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A Spirited Q & A With “Lovely, Still” Director Nik Fackler

A Spirited Q & A With “Lovely, Still” Director Nik Fackler (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.

Nik Fackler is just full of surprises. As a 23-year-old directing for the first time, one could’ve easily expected a romance about what it’s like to be young and foolish and wildly in love from Fackler. That last one applies to “Lovely, Still,” but in penning a love story of two people closing in on their eighties, the writer/director proved canny beyond his years, attracting Oscar winners Ellen Burstyn and Martin Landau to be in his first feature with meaty roles they rarely get to play these days and crafting a spry, tender tale around them as a pair of senior citizens going out on their first date in the days leading up to Christmas.

As the old Hollywood maxim goes, “90 percent of filmmaking is good casting,” and indeed, “Lovely, Still” benefits greatly from being in the company of such seasoned pros as Burstyn and Landau, not to mention nice supporting turns from Elizabeth Banks and Adam Scott. However, Fackler’s secret weapon is his screenplay, a fact that didn’t go unnoticed by the Spirit Awards since he’s been nominated for Best First Screenplay, a recognition of what was on the page as much as what was left off. Hailing from Omaha, Fackler turned down film school to hone his craft making music videos for Midwestern bands like Azure Ray and Bright Eyes where the only dialogue allowed is the lyrics and it’s a quality that permeates “Lovely, Still” as the quiet moments permit what lines there are to really sing.

It’s actually more of a waltz between Landau’s Robert and Burstyn’s Mary, with the former only feeling comfortable when in the presence the latter, anxious about social interaction in general and so nervous about impressing his new neighbor that he asks everyone around from his manager (Scott) to his mail carrier about what transpires on date nowadays. The vocabulary is as eloquent visually as it is verbally, bringing an otherworldly quality to Robert’s dreams and a warmth to such moments as when Robert learns his feelings for Mary are mutual and sees the red, green and gold lights from across the street light up in unison with the glow radiating from the woman standing in front of him. Although it’s troubling to learn that our questionnaire led Fackler to believe he has “confidence issues,” it’s clear from his first film that he doesn’t have any when it comes to a command behind the camera.

Why did you want to make this film?

The answer to this questions changes so often. As I have grown nine years older from the beginnings of writing this story, each year the film takes on a new meaning. The initial flame of inspiration came from being a teenager in love. Trying hard to understand and control the feelings that seemed to transform my perception. As I look back now on the film, I also see a desperate plea for optimism that I, having lost love, will always have the ability to rediscover it again with others. The concept of casting an older couple was a way for me to understand my own experiences and somehow manifest what I want my future, finding love again, to be. Plus, I would have learned nothing making a film about teenagers. I need a challenge to measure and discover myself.

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

Every day, Martin would tell me “It’s your movie.” He kept really pushing that on me. It was more and more helpful each time he said it. He could understand the pressure of being a 23-year-old directing a feature. The constant proving grounds you’re standing on. I had to remember it was my film. In the end, after all the fighting and long hours have ended, when I’m an old man, it’s still my film. So I better make it exactly how I want it to be. No regrets. It’s your movie. It gave me the confidence to stand up to people when I needed to and I’m sure I will be repeating it over and over on my next projects as well.

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

The hardest part of the process was the end of post. The perfection and trust needed in saying “I’m finished, let’s move on.” To direct means to create your love and then to constantly judge it, pick apart every aspect of it. It ended up sending me into a really dark place toward the end. But learning to let go was important.

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 when the film started working for audiences. The first test screenings – temp score/first cut – we’re hard on me. You get lots of notes and it’s difficult to hear them sometimes. But, after a year of struggle, there was finally a moment where I could see the audiences reacting the way I wanted them to. Really responding to the emotions. It was like the moment when you finally learn to do something and it just clicks. You get it. From that moment forward, I felt confident in my work and we finished up.

I wouldn’t start traveling to festivals unsure of what I was showing. I wanted to finish post-production thinking, “Regardless of what happens with the film, regardless of its success, I have spent nine years on something that is just how I want it to be.” It’s the best feeling in the world.

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

The dreams. Me and my DP Sean Kirby spent so much time creating the look of the dreams. I’m interested in experimentation. I like using film as a way to create new visual experiences. Trying out new things – unsure of what the results will be – not relying on CG.

