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A Spirited Q & A With “Lbs.” Director Matthew Bonifacio

A Spirited Q & A With “Lbs.” Director Matthew Bonifacio (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.

Underdog tales don’t come any more tailor-made for a happy ending than Matthew Bonifacio’s first feature that’s nominated for the John Cassavetes Award at this year’s Spirit Awards. In the case of “Lbs.,” this is as true behind the scenes as it is in the story about Neil, an overweight man (Carmine Famiglietti) who aims to curb his addiction to meatball hoagies and fried chicken by shacking up in a trailer park with his friend Sacco (Michael Aronov), who simultaneously attempts to wean himself off drugs. For the frizzy-haired Neil, the romance with food gives way to a previously unthinkable affair with a forthright local (Miriam Shor), a relationship that’s only superceded in its tenderness in real life by the one between Bonifacio and the film’s star and co-writer Famiglietti.

As Bonifacio explains below, the film was born out of the pair’s friendship and that warmth is felt in every frame of “Lbs.,” which clearly draws upon Famiglietti’s personal struggle with his weight as clips and photos from his past are interspersed throughout the early part of the film. And the line between reality and fiction blurs further when you consider that Famiglietti really does lose 100 pounds (and goes through three different hairstyles) over the course of the film, which was shot on a shoestring budget while it allowed for a shoot broken into four parts over the course of 27 months.

However, for all the miles Neil bicycles in the film to drop the weight, “Lbs.” as a film has had to go many more. Originally premiering at Sundance in 2004, Bonifacio has already completed two films since then — 2007’s “Amexicano” and the upcoming “Not for Nothing” — and endured a string of release dates that never came to be, first with a distributor that didn’t come through and then oddly enough, a partnership with a drug company that wanted to use Famiglietti as a spokesperson until their latest product didn’t pass government approval.

Ultimately, Bonifacio got the rights back to his film in 2009 and after a theatrical release in New York this past summer, he’s self-distributing the DVD through the “Lbs.” Web site, which should finally bring some closure to a production that’s been over a decade in the making and a smile to anyone’s face who listens to Neil’s final words in the film as he explains how he wants to fill the void of eating with “something real simple.” Clearly, nothing was intended to come easy for “Lbs.,” but that’s only made its success now sweeter.

Why did you want to make this film?

Primarily, I wanted to help out my longtime friend Carmine Famiglietti with his fight against food. I watched him physically change dramatically over a short period of time and this was a perfect opportunity to help him turn it around. Also, I started out as an actor and was heavily influenced in the mid ’90s with the Independent film scene and had been interested in getting into directing and working on the other side of the camera. It was a win-win.

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

I played baseball throughout most of my life and was told by a teammate in high school “If you’re not practicing, someone else is.” It was a Brooks Robinson quote and has always stuck with me. I approached pre-production with the intention of making “Lbs.” the best it could be and used my competitive nature to drive me through the tough production days.

I also received great advice years later from an investor for our second feature, “Amexicano.” He said, “Study the dailies”. It sounds funny but there’s so much truth to it. You think every filmmaker does that, but it’s easy to settle if the scene immediately comes out good. You have to keep on challenging yourself by exploring and combing through every single frame. If not, you could miss something magical.

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

I had to learn to have patience and a thick skin with “Lbs.” It was shot over the course of 27 months in conjunction with Carmine’s incredible weight loss, raising money, and tightening the script. It’s easy to say, “We have enough in the can,” “Carmine, you lost enough weight,” “Let’s start submitting to film festivals.” But we didn’t and made the movie we wanted to make. Having that patience got “Lbs.” to Sundance in 2004 and in theaters in 2010. I learned there are no rules or conventional paths. Create your own path. It’s much more exciting.

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

I’ve been blessed with many memorable moments during this journey. The whole Sundance experience was pure heaven and such a positive and life-changing experience that I will cherish forever. Another was when “Lbs.” had a special screening at Harvard Medical School. Here you have two guys from Brooklyn and Queens being looked upon with the utmost respect and fielding a slew of questions during a very exciting Q & A. Finally, last year when “Lbs.” was in release it opened in Washington DC, a young lady flew in with her mom from Kansas City to see “Lbs.” and meet us. She had started her own “Lbs.” forum on her blog called Uncovering Pamela. She is such a dedicated fan and religiously updates her blog when there’s any news on “Lbs.” I’ve even found myself going to her blog to find out updates! It’s all so flattering and a great reminder of the reason we made this film.

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

I think most people probably don’t realize the twists and turns a film like “Lbs.”, that has been 10 years in the making, goes through. If you heard of a similar film years ago, it was probably us. “Lbs.” was developed in the late ’90s when Carmine wrote the initial drafts. I had my first production meeting with him in January 2000. At the time, I responded to the material and was brought on as a co-writer. We developed the script for a year and had a few staged readings. He asked to me to direct.

Principal photography took place between 2001-2003 (“Lbs.” is both a pre- and post- 9/11 film). We world-premiered at Sundance in 2004, where we turned down a cable deal because we wanted a theatrical release. “Lbs.” was pick-up by a specialty distributor and was never released, leading to a legal battle in 2009. We won back the rights with the help of executive producer Marc Victor and self-released “Lbs.” theatrically in 2010, starting out in four cities, which grew to eight. Last summer, Carmine Martignetti, a Massachusetts businessman, fell in love with the film and shared it with his brothers. They funded the DVD release, and here we are in 2011…it’s been a wild ride!

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

Hearing the public speak. There’s nothing more exciting and satisfying than talking to audience members at Q & As. We’ve received e-mails from all over the world asking “How can I see ‘Lbs.’?” The film’s very popular in Sweden, and yet we never played there! What?! I just feel so blessed there are people out there who are interested in something I was a part of. It never gets old.

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

This year I really enjoyed “The Town” — Ben Affleck was terrific in front and behind the camera, “Cyrus” — I love anything the Duplass brothers make, “Greenberg” — I’ll never miss a Noah Baumbach film, “The Kids Are Alright” — excellent performances; Mia Wasikowska and Julianne Moore should’ve received Oscar nominations, and “I’m Here,” the short directed by Spike Jonze, which was probably my favorite film of the year! Fave book? There’s two. “Citrus County” by John Brandon and the “2011 Not For Tourists Guide to Los Angeles.”

“Lbs.” is now available on DVD. The Spirit Awards will air on IFC on February 26th.

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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…

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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.

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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-Craft

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?”

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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).

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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.

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

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Get Physical

DVDs are the new Vinyl

Portlandia Season 7 Now Available On Disc.

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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.

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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.

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Forget Public Wifi

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

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Inter-not

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.

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Self Defense

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

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