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Tribeca 2011: Chris Evans, Adam Kassen and Mark Kassen Make a Point With “Puncture”

Tribeca 2011: Chris Evans, Adam Kassen and Mark Kassen Make a Point With “Puncture” (photo)

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For those who think Chris Evans’ superheroic exploits will be restricted to the 1940s, there’s a surprise in store with “Puncture,” which premiered this week at the Tribeca Film Festival. Though it still involves on kind of Blue Shield, the actor plays an even unlikelier champion of the people than the scrawny Steve Rogers as Michael Weiss, a Houston attorney who made it his life’s mission to introduce the Safety Point needle, a device that ensured clean needle use in hospitals, much to the chagrin of major medical manufacturers who tried to blackball its inventor from ever reaching the market. Sadly, while Weiss was clearly a gifted lawyer, it was his additional interest in needles for recreational use that kept him from ever seeing the success he deserved with the case.

Yet that’s what makes “Puncture” such a great showcase for Evans and a compelling debut from Mark and Adam Kassen, two producers-turned-directors for whom the subject matter struck close to home as the sons of two health care professionals. Although there’s no doubt that gives the film an attention to detail that’s key, it’s how the directing duo balances the demands of a legal thriller with the personal struggle that Weiss goes through as a functioning addict that’s most impressive, though they get considerable help from a career-best performance from Evans. While in New York for the festival, the trio talked about bringing such a wonderfully contradictory character to the screen, making a film in the midst of the real-life people involved, and how to make a courtroom thriller interesting in an era after “Law & Order.”

How did all you guys get interested in this film?

Mark Kassen: Paul Danzinger [Mike Weiss’s legal partner] sent us a story and we thought it was really compelling. We thought if he would trust us and give us some time to get a proper writer on it and make it work, we’d take it over, so we took a big leap of faith with him. We went out to our friend Chris Lopata, who we worked with on a number of projects – we spent about a year working together on the script and kind of getting it right, going down to Houston interviewing people, working with Chris and then when we felt great about it, we went to our mutual agents and they actually had said “this is something Chris Evans would like” and we said, “do you think he would read it?” And they said, “I don’t know, maybe.” And he did.

Adam Kassen: We had a meeting and as we keep saying, we got him drunk and he came to Houston with us. [laughs]

Chris Evans: That was it.

What did you like about it?

CE: My agents know the type of stuff that I like, the kind of scripts and characters that I dig and they sent this, they said, “you’re going to like this” and within the first 10 minutes, I could tell I’m going to like this guy. The script was so good, it was so intimate and I was so shocked no other actor was going to steal this from me and then I met with these guys and you could love a script all you want, but if you don’t like [or] have confidence in the directors, you’re not going to have a good movie. It’s not worth it and it’s a waste of time. But I felt extremely confident. I walked out of the meeting like, man, I can’t believe this is working out. I’ve got a great script, a great role, great directors and I didn’t have to audition or earn it or fight – this is great.

AK: Well, [Chris] did earn it in his past performances, so we were really excited. When you have a character like that, we were very careful in our selection of casting is that you don’t want to have someone who’s one note or self-indulgent and to have someone that Chris does is very rare, a dynamic actor who can also have that soul and show that honesty and tragedy and excitement all in one is a rare thing and to have it in Chris, we felt really lucky and fortunate to get him in the role.

You actually dedicate the film to Mike Weiss by using a string of contradictory labels for him like “Lawyer, genius, fool, addict…” Is there any interesting story behind that?

AK: Actually, I think Paul Danzinger wrote those words down.

CE: I loved that you encapsulated that – it was such a great thing to read on that last page. Like what a great encompassing [thing] of who this guy was. It was just unbelievable.

AK: That’s actually what inspired us about the story is Paul isn’t a screenwriter, he’s a lawyer — that’s not what he could do, but he wanted to get it in a way we could read it. In that sentence what he was able to do that we picked up is how much this person affected him and all these other people. So of what we kept, that may have been the bulk of it in that ending sentence. It definitely moved us from the beginning. And quite frankly, as we were working on it, the first time I ever saw it with music — I’ve seen the movie a lot in many pieces and it’s very hard to stay emotionally involved in the film that you’ve taken apart and put together — I still get emotional when those words come up.

