DID YOU READ

Andrew Haigh on his opening “Weekend”

Andrew Haigh on his opening “Weekend” (photo)

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“In the end, it’s about how for these two people it’s a struggle to work out what they want, how they want to live, and how they want to define themselves.”

That’s British writer/director Andrew Haigh explaining what his beautiful new film “Weekend” is all about. The two people in question are Russell (Tom Cullen) and Glen (Chris New), gay men who meet by chance in a bar, share a one-night stand, then discover the next morning that the have a lot more in common than just intense physical attraction. For the rest of the weekend, they grow closer. At the end of the weekend, something threatens to tear them apart. For Haigh, that structure represented an opportunity to tell a story about gay characters with broad appeal. “I wanted it to be about something very distinct,” he told me, “but something very universal at the same time.” Anyone who’s ever fell in love on a deadline will relate to “Weekend” regardless of their sexuality. I know I did.

Though Russell and Glen’s time together is finite, the movie doesn’t rush them to a contrived conclusion. Haigh lets their relationship build slowly and believably over the course of some amazing long takes (one in a train station at the end of the film deserves consideration as one of the best shots of 2011). The film’s ticking clock structure, intricate conversations, and charming lead performances recall Richard Linklater’s “Before Sunrise,” a comparison I even discussed with Haigh during our interview. During the rest of our conversation, I guess you could say I asked the him what he wants, how he wants to live as a film director, and how he wants to define this movie.

Your bio says that you started in the film industry as an assistant editor working on films like “Black Hawk Down,” “Kingdom of Heaven,” and “Mister Lonely.” Was editing your ultimate career goal or did you always want to move into directing?

I always wanted to be a director, but when I left university and was looking for a job, it seemed like editing was a good department to work in, especially because you get such close contact with the key creative talents of films. It’s a really fascinating way to learn about filmmaking and what you need to do to make a story work.

Are there any specific, concrete lessons you learned from working with guys like Ridley Scott?

They were mostly about how to fine tune what you’re trying to say, especially when you’re trying to do something subtle. Good editors and good directors can do that incredibly well. Also, I learned a lot about how important shaping performances becomes in the edit. What you leave out is just as important as what you have on the screen.

For a movie that’s made by a guy who came up through the business as an editor, “Weekend” doesn’t have a lot of cuts.

[laughs]

Was that by design?

Certainly by design. Working in editing, I find that people often shoot things in ways that they just don’t need to. I’m a big fan of simplicity in filmmaking. It was always my plan to have very few edits. It also makes the job of the editor a little bit easier. Less stuff to cut! But it was always my intention for “Weekend” to be like that.

Why was that?

I suppose I was going for a really authentic feeling with the film, and I always looked at editing within a scene as cheating. I wanted [the movie] to feel almost like a documentary; that this was life unfolding in front of your eyes and that I wasn’t recreating that by editing. You, as the audience, were almost sitting in the corner of the room just watching this relationship unfold. And I felt that not editing within a scene would help that feeling and that tone.

It definitely did. You also set lots of scenes in public places: trains, bars, carnivals. Were those closed sets with extras or were you capturing things in real places with real people to help that documentary feel?

Most of the time we were just kind of capturing things on the street. There were a few times when we used extras. But, for example, the nightclub in the beginning: those are not extras, that’s just us in an actual nightclub on a Saturday night. I was quite keen on putting the actors in real world situations rather than recreating the world for them. I always quite liked the idea of everything I shot outside being from the perspective of the outside world looking at these two people forging their relationship in public. Also, when you haven’t got much money and you’re trying to make something look real, you can’t afford to hire extras. So it was also a good financial reason as well.

Were there any unplanned moments with real people that wound up in the film?

Not really. It was a struggle sometimes, and it doesn’t help that I was doing lots of long takes. You can have an amazing long take and then someone runs in front of the camera or makes a face or stares into the lens. So it has its downsides, but it makes it feel like a real place when you have real people. Extras are extras, and I think subconsciously you feel that in films.

Is the film autobiographical in any way?

The events onscreen haven’t happened to me in that exact way. But I suppose the feelings are autobiographical. The way I see the world is probably in the film in the two characters. So there are certainly elements of me in the film but I’m not one of those guys.

So you’re actually both characters, in a way.

I’m somewhere in between the two. I might veer one way or the other depending on what kind of mood I’m in. I was probably more like Russell when I was younger and as I’ve gotten older I’ve become more like Glen.

That’s interesting. Now I’m imagining the movie as a conversation between different parts of you.

In many respects, that is what it was.

There’s a very interesting scene in the movie where the characters discuss the way gay art is received by straight audiences, and how straight people have no tolerance for art about gay sexuality. Have you had different reactions to the movie depending on whether the audience is gay or straight?

