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Will Canon’s Initiation for “Brotherhood”

Will Canon’s Initiation for “Brotherhood” (photo)

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For the third and final screening of “Brotherhood” at SXSW last year, the young woman who had gotten in line two-and-a-half hours ahead of time confided in me that she had actually attended the previous two screenings and needed to see it again. Her reasoning that she might not ever see it again was understandable, given the crapshoot of indie film distribution and because “Brotherhood” isn’t exactly for those with a weak stomach. However, the film would also be a rare thing to behold, even if it weren’t for limited screenings since director Will Canon’s first feature is the kind of ridiculously fun, down and dirty thriller that few filmmakers are willing to stretch the limits of credibility or good taste to make or are skilled enough to pull off as energetically or confidently as this straightforward nailbiter about a fraternity hazing ritual that spirals out of control.

The less one knows about “Brotherhood” the better, though it is an expansion of Canon’s 2001 short “Roslyn,” which centered on the tête-à-tête between an armed man and a convenience store clerk after a misunderstanding, and develops it out into the story of a group of pledges whose trial by fire leads to some really evil deeds once they make it back to the frat house. There are no real heroes amongst the brothers, only ones who make slightly less disastrous choices involving medical aid, tied-up captives, and the growing number of witnesses, and they are all at the mercy of Frank (Jon Foster), the brother of highest seniority who stops at nothing to prevent anyone from getting the word out about the events of the evening, which gallop along so quickly that Foster commemorated his director’s favorite hand signal – two upright thumbs to mean “keep the energy up” – at the end of shooting.

Although the film never gives a location for its setting, “Brotherhood” was shot in Canon’s hometown of Arlington and as the director explains below, it was largely a labor of love, though that’s a feeling you’ll only get from the craftsmanship of his deranged and darkly humorous film.

You made several shorts after “Roslyn,” the one that served as the inspiration for “Brotherhood” – why did you want to revisit this one in particular for your first feature?

When I first made it, I made it in film school, and I never had any intention of expanding it. I liked what I had done and was really proud of it, but I was still kind of figuring out what my voice was and a lot of it had to do with what style of filmmaker I was going to be. Some of the shorts that I did right after that were pretty different tonally. As rough as “Roslyn” and “Brotherhood” are, the other films I had done are really clean and highly stylized and just completely different. But I think in a lot of ways, the short never really went away. It did really well on the festival circuit, it sold to Showtime and then several years later, I was still getting calls about it and e-mails about it.

My writing partner [Doug Simon] and I would kind of just talk about it every once in a while and throw some ideas back and forth. But we wanted to make sure if we were going to expand it to a feature, we had a story that we were really passionate about. We were able to come up with a few ideas about how to expand it that just got us really excited. And to me, the writing is always the trickiest part. I think if you can come up with ideas early on that really excite you and get you going and writing, you know you’re on the right track.

02252011_Brotherhood2.jpgWhen you have a film that feels like it has a cascading effect – where one bad decision leads to another – did you feel an obligation to the story during the writing process to constantly top yourself from one scene to the next?

You always have to end stronger than you start with any movie, especially [when] you’ll watch a comedy and the first half is just hilarious then maybe the second half of it, it gets a little more into the plot and they have to resolve the story and the jokes aren’t as good. We wanted to throw down the gauntlet at the beginning. We thought we had an opening that was pretty cool, but just as storytellers, we wanted it to get better as it went along, so it wasn’t just petering out. It was actually accelerating.

You’re roughly a generation removed from the characters onscreen, but the film captures a very particular unhinged, nihilist streak. Was it hard getting back into that mindset and did having younger actors around help you?

I think you’ve got to really listen to your actors, not just in terms of “Hey, I’m the age so the style should be more like this, we should sound more like this…” but really, across the board. If they’re telling you there’s some kind of structural problem with the scene, I really believe in listening to those guys. My writing partner and I, we never really went back and did a pass or anything like that to try to make it sound younger. I’m 32 now, but we shot the film, I was 29. When we started writing it, I was probably 25 or 26, so at the time we were really writing the dialogue, we weren’t really that far removed from being in college.

A lot of that dialogue [for the film’s introductory sequence] is lifted straight from the short, so I kind of felt like we were kind of clued into it from the beginning and before we really started writing, we did a lot of research, just kind of hanging out with people. I went and videotaped a fraternity in Texas as they were taking some of their guys through initiation, so I was just trying to always keep that younger voice in my head. Because we certainly didn’t want to feel like middle-aged writers trying to write for teenagers.

