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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]

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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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