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A Spirited Q & A With “Lovers of Hate” Director Bryan Poyser

A Spirited Q & A With “Lovers of Hate” Director Bryan Poyser (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.

When “Lovers of Hate” opens in New York at the reRun Gastropub Theater this Valentine’s Day weekend beginning this evening, it is indicative of two things: one, the sick sense of humor of the theater’s programmers since Bryan Poyser’s comedy is anything but romantic and that Poyser is indeed quite worthy of the John Cassavetes Award at this year’s Spirit Awards since “Lovers of Hate” is the kind of miracle of storytelling that too few filmmakers achieve when they’re all too busy willing a low-budget film into existence in the first place.

02112011_LoversofHate2.jpgIn the case of “Lovers of Hate,” Poyser has crafted a film that’s easy to describe the plot, but considerably harder to discuss its tone, which is at once familiar and darkly humorous, growing out of one uncomfortable situation after another. Even though Poyser’s ability to wring laughs from raw emotions is impressive, it is his overall economy – with words, scenes and the story in general – that enables the film to reach its full potential in tension and humor, involving a simple premise that only involves three characters: Rudy, a frustrated writer (Chris Doubek) who’s destroyed his marriage and discovers that his ex-wife Diana (Heather Kafka) has taken up with his brother Paul (Alex Karpovsky) and follows them up to the mansion paid for by his bro’s successful career in children’s books.

“This is an extremely bad idea, but that’s what Poyser specializes in,” as I noted in my original review of the film shortly after it debuted at Sundance last year, and following his nomination as Someone to Watch at the Spirits in 2005 for his debut “Dear Pillow,” Poyser’s made a film you can’t keep your eyes off of as Rudy slinks around the spacious ski retreat listening to his two closest relations have sex and worse, finding out their true feelings about him as he desperately tries to make a break for it. As Poyser has said in previous interviews, you’re meeting Rudy at the worst time in his life, but as a filmmaker, you could argue the opposite for this writer/director.

Why did you want to make this film?

For several reasons – one, to get myself to stop complaining about not directing a movie in five years; two, to write a lead role for my friend Chris Doubek, an amazing actor that I’d worked with in small roles on a couple previous films; and three, to try to make a love story between three people where the happy ending is that they all end up apart.

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

Probably the best piece of advice came in the form of a directive from my friend Athina Rachel Tsangari. She was the Teaching Assistant in my Film I class way back in 1995 at the University of Texas. She became a friend and a mentor and we even co-founded a film festival together, before she moved back to her native Greece and started making movies there (her newest, “Attenberg,” premiered at Venice and is playing Sundance this year). She was one of the first people I showed the script of “Lovers of Hate” to, in its raw first-draft state. After going through a number of criticisms and suggestions, she said, “But you should make this movie and I’ll give you money to make it.” With that kind of totally unsolicited generosity, I felt encouraged, if not obligated to make it happen. And a mere six months later, after several other friends lent us their generosity, we were shooting.

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

Stairs. The bulk of the movie takes place in this four-story, six-bedroom mansion on the side of a mountain in Park City, Utah. There are 8 staircases in that place, so after the first couple days of production, after running up and down those staircases about 60 times, my calves were in serious agony. Definitely didn’t do enough cross-training before starting the film.

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

Pretty much since the day I got the call from Sundance that the film was gonna play in the Competition, I started freaking out about screening at the Eccles Theatre at the festival. It’s their largest venue, about 1100 seats or something. I just figured there was no way enough people were gonna come to a screening of this tiny indie no-budget film to not make an Eccles screening an empty, embarrassing disaster. But, fortunately, when we arrived there were lines of people waiting. We probably had about 800 people show up. Having that many people laugh at your silly poop-jokes is a pretty overwhelming experience.

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

Probably the score. A couple years ago, my good friend Kevin Bewersdorf had been releasing this album called “Babes” one track at a time on the internet for free. He never finished the last song but this one track, “Power Failure” just totally captured me. I’d listen to it over and over.

I knew I wanted to try to use it in the film, but I couldn’t figure out where, until David Lowery, the cinematographer, was helping me get my two-and-a-half hour cut down to a manageable length and he dropped the song into the beginning and ending scenes of the film. It was perfect! Then, I knew I had to get Kevin to do the entire score. It took some cajoling but he did it, recording everything on his own in this tiny cabin in the woods of western Pennsylvania where he was living. I knew he’d be able to capture the peculiar silly-yet-serious tone of the film.

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

After some unfortunate set-backs with previous projects, I wanted to “get back to basics” on “Lovers” and do something with a small cast, a small number of locations and a small crew so we could all focus on the stuff that was going to be the most important ultimately – the story and the acting. I decided going in that rehearsals were going to be a necessary part of the process and fortunately, I found an ensemble that was willing and had the time to do that. Megan Gilbride, the producer and I, decided to keep the project pretty low-key – we didn’t do any wide crew calls or anything – just because we wanted to keep the whole thing under the radar. My feeling was if we do this movie with little fanfare and it turns out crappy, no one would be the wiser. So, it was incredibly gratifying to make a small, focused movie on my own terms and have it connect with people on a much larger scale than anything I’ve done before.

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

In the last few years, I’ve become such a nerd for history, mostly American history. Novels just haven’t been doing it for me lately. I found the new book “Mayflower” by this author Nathaniel Philbrick, to be utterly fascinating. It’s about the Pilgrims’ trip across the Atlantic and the first 50 years of their colony in New England. The book just expertly brings to life this much more complex and much more bloody history than you could have ever imagined came from the folks who brought us Thanksgiving. Someone could turn this into a kick-ass HBO series. It’d be like “Deadwood” with buckled hats.

“Lovers of Hate” is currently playing in New York and will have a one-week engagement in Dallas beginning on February 18th. It is also currently airing on the Sundance Channel. The Spirit Awards will air on IFC on February 26th.

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A-O Rewind

Celebrating Portlandia One Sketch at a Time

The final season of Portlandia approaches.

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Most people measure time in minutes, hours, days, years…At IFC, we measure it in sketches. And nothing takes us way (waaaaaay) back like Portlandia sketches. Yes, there’s a Portlandia milepost from every season that changed the way we think, behave, and pickle things. In honor of Portlandia’s 8th and final season, Subaru presents a few of our favorites.

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Put A Bird On It

Portlandia enters the pop-culture lexicon and inspires us to put birds on literally everything.

Colin the Chicken

Who’s your chicken, really? Behold the emerging locavore trend captured perfectly to the nth degree.

Dream Of The ’90s

This treatise on Portland made it clear that “the dream” was alive and well.

No You Go

We Americans spend most of our lives in cars. Fortunately, there’s a Portlandia sketch for every automotive situation.

A-O River!

We learned all our outdoor survival skills from Kath and Dave.

One More Episode

The true birth of binge watching, pre-Netflix. And what you’ll do once Season 8 premieres.

Catch up on Portlandia’s best moments before the 8th season premieres January 18th on IFC.

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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…

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

Jenn: I LOVE ISSA RAE!

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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 IFC.com and the IFC app.

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