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A Spirited Q & A With “Winter’s Bone” Director Debra Granik

A Spirited Q & A With “Winter’s Bone” Director Debra Granik (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.

Over the past few weeks, Jennifer Lawrence has complained of the cold, cinematographer Michael McDonough lamented an unforgiving schedule, and Dale Dickey spoke of the challenge of balancing a chainsaw while on a boat. And these were only a few of the obstacles that were overcome under the watchful eye of Debra Granik to make “Winter’s Bone” one of the year’s most unforgettable films.

02192011_DebraGranik.jpgThat might sound like needless hyperbole, but in the case of Granik, it’s accurate since along with producer and co-writer Anne Rosellini, she does not let you forget. In addition to the searing 2005 Spirit Award-nominated debut “Down to the Bone,” Granik continues to reach into the crevices of American consciousness to elevate intimate stories of struggle, whether it’s the hold of addiction in “Down” or the strength of blood ties in “Winter’s Bone,” to the epic emotional journeys worthy of the big screen as art and demanding of attention as social issues.

Needless to say, such rich storytelling isn’t easily achieved and Granik and her crew spared no detail in recreating the world first documented in Daniel Woodrell’s novel about the resourceful Ree Dolly, a teen who is forced to care for her family and, with her uncle Teardrop (a brilliant John Hawkes), save their home from repossession when her father disappears into the wilderness of the Missouri mountains after being busted for cooking meth. Three years of trips to the Ozarks produced countless pictures, stories and the strains of mandolins and banjos to draw upon for texture, not to mention some of the film’s cast — beyond the gender switch of one of Ree’s two brothers into a sister when the young Ashlee Thompson, the seven-year-old granddaughter of the landowner of where the film was shot, charmed the director during tours of the property, a touching moment on the film’s DVD making-of shows Billy White, a local cast as Blond Milton in the film, telling the camera, “I wake up and have something to be proud of now.”

That everyone who worked on “Winter’s Bone” can say the same is a testament to their hard work and their leader Granik, a Spirit Award nominee for Best Director and Best Screenplay, not to mention someone who has established herself in just two features as one of the best filmmakers working today.

Why did you want to make this film?

Two things attracted me to this story, primarily. First was the heroine, Ree Dolly. I was attracted by her moxie and the unexpected aspects of her character. Secondly, I was drawn to the challenge of depicting a life in a region of the U.S., the Ozarks, with which I was totally unfamiliar. I wanted to know what it might be like for a girl like Ree growing up in that area. Daniel Woodrell’s novel, which is the source of the story, is full of very specific observations, dialect and a clear point of view, so there was a lot of material there to get us started.

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

Get a local guide, someone who can help you in the long process of finding your way and winning people’s trust. We found that person in Richard Michael, who comes from the area in which we filmed. Also, do everything possible to strip the production needs down to the nub. No condors, no cranes, no snow machines, no giant lights. That allowed us to be more nimble, to film quickly and get into spaces that we wouldn’t be able to fit into otherwise.

What was the toughest thing to overcome?

I had to overcome my resistance to allowing Teardrop’s fate appear to be determined by a continuing cycle of revenge. This was an aspect of the story that I did not want to accept. I wanted Teardrop’s future to remain open-ended. The script originally left it that way, and we added the lines that are more definitive, partly at John Hawkes’ insistence. Ultimately, there was a debate among me and my colleagues in the editing room over John’s lines in the last scene. And it was Affonzo Goncalvez, the editor, who finally found the solution that resolved the question to everyone’s satisfaction.

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

It’s been gratifying to see that diverse audiences can relate to this story, including people whose life experience is close to that of the characters in the movie, as well as those whose lives have been totally different.

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

It feels like almost everything has been commented upon at some point. Sometimes, the same loyal dog in one of our locations is seen on both sides of the frame. He got there not by CGI, but through his humble disregard of continuity. I loved working with an editor, Affonzo Gonzalves, who can make those kinds of anomalies work. Fonzie is one of our team’s heroes, yet his contribution has been largely unnoticed. It is hard to comment on editing, because of the old saying that when the editing is working, you don’t see it. But we all know how deeply his creativity runs through this. Another aspect is the collaboration between Michael McDonough, the director of photography, and Al Pierce, the camera operator. Working with two people putting their skills and smarts together to see how we can make this work — that is getting everything you want and more.

