A Spirited Q & A With “Tiny Furniture” Cinematographer Jody Lee Lipes

A Spirited Q & A With “Tiny Furniture” Cinematographer Jody Lee Lipes (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.

It would be one thing to say that Jody Lee Lipes had a beautiful year, but it would be equally accurate to say he made the year beautiful for the rest of us. Following the accomplishments of lensing Antonio Campos’ “Afterschool” in 2008 and directing the doc “Brock Enright: Good Times Will Never Be the Same” in 2009, 2010 began with a bang when Lipes landed at SXSW with the wondrous “NY Export: Opus Jazz,” the film he co-directed with Henry Joost that updates Jerome Robbins’ urban ballet that functions as a pure distillation of cinema and dance. He later headed to Cannes with the contemplative “Two Gates of Sleep,” Alistair Banks Griffin’s drama about two brothers transporting their mother’s corpse across rough terrain, and if there’s a common thread between the three vastly different films, it’s how Lipes can convey a sense of dignity in both the lightest and darkest corners of the world and of humanity in general.

02052011_lipes.jpgDuring his time in Austin, Lipes clarified to Aaron Hillis that he would prefer to be described as a filmmaker rather than a director of photography, a distinction that makes sense well beyond the fact he’s already worn many other hats besides that of a cinematographer. And yet his name has become a badge of honor on any film that lists him in the credits, a promise to the audience that their eyes will be dazzled.

Incredibly, as Lipes mentions below, he almost wasn’t hired for Lena Dunham’s “Tiny Furniture,” the film that garnered him a Spirit Award nomination for best cinematography. If there was any risk in hiring him, it surely paid off since it was his camerawork that brought focus to the writer/director’s cockeyed view of the world, operating almost as the prim and proper Laurel to the blustery Hardy of Lena Dunham’s Aura, the free-thinking, overprivileged/ understimulated New Yorker that barrels through the wilderness of post-collegiate life. Dynamic duos like this don’t come around often, so it’s no surprise Lipes and Dunham have continued their collaboration on the upcoming HBO series “Girls,” which in addition to his work on the Sundance winner “Martha Marcy May Marlene,” suggests 2011 may even be a more momentous year for the filmmaker than 2010. At this point, momentum may be the only thing that could widen Lipes’ scope.

Why did you want to make this film?

I had just finished working on “NY Export: Opus Jazz,” the largest production I had been a part of up till that point in my career, and I was looking to shoot a really small film without crew or any of the machine that comes along with a budget. So when Kyle Martin told me about Lena’s script and the scale he was imagining for the film, I really wanted to read it. I remember calling Lena when my plane was taking off as I was returning from some job in California, I sort of begged her to give me a try on that voicemail cause she had already decided against working with me. Luckily, she reconsidered.

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

Just watching Gordon Willis’ work prepared me for this film in a lot of ways. He is one of my favorite storytellers.

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

The toughest thing about “Tiny Furniture” was the camera we were using (the Canon 7D), it’s not very forgiving and it’s painful to operate. My longtime friend and AC quit the first day cause it was so difficult to work with. In the end, the movie got a lot of attention because we were one of the first couple features to work with that technology, but it’s not something I’m planning on doing again.

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

The most memorable moment was watching Lena on the Craig Ferguson show in December. It was kind of hard to believe a year after we starting shooting this no-budget film in her parents’ apartment that Lena had come so far and achieved so much. It’s really been a pleasure to watch.

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

My favorite thing about the film was the complete lack of expectation about the product we were making while we were making it.

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

The most gratifying thing to come out of this process has been the extreme pleasure of working with Lena, Judd Apatow and Jenni Konner on Lena’s new HBO show. It’s amazing to learn from and collaborate with such gifted and dedicated minds.

Your favorite film, book or album from the past year?

“Catacombs” by Cass McCombs is the album I’ve listened too most over the course of the last year, he is simply the best.

“Tiny Furniture” remains available on demand and continues to play throughout the U.S. A full list of screenings can be found here. The Spirit Awards will air on IFC on February 26th.

[Additional photo: “NY Export: Opus Jazz,” Credit: Yaniv Schulman, 2010]


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.