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food gives way to a previously unthinkable affair with a forthright local (Miriam Shor), a relationship that’s only superceded in its tenderness in real life by the one between Bonifacio and the film’s star and co-writer Famiglietti.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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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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