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A Spirited Q & A With “The Exploding Girl” Director Bradley Rust Gray

A Spirited Q & A With “The Exploding Girl” Director Bradley Rust Gray (photo)

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As a way of celebrating this year’s nominees for the Spirit Awards in the weeks leading up to the ceremony, we reached out to as many as we could in an effort to better understand what went into their films, what they’ve gotten out of the experience, and where they’ve found their inspiration, both in regards to their work and other works of art that might’ve inspired them from the past year. Their answers will be published on a daily basis throughout February.

Being a director can be a lonely profession, which is why Bradley Rust Gray is clearly onto something. A year after his wife So Yong Kim was nominated for the John Cassavetes Award at the Spirit Awards for the drama “Treeless Mountain” (on which he was a producer), Gray returns to the same category this year as a director with “The Exploding Girl” (a film that naturally his wife produced). However, the theme of isolation has been very much a theme of the Gray-Kim household, whether it’s in a foreign country (like Kim’s “In Between Days”) or abandonment (“Treeless Mountain”) and so it continues with “The Exploding Girl,” a beautifully wrought character study of a young woman (Zoe Kazan) afraid to reveal her true emotions at the risk of triggering her epilepsy during a summer in the city.

Gray’s nomination for the John Cassavetes Award is an allusion to the film’s sparse budget, necessitating stolen shots on the subway and a primary cast of just two. But in that famous New Yorker’s spirit, it could just as easily be a reference to how the director presents the metropolis, not necessarily in the gritty style of Cassavetes, but nonetheless a side that isn’t often seen on film. Yes, the commotion of the sirens and the constant construction can be overwhelming to a fragile soul like Kazan’s Ivy, who also finds herself at the mercy of that staple of urban panic, the cell phone, awaiting the call of a boyfriend who seems to be drifting away. Yet in Gray’s Manhattan, she can take shelter in the darkness of a dimly lit street where the plastic sheets covering a corner bodega float in the night or sit atop a rooftop with her friend (Mark Rendall) and bask in the wonder of flight of the birds overhead. In “The Exploding Girl,” the experience of growing up needn’t be an ugly one, and Gray summons the full power of cinema to demonstrate why.

Why did you want to make this film?

I was at the end of my rope.

What was the best piece of advice you received that applied to the making of this film?

“Dude, just make it.” from my wife.

What was the toughest thing to overcome, whether it applies to a particular scene or the film as a whole?

The schedule was a bit tight in that we had a 17-day shoot and our actor, Mark Rendall, was unexpectedly available for the first seven days. But everyone made this work to our advantage. The main actress, Zoe Kazan, and I got to really spend time with her character and the crew fell into a good rhythm. It was a pleasure to shoot the film, despite the obstacles. For example, it took two hours to mount the camera on the hood of a car for the opening shot, and just when we finished, the battery died. So we had to spend another two hours re-doing it. In turn, [we] had to cut two scenes out of the film in order to shoot the opening and closing scenes that day. But I haven’t missed those lost scenes since. And I’m happy with the beginning and end of the film. We also lost all of the financing about four weeks before starting and had to make the film on a fifth of the original budget. But I feel this helped focus our intentions, not that I’d like to repeat that approach.

What’s been the most memorable moment while you’ve traveled with the film, either at a festival or otherwise?

We showed the film in Ljubljana exactly when the Slovenian national team was playing their qualifying match for the World Cup. The game ended about ten minutes before the film did and I found out that a small cheer spread through the film audience over Slovenian’s victory. (I was watching the game during the screening.) I’m not sure how they liked the film, but it was the most excited I’ve ever seen an crowd after a viewing.

What’s your favorite thing about your film that’s been largely uncommented upon?

There’s a scene in the film where the main character, Ivy, finds her friend’s tape recorder in a suitcase he’s left at her mother’s apartment. When we shot the scene, I asked Zoe to just pick up the recorder and press play. I had no idea what was on the tape. I figured I’d just record something with Mark later on that would fit the scene. Unbeknownst to all of us, however, he had recorded a song that was cued up. It was a wonderful found moment for all of us on the crew and for Zoe. But no one ever really comments on it, because it’s unlikely anyone would think it was a surprise.

What’s been the most gratifying thing to come out of this film for you personally?

I’m very happy that the actors were well-received.

What’s been your favorite film, book or album from the past year?

We just saw a rough cut of a new film by Romanian filmmaker Adrian Sitaru called “Best Intentions” and it’s incredible. The film has locked itself in my head. The acting is mindblowingly naturalistic, he’s doing something I’ve never seen before with the camera (unique and simple, but extremely well executed), and the film has a very honest heart. It focuses on a family relationship on the level of Ozu. I’m a big fan.

This is going to sound biased, but I’m also very excited about my wife’s new film, “For Ellen.” We’ve been editing together for the last two months, so I’ve probably seen the film over thirty times recently, and I still fall into it. I’m very inspired by her work.

“The Exploding Girl” is now available on DVD, Amazon On Demand, Netflix Instant, and iTunes, among other services. The Spirit Awards will air on IFC on February 26th.

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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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