beginning for failing minor league baseball team “The Frackers”, who suddenly about-face into a winning streak; and a new beginning for Brockmire, whose life gets a jumpstart when Jules lures him back to baseball. As for herself, her unexpected connection with Brockmire gives her own life a surprising and much needed goose.

“You’re a Goddamn Disaster and you’re starting To look good to me.”

This palpable dynamic adds depth and complexity to the narrative and pushes the series far beyond expected comedy. See for yourself in this behind-the-scenes video (and brace yourself for a unforgettable description of Brockmire’s genitals)…

Want more about Amanda Peet? She’s all over the place, and has even penned a recent self-reflective piece in the New York Times.

And of course you can watch the Jim-Jules relationship hysterically unfold in new episodes of Brockmire, every Wednesday at 10PM on IFC.

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