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Quentin Dupieux on the Road Rage of “Rubber”

Quentin Dupieux on the Road Rage of “Rubber” (photo)

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This interview was originally published during AFI Fest 2010.

Anyone who has seen “Rubber” during its most unlikely of festival runs will know what a big deal it was for the film’s star, Robert the tire, to finally roll into Hollywood last weekend for its premiere at AFI Fest, where the guest of honor donned a bowtie for the occasion and posed for pictures at the film’s afterparty. That audience members would want to pose with a tire they had just seen crush bugs, explode rabbits and eventually blow up the human population of a small desert town with its mind is a testament to the strength of the simple idea at the core of Quentin Dupieux’s sharp absurdist comic thriller. (For a contrary point of view, see my colleague Matt Singer’s review of the film.)

A tribute in some ways to films like Steven Spielberg’s “Duel,” but on one wheel instead of four, the instant identification of “Rubber” as “that killer movie” has made it an easy recommendation among festivalgoers, yet that description hardly does justice to the alternate reality Dupieux creates. Giving himself the license to do anything he pleases after breaking the fourth wall for an introduction from an investigating lieutenant (Stephen Spinella) who tells audience directly, “All great films contain no reason,” and rattling off examples in “Love Story” and “E.T.” as evidence, Dupieux imagines a world in which cops inexplicably carry stuffed crocodiles under their arms and tourists will camp out to watch a tire telekinetically explode the heads of any person who dare step in front of it.

In other words, it’s the kind of film you might expect from Dupieux, a known iconoclast from his days of spinning as a DJ under the pseudonym Mr. Oizo. Now a remixer of images as well as sounds, he took a break from the festival to talk about “Rubber,” the limits of French cinema and why education can only limit creativity.

How did you come up with this idea?

Honestly, I don’t know because when you want to make movies, you’re basically always thinking. You have tons of ideas per day. And you have tons of bad ideas. Your brain is always trying to find good ideas. The tire came and I just picked it up, like okay, this is good, interesting… and that’s it. I wrote it in three weeks because I decided with my producer to shoot a movie quickly – write it quick, shoot it quick, edit it quick and I finished the shooting here a year ago exactly.

11102010_Rubber1.jpgThis was actually an alternative to another film you were working on. Did that development process have an impact on how you approached this film?

Yeah, I’d been writing this other script for a year-and-a-half. It’s called “Reality,” and the script is really good, but we realized that it was quite hard to finance because it’s a bit expensive and it has a lot of actors, a lot of locations. So my producer started to look for money to do it and in the mean time, we decided instead of waiting, we decided, let’s do a pirate movie – a commando movie. Let’s do something we can do now, something you could shoot in two weeks. And then I wrote “Rubber” very quickly and we did it with almost nothing, like less than a Kanye West video. Less.

It sounds like you wrote the film first and figured out the logistics of having the tire as your star later.

The process of finding the tire is quite stupid because first, I wrote ten pages of a script called “Day of the Cubes” and it was almost the same idea, but it was not about the tire, it was about an army of cubes from space — one day people wake up and there are cubes floating everywhere. I was already trying to do a fantastic movie, like oh something strange is happening. But then we quickly did CGI tests and I realized that no, I don’t want to do this. CGI is not funny. I’m going to shoot empty spaces and then we’re going to work on computers to put the cubes [onscreen]? So I decided to get rid of those 10 pages and start again. Instead of doing an army of cubes, I decided to focus on one character – the tire.

How long did it take to find the personality of the tire?

Honestly, when I wrote the script, for the tire sequences, I was thinking of the first 30 minutes of “Wall-E.” To me, it was the same kind of spirit. I just tried to give life to a dead object. First, it was like [the tire is] going to be a bit like Wall-E, even if it’s like Rambo and make things explode. I wanted it to be something cute in the beginning. In my mind, it was like okay, it’s going to be nice to see him trying to roll and fall and wake up.

It was quite hard to shoot. “Okay, we can’t do this, we can’t do this, we can’t do this.” It was a bit like “Jaws.” Spielberg was having trouble with the remote-controlled shark and he had to create something different because the shark was not working. So that’s a bit the same because the possibilities were very limited with the tire. Basically, we had a remote-controlled tire, but it was just able to roll, stop and roll again. That’s it. So we had to do a lot of stuff with a puppeteer out of frame and I created the character and his personality on set.

11102010_Rubber2.jpgWhen you set up a movie where you tell the audience in the first frames of the movie that there is “no reason” for what you’re about to see, did that push you towards strictly going for the unexpected?

No, to me, it’s a good way to take people’s hand and bring them into the movie. I think it’s a very good first scene. If you cut it and you start the movie with the tire waking up, the movie’s totally different. This scene – this long monologue – gives the tone and when we first showed the movie in Cannes, it was the first time with an audience, and I realized the monologue was working because people were laughing and were getting the spirit and the tone. It’s more like a warning. If you don’t like this, go away now because it’s going to be hard for you.

Even though it’s never defined where this film takes place, you cast Americans and it’s an English-language film. Why did that seem appropriate?

Simple reason. My first feature [“Steak”] had been shot in Canada, but it was French-speaking, so my first feature was only for the French market. As a musician, I have a bigger audience. I’m known in Australia, Japan, in the UK, here, so when my first movie “Steak” came out only in France, for me, that was frustrating. I hated it, to be honest, because all my music fans were asking for the movie, like where can I find it? That’s why we decided with my producer to do a movie in English first because it was, for me, very important to reach a bigger audience.

I started 10 years ago with my Levi’s commercial with the puppet Flat Eric and I did the music too – that was like a phenomenon not only in France, but all around Europe. So we just decided to go back to this. Let’s do something for everybody, not just for France because France is a small country. We do a lot of movies in France, but there’s not so much space for a filmmaker like me. And viewing the movie here last weekend, I know that even if I’m French, I might be able to do funny things for everybody on Earth. Not only for France.

11102010_Rubber4.jpgHowever, there does seem to be something culturally significant to the fact they’re Americans as onlookers.

Yeah, obviously, I’m using codes from fantastic movies from the ’80s and they are not French movies. They’re “Christine,” “Duel,” things like that. This old cop car from the ’80s means something. It’s like I’m using American cliché in “Rubber.” Obviously, the desert, the road movie, the cop – all these elements are clichés from your country here. I’m not even sure if the movie has a French feeling.

You’ve said once that filmmaking came more naturally to you than music. How do those mediums inform each other for you?

It’s the same process. To me, I’m not a musician and after 15 years, I’m trying to make music. I want to learn by myself and it’s the same for a movie. You can learn how to make movies. You can learn how to write a script. You can learn music. You can have a teacher everyday teaching you the notes, the chords and writing music. I never wanted to do that because I think it’s much more interesting to create by yourself and suddenly, if you do it, it might be fresh since nobody taught you. So to me, music and moviemaking are exactly the same process. I’m not a filmmaker. I’m just making movies and I don’t know really how to do this, but I’m doing it with my instinct and it’s the same for music.

“Rubber” is currently available on VOD and opens in limited release on April 1st.

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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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