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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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New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

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Jenny Jaffe has a lot going on: She’s writing for Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, developing comedy projects with pals at Devastator Press, and she’s straddling the line between S&M and OCD as the creator and star of the sexyish new series Neurotica, which has just made its debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib. Jenny gave us some extremely intimate insight into what makes Neurotica (safely) sizzle…

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

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon.

IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. You’re great. We should get coffee sometime. I’m not just saying that. I know other people just say that sometimes but I really feel like we’re going to be friends, you know? Here, what’s your number, I’ll call you so you can have my number!

IFC: What’s your comedy origin story?

Jenny: Since I was a kid I’ve dealt with severe OCD and anxiety. Comedy has always been one of the ways I’ve dealt with that. I honestly just want to help make people feel happy for a few minutes at a time.

IFC: What was the genesis of Neurotica?

Jenny: I’m pretty sure it was a title-first situation. I was coming up with ideas to pitch to a production company a million years ago (this isn’t hyperbole; I am VERY old) and just wrote down “Neurotica”; then it just sort of appeared fully formed. “Neurotica? Oh it’s an over-the-top romantic comedy about a Dominatrix with OCD, of course.” And that just happened to hit the buttons of everything I’m fascinated by.

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IFC: How would you describe Ivy?

Jenny: Ivy is everything I love in a comedy character – she’s tenacious, she’s confident, she’s sweet, she’s a big wonderful weirdo.

IFC: How would Ivy’s clientele describe her?

Jenny:  Open-minded, caring, excellent aim.

IFC: Why don’t more small towns have local dungeons?

Jenny: How do you know they don’t?

IFC: What are the pros and cons of joining a chain mega dungeon?

Jenny: You can use any of their locations but you’ll always forget you have a membership and in a year you’ll be like “jeez why won’t they let me just cancel?”

IFC: Mouths are gross! Why is that?

Jenny: If you had never seen a mouth before and I was like “it’s a wet flesh cave with sharp parts that lives in your face”, it would sound like Cronenberg-ian body horror. All body parts are horrifying. I’m kind of rooting for the singularity, I’d feel way better if I was just a consciousness in a cloud.

See the whole season of Neurotica right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

The-Craft

The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”

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Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).

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Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.

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And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.

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Get Physical

DVDs are the new Vinyl

Portlandia Season 7 Now Available On Disc.

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In this crazy digital age, sometimes all we really want is to reach out and touch something. Maybe that’s why so many of us are still gung-ho about owning stuff on DVD. It’s tangible. It’s real. It’s tech from a bygone era that still feels relevant, yet also kitschy and retro. It’s basically vinyl for people born after 1990.

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Inevitably we all have that friend whose love of the disc is so absolutely repellent that he makes the technology less appealing. “The resolution, man. The colors. You can’t get latitude like that on a download.” Go to hell, Tim.

Yes, Tim sucks, and you don’t want to be like Tim, but maybe he’s onto something and DVD is still the future. Here are some benefits that go beyond touch.

It’s Decor and Decorum

With DVDs and a handsome bookshelf you can show off your great taste in film and television without showing off your search history. Good for first dates, dinner parties, family reunions, etc.

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Forget Public Wifi

Warm up that optical drive. No more awkwardly streaming episodes on shady free wifi!

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Inter-not

Internet service goes down. It happens all the time. It could happen right now. Then what? Without a DVD on hand you’ll be forced to make eye contact with your friends and family. Or worse – conversation.

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Self Defense

You can’t throw a download like a ninja star. Think about it.

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If you’d like to experience the benefits DVD ownership yourself, Portlandia Season 7 is now available on DVD and Blue-Ray.