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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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Hard Out

Comedy From The Closet

Janice and Jeffrey Available Now On IFC's Comedy Crib

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She’s been referred to as “the love child of Amy Sedaris and Tracy Ullman,” and he’s a self-described “Italian who knows how to cook a great spaghetti alla carbonara.” They’re Mollie Merkel and Matteo Lane, prolific indie comedians who blended their robust creative juices to bring us the new Comedy Crib series Janice and Jeffrey. Mollie and Matteo took time to answer our probing questions about their series and themselves. Here’s a taste.

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IFC: How would you describe Janice and Jeffrey to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Mollie & Matteo: Janice and Jeffrey is about a married couple experiencing intimacy issues but who don’t have a clue it’s because they are gay. Their oblivion makes them even more endearing.  Their total lack of awareness provides for a buffet of comedy.

IFC: What’s your origin story? How did you two people meet and how long have you been working together?

Mollie: We met at a dive bar in Wrigley Field Chicago. It was a show called Entertaining Julie… It was a cool variety scene with lots of talented people. I was doing Janice one night and Matteo was doing an impression of Liza Minnelli. We sort of just fell in love with each other’s… ACT! Matteo made the first move and told me how much he loved Janice and I drove home feeling like I just met someone really special.

IFC: How would Janice describe Jeffrey?

Mollie: “He can paint, cook homemade Bolognese, and sing Opera. Not to mention he has a great body. He makes me feel empowered and free. He doesn’t suffocate me with attention so our love has room to breath.”

IFC: How would Jeffrey describe Janice?

Matteo: “Like a Ford. Built to last.”

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

Mollie & Matteo: Our current political world is mirroring and reflecting this belief that homosexuality is wrong. So what better time for satire. Everyone is so pro gay and equal rights, which is of course what we want, too. But no one is looking at middle America and people actually in the closet. No one is saying, hey this is really painful and tragic, and sitting with that. Having compassion but providing the desperate relief of laughter…This seemed like the healthiest, best way to “fight” the gay rights “fight”.

IFC: Hummus is hilarious. Why is it so funny?

Mollie: It just seems like something people take really seriously, which is funny to me. I started to see it in a lot of lesbians’ refrigerators at a time. It’s like observing a lesbian in a comfortable shoe. It’s a language we speak. Pass the Hummus. Turn on the Indigo Girls would ya?

See the whole season of Janice and Jeffrey right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

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Die Hard Dads

Inspiration For Die Hard Dads

Die Hard is on IFC all Father's Day Long

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection, GIPHY

Yippee ki-yay, everybody! It’s time to celebrate the those most literal of mother-effers: dads!

And just in case the title of this post left anything to the imagination, IFC is giving dads balls-to-the-wall ’80s treatment with a glorious marathon of action trailblazer Die Hard.

There are so many things we could say about Die Hard. We could talk about how it was comedian Bruce Willis’s first foray into action flicks, or Alan Rickman’s big screen debut. But dads don’t give a sh!t about that stuff.

No, dads just want to fantasize that they could be deathproof quip factory John McClane in their own mundane lives. So while you celebrate the fathers in your life, consider how John McClane would respond to these traditional “dad” moments…

Wedding Toasts

Dads always struggle to find the right words of welcome to extend to new family. John McClane, on the other hand, is the master of inclusivity.
Die Hard wedding

Using Public Restrooms

While nine out of ten dads would rather die than use a disgusting public bathroom, McClane isn’t bothered one bit. So long as he can fit a bloody foot in the sink, he’s G2G.
Die Hard restroom

Awkward Dancing

Because every dad needs a signature move.
Die Hard dance

Writing Thank You Notes

It can be hard for dads to express gratitude. Not only can McClane articulate his thanks, he makes it feel personal.
Die Hard thank you

Valentine’s Day

How would John McClane say “I heart you” in a way that ain’t cliche? The image speaks for itself.
Die Hard valentines

Shopping

The only thing most dads hate more than shopping is fielding eleventh-hour phone calls with additional items for the list. But does McClane throw a typical man-tantrum? Nope. He finds the words to express his feelings like a goddam adult.
Die Hard thank you

Last Minute Errands

John McClane knows when a fight isn’t worth fighting.
Die Hard errands

Sneaking Out Of The Office Early

What is this, high school? Make a real exit, dads.
Die Hard office

Think you or your dad could stand to be more like Bruce? Role model fodder abounds in the Die Hard marathon all Father’s Day long on IFC.

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Founding Farters

Know Your Nerd History

Revenge of the Nerds is on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection, GIFs via Giphy

That we live in the heyday of nerds is no hot secret. Scientists are celebrities, musicians are robots and late night hosts can recite every word of the Silmarillion. It’s too easy to think that it’s always been this way. But the truth is we owe much to our nerd forebearers who toiled through the jock-filled ’80s so that we might take over the world.

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Our humble beginnings are perhaps best captured in iconic ’80s romp Revenge of the Nerds. Like the founding fathers of our Country, the titular nerds rose above their circumstances to culturally pave the way for every Colbert and deGrasse Tyson that we know and love today.

To make sure you’re in the know about our very important cultural roots, here’s a quick download of the vengeful nerds without whom our shameful stereotypes might never have evolved.

Lewis Skolnick

The George Washington of nerds whose unflappable optimism – even in the face of humiliating self-awareness – basically gave birth to the Geek Pride movement.

Gilbert Lowe

OK, this guy is wet blanket, but an important wet blanket. Think Aaron Burr to Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton. His glass-mostly-empty attitude is a galvanizing force for Lewis. Who knows if Lewis could have kept up his optimism without Lowe’s Debbie-Downer outlook?

Arnold Poindexter

A music nerd who, after a soft start (inside joke, you’ll get it later), came out of his shell and let his passion lead instead of his anxiety. If you played an instrument (specifically, electric violin), and you were a nerd, this was your patron saint.

Booger

A sex-loving, blunt-smoking, nose-picking guitar hero. If you don’t think he sounds like a classic nerd, you’re absolutely right. And that’s the whole point. Along with Lamar, he simultaneously expanded the definition of nerd and gave pre-existing nerds a twisted sort of cred by association.

Lamar Latrell

Black, gay, and a crazy good breakdancer. In other words, a total groundbreaker. He proved to the world that nerds don’t have a single mold, but are simply outcasts waiting for their moment.

Ogre

Exceedingly stupid, this dumbass was monumental because he (in a sequel) leaves the jocks to become a nerd. Totally unheard of back then. Now all jocks are basically nerds.

Well, there they are. Never forget that we stand on their shoulders.

Revenge of the Nerds is on IFC all month long.

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