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food gives way to a previously unthinkable affair with a forthright local (Miriam Shor), a relationship that’s only superceded in its tenderness in real life by the one between Bonifacio and the film’s star and co-writer Famiglietti.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


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.


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).


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.


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.


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.



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 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….


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.


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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