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Catherine Hardwicke Rides Into SXSW

Catherine Hardwicke Rides Into SXSW (photo)

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One of the great elements of Catherine Hardwicke’s films throughout the years has been a sense of place and community, whether it was the loose-knit family of orphaned Southern California skaters in “Lords of Dogtown,” the tenuous, hard-won relationship between the warm-hearted vampire clan of the Cullens and the occasionally chilly human population of Forks, Washington in “Twilight” or even in her latest film “Red Riding Hood,” where Amanda Seyfried’s titular character goes from beloved daughter and belle of the town to an outcast whose societal freefall after her encounter with the big bad wolf feels particularly cruel given how strongly the director sets up the world around her.

So there’s little surprise that Hardwicke’s “Director’s Workshop” Saturday afternoon at SXSW, which is fast becoming a home away from home for the helmer who went to the University of Texas’ School of Architecture after growing up in the Texas bordertown of McAllen, had a most unusual vibe for an established filmmaker addressing a crowd of aspirants — one that felt as though we’re all in this together.

This was evident from the moment when the scrappy filmmaker in Hardwicke asked the crowd “Who had the best scam?” before moderator Hollywood Reporter‘s Jay A. Fernandez could calm all the hands that were about to be raised. It was the kind of panel where “Twilight” was oddly only mentioned once near the end, and Hardwicke felt obligated to detail the geography of the scene of Bella and Edward flying caroming from tree to tree, but where her first film “Thirteen” was celebrated and treated as a master class on shooting economically.

As Hardwicke demonstrated through a fast-forwarded version of the entire film, she demonstrated the very deliberate and gradual shift in colors from dull to vibrant to reflect her main protagonist’s increasingly wild life and then brought out floor plans of the house she used in the film, a form of preparation that was born out of her pre-directorial career as a production designer on such films as “Vanilla Sky” and “The Newton Boys,” and showed how every camera move utilized the angles available to her at that particular home.

Although she was a pro at figuring out landscapes early on, Hardwicke admitted when she first started she knew her way around an actor’s process far less, telling the crowd, “All the films I was a production designer, I didn’t realize I should respect the actors more.” With her “Red Riding Star” star Shiloh Fernandez sitting next to her on the panel, this led to a discussion of how Hardwicke took improv classes herself to realize what kind of space actors actually need, why she wants her actors to understand and personally connect to every line they say (Fernandez said the process gave him a personal way into the material), and in a moment of levity, how she navigates the “nipple zones” (what areas Hardwicke is respectful of while shooting during intimate scenes).

Afterwards, Hardwicke was kind enough to speak to me about taking on the role of mentor, something that she’s not only did with the panel, but as an executive producer on Janet Grillo’s drama “Fly Away,” which is making its premiere at the festival, what effect being the “Director of ‘Twilight'” has had on her, and why SXSW was a welcome distraction this particular weekend.

How did you feel being amongst all those aspiring filmmakers at the panel?

Wasn’t it wild? It was fascinating. It was a big, interesting crowd of people in there. Whatever happens, if I can get one or two people inspired, give them a good idea of the way I do it, they can change it and maybe they can do it better than me, but at least it shows them hey, this is one technique you can use.

Amanda Seyfried has talked about the extensively designed books you created as a resource that really sold her on making “Red Riding Hood” – is it something from your background as a production designer to plan in such a way?

On “Red Riding Hood,” it was a really big deal. Everything…we had to design all those sets from scratch. We’re trying to visualize a whole world. What could it look like? Nobody knows what it’ll look like and you have to do a sketch and you have to get a budget and how much will it cost to build that thing? So the studio has to get some clue if we can afford this project and how big does the set need to be and can a horse fit around there?

As a marketing device, it’s great, but as director of varied interests, how has it been to have “From the director of ‘Twilight’ appear on the poster?

It’s good and bad. I said, “Could I have ‘Lords of Dogtown’ on there and ‘Thirteen’ too?” And like “Nobody knows those movies.” [laughs] I was like…[shrugs shoulders] No, I said, does it only have to be that? But I don’t really get to choose what they put on the poster. I would’ve rather have some other movies too, but I think it’s good and bad when you say “Twilight.” Some people love it and a lot of people love to hate it.

The one connection the two films have is some very strong chemistry between the leads and one of your stars Shiloh Fernandez mentioned during the panel that you were very keen on asking the actors about what every line means to them personally. Do interesting things come out of that process?

Oh yeah, because sometimes I think it means something – that line – and they might’ve interpreted it in a different way and maybe we need to change it or shade it different. Or maybe it’s too serious and we need to give it a little spin and make it a little lighter.

I’ve never been able to talk to a director of such a big movie on an opening weekend – I know you’ve been able to distract yourself with SXSW, but is it a nerveracking experience?

It’s pretty nerveracking, but really at that point, you can’t do anything. The baby’s out there. Maybe you could run nude through New York City to get some free publicity, but besides that, it’s kind of like it’s done, so to me, I love Austin and I love this festival, so I was just trying to think of any excuse to come. I said to Janet [Pierson, the festival chief], “Can I do a panel or speak?” just to have an excuse to come. [laughs]

You also had another excuse as an executive producer on Janet Grillo’s film, “Fly Away,” which is here at the festival. Is being a mentor a role you embrace?

It’s kind of a nice privilege. I think Janet made a movie that is very much from her heart. It’s very intense and it’s very much about her life and it’s important for a lot of people to see that film, so I’m happy to support her in a little small way.

What’s up next for you? You’ve been attached to many things the past few years.

There’s “Maximum Ride,” “Maze Runner,” and “Hamlet” – I don’t know which one will go. I’m not trying to be coy. You just don’t know what the studio will decide. I thought a different project was going to go at Summit. I was doing “If I Stay” and then all of a sudden, they didn’t say yes and Warner Brothers said “yes” and you’re like, okay. So you’ve got to have a few things cooking and then maybe none of the ones you thought were going to go might go and suddenly another one will come from outer space. Or maybe I’ll make a little no budget movie. I don’t know.

“Red Riding Hood” is now open wide.

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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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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….

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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.

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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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