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.


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…


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. 


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 ’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?”


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).



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.


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


Get Physical

DVDs are the new Vinyl

Portlandia Season 7 Now Available On Disc.

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GIFs via Giffy

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.


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.


Forget Public Wifi

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



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.


Self Defense

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


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