CE: Me, too. That’s part of the stuff I love about the character is that little final hook. I was like this guy’s great. And then we went to Houston and we met with a lot of guys who knew Mike, his family, friends and you start trying to piece together who this guy was and I’ve never made a movie based on a real person before, so it’s strange. You can’t start from scratch. There’s an existing history here that you have to respect and incorporate into what you’re building.

At the premiere, you spoke about how you used some of the paintings from Mike’s house as set decoration and without getting supernatural, is there a certain energy you feel as filmmakers when you’re surrounded by the real artifacts and people?

MK: I think the energy of the people you surround yourself with affects things in even subtle ways when it hits the screen, even from shooting down in Houston. We thought at one point that we would shoot it in L.A. or maybe somewhere else a little more convenient for people, but by shooting in Houston around real places that Mike was, I think just helps add a layer of authenticity to the film and helps the spirit and energy of it.

AK: And a testament to him and the other people involved in his life, people really came out for the film, both in the city of Houston and everyone within the tentacles of Mike’s universe from his family to Paul Danzinger’s entire family. [Many of them played] extras and judges that Mike worked with [would] give us their courtrooms and things like that. We’re very careful to say this is not a documentary, this is a movie that people will be entertained by hopefully, but the credibility comes in almost in capturing little pieces from those things.

As an actor, does it affect you in a different way?

CE: It’s terrifying. It’s intimidating. It’s not just you on the line. If it doesn’t work out or you’re not happy with your performance, it’s not like well, I’m the only one that has to really deal with the ripple effects. If you don’t give a solid performance, you’re kind of trashing someone’s gift to you. The fact that they gave us the story, you’ve got to respect that.

MK: Also, Adam and I talked about as we went along of kind of realizing the effect of having these people around potentially in a negative way at a certain point because as an actor, you spend this time working on a character and then letting go hopefully and then you have to be free to let whatever happens happen and so you try not to watch yourself from a third place. If you feel someone’s watching you who has opinions about what that might’ve been, it starts to get in your head and that’s a weird thing.

CE: You start to second guess yourself.

AK: Worse than someone like JFK because JFK’s an iconic figure and people have an impression of him.

MK: But if it’s an intimate person whose brother and father are around and they’ve had [that] experience, then makes what you’re trying to create a very weird thing.

Another thing I’m sure you talked about was not falling into the traps of most legal procedurals and while Mike’s unconventional life certainly helped, how much did you want to embrace or avoid the traditional beats of the genre?

AK: A lot of that was at the script stage and then in casting people that we cast so those moments that could slip into those kind of films you’re talking about didn’t [because] of the performances. We were conscious that we didn’t want it to be, though we enjoy the show very much, a “Law and Order” episode. Even the courtroom drama stuff, we showed discovery, which on the face of it is a boring process you don’t see, but still in it, there’s some technical and interesting stuff and we got such great actors that you still got great character pieces that pushed the film forward, but not in the traditional courtroom sense you would normally get.

MK: For better or worse, we were conscious of the tone of the movie we wanted to make and we kept that in check by asking ourselves throughout the editing process, especially in terms of the suspense – we talked a lot about that – when did it matter and when didn’t it? Because suspense is like in a horror movie, it’s a trick, so it’s a technical thing that you can inject if you want to, but if it isn’t really the movie you’re making, then it’s just like a jerk-off. and we really tried to stay true to what we thought we were doing.

Chris, you play a drug addict in the film, but was finding the subtlety in the courtroom scenes actually harder?

CE: Yeah, courtroom scenes are really tricky because we’ve all seen those movies with iconic courtroom spiels. The movie starts out with that and it’s one of the first ways you get to know the character and you want to make it charismatic and be dynamic for the audience to like the guy right away and there was a version in my head where I got the script, I was like I’m going to play with this and really not go big, but be just different. Then it just felt almost cliché – it felt forced. And I said, we’ve got plenty of movie to let this guy’s levels come out. So I ended up dialing it down a bit and I think it felt more real.

MK: And we cut the line “You can’t handle the truth!” [laughs]

“Puncture” currently has no U.S. distribution, but will play the Tribeca Film Festival on April 26th and 28th.

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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.