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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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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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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.