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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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Hard Out

Comedy From The Closet

Janice and Jeffrey Available Now On IFC's Comedy Crib

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She’s been referred to as “the love child of Amy Sedaris and Tracy Ullman,” and he’s a self-described “Italian who knows how to cook a great spaghetti alla carbonara.” They’re Mollie Merkel and Matteo Lane, prolific indie comedians who blended their robust creative juices to bring us the new Comedy Crib series Janice and Jeffrey. Mollie and Matteo took time to answer our probing questions about their series and themselves. Here’s a taste.

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IFC: How would you describe Janice and Jeffrey to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Mollie & Matteo: Janice and Jeffrey is about a married couple experiencing intimacy issues but who don’t have a clue it’s because they are gay. Their oblivion makes them even more endearing.  Their total lack of awareness provides for a buffet of comedy.

IFC: What’s your origin story? How did you two people meet and how long have you been working together?

Mollie: We met at a dive bar in Wrigley Field Chicago. It was a show called Entertaining Julie… It was a cool variety scene with lots of talented people. I was doing Janice one night and Matteo was doing an impression of Liza Minnelli. We sort of just fell in love with each other’s… ACT! Matteo made the first move and told me how much he loved Janice and I drove home feeling like I just met someone really special.

IFC: How would Janice describe Jeffrey?

Mollie: “He can paint, cook homemade Bolognese, and sing Opera. Not to mention he has a great body. He makes me feel empowered and free. He doesn’t suffocate me with attention so our love has room to breath.”

IFC: How would Jeffrey describe Janice?

Matteo: “Like a Ford. Built to last.”

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

Mollie & Matteo: Our current political world is mirroring and reflecting this belief that homosexuality is wrong. So what better time for satire. Everyone is so pro gay and equal rights, which is of course what we want, too. But no one is looking at middle America and people actually in the closet. No one is saying, hey this is really painful and tragic, and sitting with that. Having compassion but providing the desperate relief of laughter…This seemed like the healthiest, best way to “fight” the gay rights “fight”.

IFC: Hummus is hilarious. Why is it so funny?

Mollie: It just seems like something people take really seriously, which is funny to me. I started to see it in a lot of lesbians’ refrigerators at a time. It’s like observing a lesbian in a comfortable shoe. It’s a language we speak. Pass the Hummus. Turn on the Indigo Girls would ya?

See the whole season of Janice and Jeffrey right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

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Die Hard Dads

Inspiration For Die Hard Dads

Die Hard is on IFC all Father's Day Long

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection, GIPHY

Yippee ki-yay, everybody! It’s time to celebrate the those most literal of mother-effers: dads!

And just in case the title of this post left anything to the imagination, IFC is giving dads balls-to-the-wall ’80s treatment with a glorious marathon of action trailblazer Die Hard.

There are so many things we could say about Die Hard. We could talk about how it was comedian Bruce Willis’s first foray into action flicks, or Alan Rickman’s big screen debut. But dads don’t give a sh!t about that stuff.

No, dads just want to fantasize that they could be deathproof quip factory John McClane in their own mundane lives. So while you celebrate the fathers in your life, consider how John McClane would respond to these traditional “dad” moments…

Wedding Toasts

Dads always struggle to find the right words of welcome to extend to new family. John McClane, on the other hand, is the master of inclusivity.
Die Hard wedding

Using Public Restrooms

While nine out of ten dads would rather die than use a disgusting public bathroom, McClane isn’t bothered one bit. So long as he can fit a bloody foot in the sink, he’s G2G.
Die Hard restroom

Awkward Dancing

Because every dad needs a signature move.
Die Hard dance

Writing Thank You Notes

It can be hard for dads to express gratitude. Not only can McClane articulate his thanks, he makes it feel personal.
Die Hard thank you

Valentine’s Day

How would John McClane say “I heart you” in a way that ain’t cliche? The image speaks for itself.
Die Hard valentines

Shopping

The only thing most dads hate more than shopping is fielding eleventh-hour phone calls with additional items for the list. But does McClane throw a typical man-tantrum? Nope. He finds the words to express his feelings like a goddam adult.
Die Hard thank you

Last Minute Errands

John McClane knows when a fight isn’t worth fighting.
Die Hard errands

Sneaking Out Of The Office Early

What is this, high school? Make a real exit, dads.
Die Hard office

Think you or your dad could stand to be more like Bruce? Role model fodder abounds in the Die Hard marathon all Father’s Day long on IFC.

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Founding Farters

Know Your Nerd History

Revenge of the Nerds is on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection, GIFs via Giphy

That we live in the heyday of nerds is no hot secret. Scientists are celebrities, musicians are robots and late night hosts can recite every word of the Silmarillion. It’s too easy to think that it’s always been this way. But the truth is we owe much to our nerd forebearers who toiled through the jock-filled ’80s so that we might take over the world.

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Our humble beginnings are perhaps best captured in iconic ’80s romp Revenge of the Nerds. Like the founding fathers of our Country, the titular nerds rose above their circumstances to culturally pave the way for every Colbert and deGrasse Tyson that we know and love today.

To make sure you’re in the know about our very important cultural roots, here’s a quick download of the vengeful nerds without whom our shameful stereotypes might never have evolved.

Lewis Skolnick

The George Washington of nerds whose unflappable optimism – even in the face of humiliating self-awareness – basically gave birth to the Geek Pride movement.

Gilbert Lowe

OK, this guy is wet blanket, but an important wet blanket. Think Aaron Burr to Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton. His glass-mostly-empty attitude is a galvanizing force for Lewis. Who knows if Lewis could have kept up his optimism without Lowe’s Debbie-Downer outlook?

Arnold Poindexter

A music nerd who, after a soft start (inside joke, you’ll get it later), came out of his shell and let his passion lead instead of his anxiety. If you played an instrument (specifically, electric violin), and you were a nerd, this was your patron saint.

Booger

A sex-loving, blunt-smoking, nose-picking guitar hero. If you don’t think he sounds like a classic nerd, you’re absolutely right. And that’s the whole point. Along with Lamar, he simultaneously expanded the definition of nerd and gave pre-existing nerds a twisted sort of cred by association.

Lamar Latrell

Black, gay, and a crazy good breakdancer. In other words, a total groundbreaker. He proved to the world that nerds don’t have a single mold, but are simply outcasts waiting for their moment.

Ogre

Exceedingly stupid, this dumbass was monumental because he (in a sequel) leaves the jocks to become a nerd. Totally unheard of back then. Now all jocks are basically nerds.

Well, there they are. Never forget that we stand on their shoulders.

Revenge of the Nerds is on IFC all month long.

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