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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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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…


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.


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).


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.


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.


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.



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 and the IFC app.

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G.I. Jeez

Stomach Bugs and Prom Dates

E.Coli High is in your gut and on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Brothers-in-law Kevin Barker and Ben Miller have just made the mother of all Comedy Crib series, in the sense that their Comedy Crib series is a big deal and features a hot mom. Animated, funny, and full of horrible bacteria, the series juxtaposes timeless teen dilemmas and gut-busting GI infections to create a bite-sized narrative that’s both sketchy and captivating. The two sat down, possibly in the same house, to answer some questions for us about the series. Let’s dig in….


IFC: How would you describe E.Coli High to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

BEN: Hi ummm uhh hi ok well its like umm (gets really nervous and blows it)…

KB: It’s like the Super Bowl meets the Oscars.

IFC: How would you describe E.Coli High to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

BEN: Oh wow, she’s really cute isn’t she? I’d definitely blow that too.

KB: It’s a cartoon that is happening inside your stomach RIGHT NOW, that’s why you feel like you need to throw up.

IFC: What was the genesis of E.Coli High?

KB: I had the idea for years, and when Ben (my brother-in-law, who is a special needs teacher in Philly) began drawing hilarious comics, I recruited him to design characters, animate the series, and do some writing. I’m glad I did, because Ben rules!

BEN: Kevin told me about it in a park and I was like yeah that’s a pretty good idea, but I was just being nice. I thought it was dumb at the time.


IFC: What makes going to proms and dating moms such timeless and oddly-relatable subject matter?

BEN: Since the dawn of time everyone has had at least one friend with a hot mom. It is physically impossible to not at least make a comment about that hot mom.

KB: Who among us hasn’t dated their friend’s mom and levitated tables at a prom?

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

BEN: There’s a lot of content now. I don’t think anyone will even notice, but it’d be cool if they did.

KB: A show about talking food poisoning bacteria is basically the same as just watching the news these days TBH.

Watch E.Coli High below and discover more NYTVF selections from years past on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

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