02252011_Brotherhood3.jpgOn that note of the research you were doing, I understand you put the actors through actual hazing — were you worried that kind of method stuff could backfire?

Overall, it was very important to me. I felt like a lot of times more typical Hollywood movies are made about this age group they do kind of pull punches and go with a much cleaner PG-13 version of this kind of stuff, so that was important to us that it did have that kind of gritty and kind of unhinged feeling that you’re talking about. In terms of the hazing, it was important that we did give the guys a feeling or an experience or a jolt of what real hazing was like and not PG-13 kind of hazing. But at the same time, you’ve got to make sure that nobody goes overboard. You’ve got to make sure that it’s supervised and nothing gets out of hand or you find yourself in the same position as what you’re making a movie about, which you don’t want to do. But the guys did a good job.

I called up Jon Foster before anybody from Texas came to shoot and just put the idea in his head [of hazing the younger actors] to see what he thought about it. Jon loved the idea and really from that point on, I really wanted him to take ownership of it and make it his own. We called it [the] hazing boot camp. I wasn’t really that involved in it beyond giving him the idea, which made me a little nervous because when I would show up and hang out with [the actors] and see the things Jon and the older brothers were having the pledges do, these are all actors that have just showed up, they don’t really know each other. Some of the guys knew each other – Jon and Trevor [Morgan] and Lou [Taylor Pucci] knew each other, but like a lot of the local guys didn’t know anybody [and] hadn’t done a whole lot of movies. So I was just very nervous that people were going to get upset, but I think everybody liked it and when they talk about it now, I hear them talk about what a great experience it was.

That might also be due to the fact your mother was cooking breakfast for the whole crew and your parents even put some of them up. What was it like to shoot crazy stuff at night and have that experience during the day?

It’s like these different worlds are coming together. We’ve got people from L.A. and people that I’m working with and then it’s my first film, so you want everything to have this completely professional feeling to it and then we’ll all hang out with my mom and she’s telling stories about what I was doing when I was six years old. [laughs] I think in a way, it was bonding and it loosened everybody up. It was one of those movies where it was important to everybody and was such a team effort.

02252011_Brotherhood4.jpgWith a film like this where you’re showing a fraternity doing horrible things to both its pledges and others, have you found that while traveling with the film that crowd has embraced it even if they’re not presented in the best light?

We wanted it to feel like a very honest portrayal and not like we’re taking shots at anybody and my hope is that people see the movie as okay, these are people who are in an extreme situation who are letting their behavior get out of hand. There aren’t many people who have been, especially in fraternities, in situations nearly as crazy as this, so I don’t think they see themselves as that because their behavior in real life is so different. But I was always really interested in how this was going to play with young guys that are in fraternities and so far it’s played really well. The film just opened in Dallas last week and we had a bunch of the guys come out from SMU and some other different fraternities and they all seemed to really love the film and I’m proud of that. I’m glad that they do.

What’s up next for you?

The next one right now is looking like a script that my co-writer and I are just finishing up right now. It’s a thriller and it takes place in the financial world, but it’s not as dark and edgy as “Brotherhood.” It’s still going to be a compressed timeframe, all-one-day kind of story.

“Brotherhood” is now open in Dallas and Los Angeles and available on demand before opening in New York on March 11th.

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A-O Rewind

Celebrating Portlandia One Sketch at a Time

The final season of Portlandia approaches.

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Most people measure time in minutes, hours, days, years…At IFC, we measure it in sketches. And nothing takes us way (waaaaaay) back like Portlandia sketches. Yes, there’s a Portlandia milepost from every season that changed the way we think, behave, and pickle things. In honor of Portlandia’s 8th and final season, Subaru presents a few of our favorites.

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Put A Bird On It

Portlandia enters the pop-culture lexicon and inspires us to put birds on literally everything.

Colin the Chicken

Who’s your chicken, really? Behold the emerging locavore trend captured perfectly to the nth degree.

Dream Of The ’90s

This treatise on Portland made it clear that “the dream” was alive and well.

No You Go

We Americans spend most of our lives in cars. Fortunately, there’s a Portlandia sketch for every automotive situation.

A-O River!

We learned all our outdoor survival skills from Kath and Dave.

One More Episode

The true birth of binge watching, pre-Netflix. And what you’ll do once Season 8 premieres.

Catch up on Portlandia’s best moments before the 8th season premieres January 18th on IFC.

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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…

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

Jenn: I LOVE ISSA RAE!

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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 IFC.com and the IFC app.

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