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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Bro and Tell

BFFs And Night Court For Sports

Bromance and Comeuppance On Two New Comedy Crib Series

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“Silicon Valley meets Girls meets black male educators with lots of unrealized potential.”

That’s how Carl Foreman Jr. and Anthony Gaskins categorize their new series Frank and Lamar which joins Joe Schiappa’s Sport Court in the latest wave of new series available now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. To better acquaint you with the newbies, we went right to the creators for their candid POVs. And they did not disappoint. Here are snippets of their interviews:

Frank and Lamar


IFC: How would you describe Frank and Lamar to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?
Carl: Best bros from college live and work together teaching at a fancy Manhattan private school, valiantly trying to transition into a more mature phase of personal and professional life while clinging to their boyish ways.

IFC: And to a friend of a friend you met in a bar?
Carl: The same way, slightly less coherent.

Anthony: I’d probably speak about it with much louder volume, due to the bar which would probably be playing the new Kendrick Lamar album. I might also include additional jokes about Carl, or unrelated political tangents.

Carl: He really delights in randomly slandering me for no reason. I get him back though. Our rapport on the page, screen, and in real life, comes out of a lot of that back and forth.

IFC: In what way is Frank and Lamar a poignant series for this moment in time?
Carl: It tells a story I feel most people aren’t familiar with, having young black males teach in a very affluent white world, while never making it expressly about that either. Then in tackling their personal lives, we see these three-dimensional guys navigate a pivotal moment in time from a perspective I feel mainstream audiences tend not to see portrayed.

Anthony: I feel like Frank and Lamar continues to push the envelope within the genre by presenting interesting and non stereotypical content about people of color. The fact that this show brought together so many talented creative people, from the cast and crew to the producers, who believe in the project, makes the work that much more intentional and truthful. I also think it’s pretty incredible that we got to employ many of our friends!

Sport Court

Sport Court gavel

IFC: How would you describe Sport Court to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?
Joe: SPORT COURT follows Judge David Linda, a circuit court judge assigned to handle an ad hoc courtroom put together to prosecute rowdy fan behavior in the basement of the Hartford Ultradome. Think an updated Night Court.

IFC: How would you describe Sport Court to drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?
Joe: Remember when you put those firecrackers down that guy’s pants at the baseball game? It’s about a judge who works in a court in the stadium that puts you in jail right then and there. I know, you actually did spend the night in jail, but imagine you went to court right that second and didn’t have to get your brother to take off work from GameStop to take you to your hearing.

IFC: Is there a method to your madness when coming up with sports fan faux pas?
Joe: I just think of the worst things that would ruin a sporting event for everyone. Peeing in the slushy machine in open view of a crowd seemed like a good one.

IFC: Honestly now, how many of the fan transgressions are things you’ve done or thought about doing?
Joe: I’ve thought about ripping out a whole row of chairs at a theater or stadium, so I would have my own private space. I like to think of that really whenever I have to sit crammed next to lots of people. Imagine the leg room!

Check out the full seasons of Frank and Lamar and Sport Court now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

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Millennial Wisdom

Charles Speaks For Us All

Get to know Charles, the social media whiz of Brockmire.

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He may be an unlikely radio producer Brockmire, but Charles is #1 when it comes to delivering quips that tie a nice little bow on the absurdity of any given situation.

Charles also perfectly captures the jaded outlook of Millennials. Or at least Millennials as mythologized by marketers and news idiots. You know who you are.

Played superbly by Tyrel Jackson Williams, Charles’s quippy nuggets target just about any subject matter, from entry-level jobs in social media (“I plan on getting some experience here, then moving to New York to finally start my life.”) to the ramifications of fictional celebrity hookups (“Drake and Taylor Swift are dating! Albums y’all!”). But where he really nails the whole Millennial POV thing is when he comments on America’s second favorite past-time after type II diabetes: baseball.

Here are a few pearls.

On Baseball’s Lasting Cultural Relevance

“Baseball’s one of those old-timey things you don’t need anymore. Like cursive. Or email.”

On The Dramatic Value Of Double-Headers

“The only thing dumber than playing two boring-ass baseball games in one day is putting a two-hour delay between the boring-ass games.”

On Sartorial Tradition

“Is dressing badly just a thing for baseball, because that would explain his jacket.”

On Baseball, In A Nutshell

“Baseball is a f-cked up sport, and I want you to know it.”

Learn more about Charles in the behind-the-scenes video below.

And if you were born before the late ’80s and want to know what the kids think about Baseball, watch Brockmire Wednesdays at 10P on IFC.

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Crown Jules

Amanda Peet FTW on Brockmire

Amanda Peet brings it on Brockmire Wednesday at 10P on IFC.

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GIFS via Giphy

On Brockmire, Jules is the unexpected yin to Jim Brockmire’s yang. Which is saying a lot, because Brockmire’s yang is way out there. Played by Amanda Peet, Jules is hard-drinking, truth-spewing, baseball-loving…everything Brockmire is, and perhaps what he never expected to encounter in another human.

“We’re the same level of functional alcoholic.”

But Jules takes that commonality and transforms it into something special: a new beginning. A new beginning for failing minor league baseball team “The Frackers”, who suddenly about-face into a winning streak; and a new beginning for Brockmire, whose life gets a jumpstart when Jules lures him back to baseball. As for herself, her unexpected connection with Brockmire gives her own life a surprising and much needed goose.

“You’re a Goddamn Disaster and you’re starting To look good to me.”

This palpable dynamic adds depth and complexity to the narrative and pushes the series far beyond expected comedy. See for yourself in this behind-the-scenes video (and brace yourself for a unforgettable description of Brockmire’s genitals)…

Want more about Amanda Peet? She’s all over the place, and has even penned a recent self-reflective piece in the New York Times.

And of course you can watch the Jim-Jules relationship hysterically unfold in new episodes of Brockmire, every Wednesday at 10PM on IFC.

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