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Aaron Katz Comes Out From the “Cold”

Aaron Katz Comes Out From the “Cold” (photo)

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“There’s no palm trees in Portland.” It was this simple observation that changed the course of Aaron Katz’s third feature from being a family drama into a thriller and may well change the course of his career. Not that any change is necessary on Katz’s part, but “Cold Weather” represents the film that could push the conversation about the writer/director beyond the cineastes who bring up his name to impress in conversation like a well-kept secret, knowing full well that loaning the DVD double feature of his first two films “Dance Party USA” and “Quiet City” is akin to turning a friend onto some really good drugs. Whereas the director’s last films indeed felt like trips – beautifully composed and immaculately realized dramas that captured the exuberance of youth – his latest, which sees Doug and Gail, a brother and sister (Cris Lankenau and Trieste Kelly Dunn) try to solve the mystery of his missing girlfriend, takes the form of a tantalizing brain teaser.

Which is where the palm trees come in. When Katz was talking to a friend who moved into the one building in Portland with a palm tree out front, “I thought that would be a good clue,” the director says now. “I thought I should keep that in mind for something if I ever write a mystery in Portland.” Sure enough, the Rasmussen Village apartment building shows up in “Cold Weather” as part of a stakeout, just one of the many conventions Katz turns on its head. As it turns out, a detective story was a natural fit for the filmmaker, considering that his films to date have taken great pride in the accumulation of small details. Here, Katz talks about all the minutiae that went into filming “Cold Weather,” from his work with the RED digital camera that illuminate the cloudy Portland skies to the film’s vibrant and unorthodox score.

How did you get interested in doing this film?

I started writing a script that was supposed to be about a brother and sister because there’s not really a lot of films about that relationship and I thought it was a really interesting relationship. I got about 30-40 pages in and I happened to be reading a lot of detective fiction around that time and I was up late at night writing and just started putting some mystery elements in it. I wrote about 10 pages introducing the beginnings of the mystery and figured I’d wake up the next day and say, well, that was fun, but let’s get back to the script I was writing. But actually I reread it and felt really excited and wrote the rest of the script really quickly. And I was actually reading the book that the main character Doug is reading in the movie, “Raffles” by E.W. Hornung.

02052011_ColdWeather2.jpgWhen you do this kind of film, how much of the mystery do you need to solve for yourself before realizing this could make a movie?

The first draft I came up with was pretty much a mess. I think it had all the right elements in it, but I had written it not knowing what was coming next, so Brendan [McFadden] and Ben [Stambler], two of our producers, and I sat down and spent about a month probably reworking stuff in the script, especially the mystery – on notecards. We made one for the entirety of the script, including the non-mystery portion of the movie, and it changed a lot. We had a lot of different ideas about how far to take the mystery, the stakes. That was one of the toughest things because we wanted the stakes to be high enough that it felt serious – it wasn’t like a spoof or something really silly – but also keep the stakes low enough so it doesn’t take it into traditional thriller territory where it’s some big conspiracy.

We had the idea that maybe there was this whole conspiracy about the lumber industry and it wasn’t money in the case, but some kind of documents or something like that, but that really felt wrong, so we dialed it back from there and came up with the thing that’s in the movie. One thing that we came up with as we were going through various permutations of the mystery is that we kept coming back to the most important thing was the relationship between Doug and Gail, that’s the note we wanted to end the movie on. So for us, it was about finding a way to resolve enough of the mystery to our taste, at least, and then bring it back to being about Doug and Gail.

One of the most striking things to me was just how great the RED Camera made this film look. Did it allow you to play with different colors and textures than you had before?

It opened things up for us a lot. And I think that the process, working with myself and Andrew Reed, our director of photography and also our colorist Alex Bickel, who was involved even before we shot the movie and we talked a lot about how to get those colors out of the RED camera. I think what you said – textures – actually is a good way to describe it. We talked a lot about textures. For example, we wanted to get the textures of the clouds in the sky in Portland and one of the great things about RED is you have a lot of flexibility in the look of the film and post-production, but you don’t have that if you’re not real careful to make sure everything is in the exposure. In many movies, parts of the sky are a little blown out and it doesn’t read as odd or anything, it’s just that’s normal, but we really wanted to make sure that wasn’t the case in this film – that you could really see all the texture of the clouds and in the color process, we really spent a lot of time bringing that out and bringing out the texture of, say, the asphalt when they’re driving, bringing out the texture of dirt or the texture of a stucco building.

I had gotten some warnings going in from the very first generation of people to shoot on the RED saying that things can look plastic-y or things can look almost fake [or] eerily sharp beyond how life looks. I actually didn’t find any of that. I found that we had so much control over the look of the film with the RED because unlike cameras we used on the previous two films, you can shoot with any 35mm lenses, so we were able to have so much control over the look in a way that we had never had before, so it was really great.

02062011_ColdWeather3.jpg This is probably going to sound like a naïve question since Portland is your hometown, but you show a side of Portland that might be surprising to even some who live there. Was it hard keeping a sense of mystery even when you knew the locations so well yourself?

I tried to pick out places that to me evoked what I think of when I think of mysteries. For example, I’m a big Raymond Chandler fan and there’s a quote on the back of fairly recent editions of his book — I forget who the quote’s from — but the gist of the quote is that Raymond Chandler gave L.A. a sense of romance it didn’t have before and I think that’s really true. I think part of that is that he doesn’t use Los Angeles as just a convenient place to set it just because that’s where he is or whatever. It’s really specifically set in Los Angeles and so I really wanted to take that idea and apply it to Portland, to really specifically set it there. Portland has an interesting combination of having a similar look to L.A. in terms of architecture because it was built up around the same time, a lot of the buildings that were built in the teens through the ’40s, so there’s a lot of stucco and a lot of old brick buildings and I really wanted to use those.

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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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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….

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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.

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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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