A lot of times you fail, but the glass/dream experiments worked out amazingly. The process came from seeing the photographs of Alan Jarras. Inspired, Sean and I worked with a glass blower in Omaha, NE to create warped pieces of glass. We removed the lens of the camera and used the warped glass instead. We then shot bright multi-colored light through the glass and rolled camera at a high speed. We developed the film and were amazed by the results. It really looks like some beautiful multi-colored universe? Or the inside of a mind? It’s really up to the audience’s perception.

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

Being nominated for a Spirit Award. This nomination has truly inspired me and my output has really shot through the roof because of it. Having recognition for something you’ve worked so hard on, only makes you work harder. After answering all these questions, I’m realizing I have confidence issues. But it’s hard to expose yourself and not begin to slowly go insane.

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

Film: I saw a beautiful old Claymation film recently by Art Clokey, the creator of Gumby. It was called “Mandala.” Really beautiful Gumby-style animations of psychedelic vortexes, tribal masks and alien worlds. It ends with Art Clokey and his wife meditating in a field of flowers. So weird and cool and it’s the Gumby guy!

Book: I read a book called “Primal Myths: Creation Myths Around the World” by Barbara C. Sproul. I’ve been really obsessing over creation myths recently. We’re all so used to Adam and Eve that it’s great to see what other creative cultures through history have come up with for why we are here. They all share a common explosion of creativity that really inspires me. I want to write my own.

Record: I can’t stop listening to Beach House’s record “Teen Dream.” I had lost a great great love of my life and this record was all I listened too. It has to be some of the most emotionally charged music to have been created in the last 10 years. It’s so simple and elegant. I’m gonna go listen to it now.

“Lovely, Still” is now available on DVD, iTunes and Netflix instant. The Spirit Awards will air on IFC on February 26th.

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SO EXCITED!!!

Reminders that the ’90s were a thing

"The Place We Live" is available for a Jessie Spano-level binge on Comedy Crib.

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GIFs via Giphy

Unless you stopped paying attention to the world at large in 1989, you are of course aware that the ’90s are having their pop cultural second coming. Nobody is more acutely aware of this than Dara Katz and Betsy Kenney, two comedians who met doing improv comedy and have just made their Comedy Crib debut with the hilarious ’90s TV throwback series, The Place We Live.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Dara: It’s everything you loved–or loved to hate—from Melrose Place and 90210 but condensed to five minutes, funny (on purpose) and totally absurd.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Betsy: “Hey Todd, why don’t you have a sip of water. Also, I think you’ll love The Place We Live because everyone has issues…just like you, Todd.”

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IFC: When you were living through the ’90s, did you think it was television’s golden age or the pop culture apocalypse?


Betsy: I wasn’t sure I knew what it was, I just knew I loved it!


Dara: Same. Was just happy that my parents let me watch. But looking back, the ’90s honored The Teen. And for that, it’s the golden age of pop culture. 

IFC: Which ’90s shows did you mine for the series, and why?

Betsy: Melrose and 90210 for the most part. If you watch an episode of either of those shows you’ll see they’re a comedic gold mine. In one single episode, they cover serious crimes, drug problems, sex and working in a law firm and/or gallery, all while being young, hot and skinny.


Dara: And almost any series we were watching in the ’90s, Full House, Saved By the Bell, My So Called Life has very similar themes, archetypes and really stupid-intense drama. We took from a lot of places. 

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IFC: How would you describe each of the show’s characters in terms of their ’90s TV stereotype?

Dara: Autumn (Sunita Mani) is the femme fatale. Robin (Dara Katz) is the book worm (because she wears glasses). Candace (Betsy Kenney) is Corey’s twin and gives great advice and has really great hair. Corey (Casey Jost) is the boy next door/popular guy. Candace and Corey’s parents decided to live in a car so the gang can live in their house. 
Lee (Jonathan Braylock) is the jock.

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Dara: Because everyone’s feeling major ’90s nostalgia right now, and this is that, on steroids while also being a totally new, silly thing.

Delight in the whole season of The Place We Live right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. It’ll take you back in all the right ways.

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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.