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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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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.