Definitely. A gay audience obviously sees a lot of elements about being gay in the story. From straight audiences, the reaction has almost been surprise that they can feel a lot of similarities to their own life in the story even though they’re not gay.

And given that conversation in the film, I’m assuming that was something you were hoping to accomplish. Have you been happy with the dialogue that’s developed as a result of the movie?

Yeah. It’s hard when you make a film about gay people because you want straight people to see it. Part of the whole idea is you want straight people to understand some of the issues that gay people face. So it was important to me that it did have a wider audience.

Those conversations between Russell and Glen are so great. I’m sure you get asked a lot about how scripted or unscripted those scenes were.

They were pretty scripted. There’s quite a lot of issues they’re discussing; if it was all improvised it would have just rambled on into nothingness. But at the same time, the actors were always free to change things when they felt necessary. There was never a moment when I said, “You have to say exactly what I’ve written!” So there were elements of improvisation in all the scenes. And that’s interesting, because when neither actor is sure what the other one is going to do with the script the scene comes alive.

I have no idea, but I would guess that the one thing that has to be scripted are sex scenes.

Actually, they weren’t. They were kind of semi-scripted but certainly not set in any kind of definitive way. We shot the film in order, so when we got to the sex scenes we knew what they had to be, and we constructed them around the tone and emotions that we wanted to achieve.

People often ask about the sex scenes and whether they’re difficult to do. Bizarrely, they were probably the easiest element to shoot. It’s the long conversations that end up being more challenging, because in reality when you shoot a sex scene it’s not sexy. You don’t see it in the film but when you cut the camera suddenly everyone’s laughing.

This may be me reading way too much into the movie, but I noticed a lot of water imagery in the film. There’s several scenes where we see Russell taking baths, and he works as a lifeguard as well. Was there some kind of design behind all those water images?

It’s funny because there were reasons, but I’m not really sure what those reasons were anymore. Maybe it was something weirdly subconscious when I was writing. I remember thinking, “I don’t want him to be in the shower, I want him to be in the bath.” And I wanted him to be a lifeguard, and it made sense that there would be water there. I’m not really sure what the reason was, but it felt right.

The movie reminded me in a very good way of “Before Sunrise.” And given its storyline, I think “Weekend” would be perfect for its own “Before Sunset”-esque sequel, reconnecting with the characters a few years later. Is that something you’d ever consider doing?

It would be quite fun to do in ten years time and see how these people have changed and developed. I’d love to turn it into a road movie. Ten years down the line, they’re traveling across the States. I’ve always wanted to do a road movie. It’d be “Weekend” crossed with “Five Easy Pieces.” Could be interesting.

Definitely. What are you working on now?

There’s a few things I’m trying to write at the moment, but it’s funny. When you make a film, you don’t realize that you then have to promote it. After this is all done I’ll go back and figure out what the next project is, because obviously it’s an important move. I’ve got a few scripts I’m in the early or middle stages of.

Are these projects similar to “Weekend” or do you envision them being different?

I certainly don’t think there’s going to be an action film coming up next. I like small scale character dramas. That’s what I enjoy making and want to make. There might not necessarily be any gay characters, it could be a very different scenario, but I think there will be certain themes that connect them. Maybe not so much talking next time.

Maybe there will be more water imagery.

Yeah. I’m gonna set something at sea, nothing but water. “Waterworld 2.”

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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.

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Get Physical

DVDs are the new Vinyl

Portlandia Season 7 Now Available On Disc.

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In this crazy digital age, sometimes all we really want is to reach out and touch something. Maybe that’s why so many of us are still gung-ho about owning stuff on DVD. It’s tangible. It’s real. It’s tech from a bygone era that still feels relevant, yet also kitschy and retro. It’s basically vinyl for people born after 1990.

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Inevitably we all have that friend whose love of the disc is so absolutely repellent that he makes the technology less appealing. “The resolution, man. The colors. You can’t get latitude like that on a download.” Go to hell, Tim.

Yes, Tim sucks, and you don’t want to be like Tim, but maybe he’s onto something and DVD is still the future. Here are some benefits that go beyond touch.

It’s Decor and Decorum

With DVDs and a handsome bookshelf you can show off your great taste in film and television without showing off your search history. Good for first dates, dinner parties, family reunions, etc.

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Forget Public Wifi

Warm up that optical drive. No more awkwardly streaming episodes on shady free wifi!

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Inter-not

Internet service goes down. It happens all the time. It could happen right now. Then what? Without a DVD on hand you’ll be forced to make eye contact with your friends and family. Or worse – conversation.

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Self Defense

You can’t throw a download like a ninja star. Think about it.

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If you’d like to experience the benefits DVD ownership yourself, Portlandia Season 7 is now available on DVD and Blue-Ray.