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

Roadside Attractions’ creative and humane distribution of the film really surpassed our expectations. They took a film that was regional and had no TV ads, and dared to open it not just in the major markets, but in locations from Paducah, Kentucky to Red Deer, Alberta that almost never see arthouse fare.

The warm response to “Winter’s Bone” overseas was also gratifying. Being told at first, “[An] indie film with no recognizable stars? No go,” but then one by one, the European nations came through, the distributor in Australia came through big time. And from this experience, I was able to meet filmmakers and journalists from many different places. Very invigorating. Cultural dialogues erupt when you leave home.

Also, many of the friendships we made have continued to nurture us, and working relationships that we established while making this film have carried over to new projects.

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

Laura Poitras’ documentary “The Oath” is one of the best things I encountered in 2010. My favorite book this year is “Methland” by Nick Reding. My favorite music this year is from Southern Missouri. I got really turned on, got to see music made up close and it’s unforgettable what talent is pulsing in those parts.

“Winter’s Bone” is still playing in limited release and is now available on DVD, Blu-ray and iTunes. The Spirit Awards will air on IFC on February 26th.

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Hard Out

Comedy From The Closet

Janice and Jeffrey Available Now On IFC's Comedy Crib

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She’s been referred to as “the love child of Amy Sedaris and Tracy Ullman,” and he’s a self-described “Italian who knows how to cook a great spaghetti alla carbonara.” They’re Mollie Merkel and Matteo Lane, prolific indie comedians who blended their robust creative juices to bring us the new Comedy Crib series Janice and Jeffrey. Mollie and Matteo took time to answer our probing questions about their series and themselves. Here’s a taste.

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

Mollie & Matteo: Janice and Jeffrey is about a married couple experiencing intimacy issues but who don’t have a clue it’s because they are gay. Their oblivion makes them even more endearing.  Their total lack of awareness provides for a buffet of comedy.

IFC: What’s your origin story? How did you two people meet and how long have you been working together?

Mollie: We met at a dive bar in Wrigley Field Chicago. It was a show called Entertaining Julie… It was a cool variety scene with lots of talented people. I was doing Janice one night and Matteo was doing an impression of Liza Minnelli. We sort of just fell in love with each other’s… ACT! Matteo made the first move and told me how much he loved Janice and I drove home feeling like I just met someone really special.

IFC: How would Janice describe Jeffrey?

Mollie: “He can paint, cook homemade Bolognese, and sing Opera. Not to mention he has a great body. He makes me feel empowered and free. He doesn’t suffocate me with attention so our love has room to breath.”

IFC: How would Jeffrey describe Janice?

Matteo: “Like a Ford. Built to last.”

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

Mollie & Matteo: Our current political world is mirroring and reflecting this belief that homosexuality is wrong. So what better time for satire. Everyone is so pro gay and equal rights, which is of course what we want, too. But no one is looking at middle America and people actually in the closet. No one is saying, hey this is really painful and tragic, and sitting with that. Having compassion but providing the desperate relief of laughter…This seemed like the healthiest, best way to “fight” the gay rights “fight”.

IFC: Hummus is hilarious. Why is it so funny?

Mollie: It just seems like something people take really seriously, which is funny to me. I started to see it in a lot of lesbians’ refrigerators at a time. It’s like observing a lesbian in a comfortable shoe. It’s a language we speak. Pass the Hummus. Turn on the Indigo Girls would ya?

See the whole season of Janice and Jeffrey right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

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Die Hard Dads

Inspiration For Die Hard Dads

Die Hard is on IFC all Father's Day Long

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection, GIPHY

Yippee ki-yay, everybody! It’s time to celebrate the those most literal of mother-effers: dads!

