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Dave Boyle, Goh Nakamura and Lynn Chen Craft a “Surrogate Valentine”

Dave Boyle, Goh Nakamura and Lynn Chen Craft a “Surrogate Valentine” (photo)

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There isn’t a whole lot of imagery cooler than a man carrying a guitar case across the hills of San Francisco, unless that man is Goh Nakamura, the unconventional star of “Surrogate Valentine.” Shot in black and white, Nakamura cuts the profile of a lone drifter confident in his sense of purpose as he traverses the streets of the city and…

“I was doing that around here [in Austin too] because I don’t want to leave the guitar in the car,” Nakamura demurred while at SXSW. Okay, so maybe Nakamura was more interested in practicality than to come off as a screen icon, but in the first role for the musician whose songs have always struck a melancholy chord between low-key nonchalance and touching humanism, it’s obvious he’s got the gist of this movie star thing already.

“Surrogate Valentine” has much of the same appeal as Nakamura’s music — it’s offbeat, a bit rough around the edges and undeniably amusing as it tells the story of a musician named Goh (Nakamura) hired to teach the guitar to a TV actor (Chadd Stoops) for his latest film role and winds up taking him on a tour across the West Coast from Seattle to Los Angeles to give an idea of the life in addition to proper chord progressions, a trip that becomes considerably trickier for Goh when he encounters a classmate (Lynn Chen) he had feelings for in high school.

Like many road trip movies, there are plenty of detours while traveling well-worn territory, but in the hands of Dave Boyle, who last directed the fish-out-of-water comedy “White on Rice,” it’s the kind of film you want to hug. While in Austin, I spoke to Boyle, Nakamura and Chen as they embarked on another tour, beginning with its world premiere at SXSW, that will see the filmmakers barnstorming the U.S., playing festivals and taking the unusual step of simultaneously releasing the film on DVD before making the film available on VOD, later this fall. In the meantime, they spoke of how “Surrogate Valentine” came together, the film’s loosely autobiographical moments and talk already of a sequel.

How did this come together?

Dave Boyle: Actually, it kind of started at the premiere of my last movie “White on Rice.” I met Goh at the afterparty and started talking to him because I knew about his music. We’re both pretty quiet people and he seemed a little freaked out that I was “oh, I’m such a big fan,” right?

Goh Nakamura: I wasn’t really freaked out because I just saw you at the Q & A and I thought “That guy’s really funny.” He’s a great Q & A guy. Then you came up to me and were like “Goh!” I was shocked you knew who I was.

DB: But over the course of the next year when we were doing festivals with “White on Rice” and distributing it. I was traveling all over and I ran into him a few more times, all on different stops where he was promoting his album. We just got to be really good friends and I asked him to play the lead in my next movie just because I thought even though he had never acted before, I thought he could be a really interesting character. So he ended up writing it with me and it became kind of autobiographical for both of us in a lot of ways.

How did the story coalesce? Was Goh’s music a major influence on the script?

DB: Goh’s music definitely had an impact on the story, mostly moodwise because we don’t try and slavishly try and replicate anything he sings about necessarily, but we were trying to capture the same kind of mellow vibe that he has in his music. Storywise, it ranges from stuff being totally made up to things that are basically transcripts of real-life experiences that we had on the road or relationships going sour. So what’s a good example of something that was verbatim from real life?

GN: That whole gun scene pretty much happened verbatim.

DB: The record guy [Goh and Danny] visit in Seattle, he was the bandmate of my [director of photography] and one time when we went up to Seattle to color time “White on Rice,” we stayed at his house and we pretty much had that exact same experience. [The scene shows a record industry exec showing off his gun collection to the bewilderment of the main characters.] We went and he was showing us his gun collection and busted out a guitar and started playing this crazy music, so we’re like man, we’ve got to get this guy into the movie. He’s such an oddball character, so he was the main reason Seattle became a part of the plot in a lot of ways. [laughs]

GN: Dave took a lot of chances with this movie because that guy had never acted too. We were driving up, talking to him on the phone like “is this going to work?” But it ended up working really great.

Did the story dictate the road trip or was it the reverse?

DB: At first, I was really worried about making the plot all fit together, like what’s going to happen in each place? But if you watch the movie now, [Goh] goes back and forth between L.A. and San Francisco a couple different times. He goes up to Seattle twice. I wanted to capture the feeling of never really knowing where you are. You’re kind of discombobulated just because you’re in a new place every week, which is how I feel when I’m promoting one of my films because you’re moving around so much. And I think Goh has the same thing.

GN: [pointing to DB] Him more so than me. Sometimes I’ll have no idea where you are and you’re like “you’re in L.A. again?”

DB: So I think it influenced each other, the road trip aspect and then what was actually happening with the characters. We tried to let it happen organically and hopefully it feels that way too.

Was a lot of this was shot catch as catch can?

DB: When we were scripting it, we were trying to keep location descriptions to a minimum so if something fell through, we could shoot it wherever. That’s why we have so many scenes that take outdoors on the street. Plus, when you’re shooting in San Francisco or Seattle, you just have naturally built-in production design if you’re outside because they’re such beautiful and charismatic cities, so we tried to get outdoors as much as we could. We never had permits for anywhere, but we didn’t get hassled too much. There was a lot of improvisation on the production side and sometimes it even felt like we were throwing the script out the window, but when I look back at the script now, we actually held pretty close.

03192011_SurrogateValentine1.jpgThe wonderful thing with Goh with the guitar case trudging around, it’s like instantly iconic. Plus, you get to shoot in black and white. How did you come to that decision?

DB: It was definitely influenced by films like “A Hard Day’s Night”…

GN: “Manhattan”…

DB: “Don’t Look Back.” We wanted to have a retro vibe to it. The other part was practical because you save a lot of time and money if you’re not worrying about color temperature and it simplifies production aspects. Another part of it was that I knew from the beginning I was going to self-distribute this movie and shooting it in black and white would lock me into that decision because you can’t really get distribution for a black and white movie anymore. So in a sense, this was like crossing the Tiber in a way.

Did it affect how you as actors related to the camera?

GN: A little bit.

Lynn Chen: You know what was funny? Initially, Dave had done some camera tests and he was like, “no patterns!” But I already had something with stripes, so he liked the way the stripes looked, so everything I got was striped! And he’s like “Okay, go easy on the stripes.”

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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.


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…


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.


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).


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.


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.


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.



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 and the IFC app.

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