And just in case the title of this post left anything to the imagination, IFC is giving dads balls-to-the-wall ’80s treatment with a glorious marathon of action trailblazer Die Hard.

There are so many things we could say about Die Hard. We could talk about how it was comedian Bruce Willis’s first foray into action flicks, or Alan Rickman’s big screen debut. But dads don’t give a sh!t about that stuff.

No, dads just want to fantasize that they could be deathproof quip factory John McClane in their own mundane lives. So while you celebrate the fathers in your life, consider how John McClane would respond to these traditional “dad” moments…

Wedding Toasts

Dads always struggle to find the right words of welcome to extend to new family. John McClane, on the other hand, is the master of inclusivity.
Die Hard wedding

Using Public Restrooms

While nine out of ten dads would rather die than use a disgusting public bathroom, McClane isn’t bothered one bit. So long as he can fit a bloody foot in the sink, he’s G2G.
Die Hard restroom

Awkward Dancing

Because every dad needs a signature move.
Die Hard dance

Writing Thank You Notes

It can be hard for dads to express gratitude. Not only can McClane articulate his thanks, he makes it feel personal.
Die Hard thank you

Valentine’s Day

How would John McClane say “I heart you” in a way that ain’t cliche? The image speaks for itself.
Die Hard valentines

Shopping

The only thing most dads hate more than shopping is fielding eleventh-hour phone calls with additional items for the list. But does McClane throw a typical man-tantrum? Nope. He finds the words to express his feelings like a goddam adult.
Die Hard thank you

Last Minute Errands

John McClane knows when a fight isn’t worth fighting.
Die Hard errands

Sneaking Out Of The Office Early

What is this, high school? Make a real exit, dads.
Die Hard office

Think you or your dad could stand to be more like Bruce? Role model fodder abounds in the Die Hard marathon all Father’s Day long on IFC.

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Founding Farters

Know Your Nerd History

Revenge of the Nerds is on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection, GIFs via Giphy

That we live in the heyday of nerds is no hot secret. Scientists are celebrities, musicians are robots and late night hosts can recite every word of the Silmarillion. It’s too easy to think that it’s always been this way. But the truth is we owe much to our nerd forebearers who toiled through the jock-filled ’80s so that we might take over the world.

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Our humble beginnings are perhaps best captured in iconic ’80s romp Revenge of the Nerds. Like the founding fathers of our Country, the titular nerds rose above their circumstances to culturally pave the way for every Colbert and deGrasse Tyson that we know and love today.

To make sure you’re in the know about our very important cultural roots, here’s a quick download of the vengeful nerds without whom our shameful stereotypes might never have evolved.

Lewis Skolnick

The George Washington of nerds whose unflappable optimism – even in the face of humiliating self-awareness – basically gave birth to the Geek Pride movement.

Gilbert Lowe

OK, this guy is wet blanket, but an important wet blanket. Think Aaron Burr to Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton. His glass-mostly-empty attitude is a galvanizing force for Lewis. Who knows if Lewis could have kept up his optimism without Lowe’s Debbie-Downer outlook?

Arnold Poindexter

A music nerd who, after a soft start (inside joke, you’ll get it later), came out of his shell and let his passion lead instead of his anxiety. If you played an instrument (specifically, electric violin), and you were a nerd, this was your patron saint.

Booger

A sex-loving, blunt-smoking, nose-picking guitar hero. If you don’t think he sounds like a classic nerd, you’re absolutely right. And that’s the whole point. Along with Lamar, he simultaneously expanded the definition of nerd and gave pre-existing nerds a twisted sort of cred by association.

Lamar Latrell

Black, gay, and a crazy good breakdancer. In other words, a total groundbreaker. He proved to the world that nerds don’t have a single mold, but are simply outcasts waiting for their moment.

Ogre

Exceedingly stupid, this dumbass was monumental because he (in a sequel) leaves the jocks to become a nerd. Totally unheard of back then. Now all jocks are basically nerds.

Well, there they are. Never forget that we stand on their shoulders.

Revenge of the Nerds is on IFC all month long.

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