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Nacho Vigalondo on “Extraterrestrial” and personal philosophies of filmmaking and karaoke

Nacho Vigalondo on “Extraterrestrial” and personal philosophies of filmmaking and karaoke (photo)

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Of course I interviewed director Nacho Vigalondo in a karaoke room. If you want to find Vigalondo at Fantastic Fest, a karaoke room at The Highball (a.k.a. the Alamo Drafthouse’s bar-slash-bowling-alley-slash-karaoke-palace) is always the best place to look. The man takes karaoke seriously, as evidenced by this photo he posted on Twitter just last night. During our interview about his new movie “Extraterrestrial,” Vigalondo repeatedly picked up and flipped through one of the Highball’s binders of karaoke songs, like a junkie absent-mindedly fiddling with a needle while waiting for his dealer to bring his next fix.

As a bit of a karaoke nut myself, I had to start our conversation there. And, as it turned out, Vigalondo’s personal philosophy about karaoke informs his personal philosophy about filmmaking which, in turn, guided the making of “Extraterrestrial.” Vigalondo likes to perform songs he’s never tried before; in turn, his new film is a major departure from the intricate cinematic gamesmanship of his last project, the cult sci-fi hit “Timecrimes.” The science-fiction in “Extraterrestrial” is really just the large-scale background for a small-scale character study about two people, Julio (Julián Villagrán) and Julia (Michelle Jenner), who awaken in an apartment together after a night of drunken carousing neither can remember and find the city around them abandoned while flying saucers hover in the sky. As the mysteries grow so does the sexual tension, as Julia’s neighbor Angel (Carlos Areces) and her boyfriend Carlos (Raúl Cimas) both arrive and complicate the survivors’ living arrangements and mutual attraction.

After the karaoke questions were out of the way, and with star Villagrán looking on, I asked Vigalondo why he wanted to follow the popular “Timecrimes” with such a different kind of sci-fi movie, where his love of UFOs comes from, and whether his very unusual alien invasion movie — in which the invasion happens entirely off-screen — was made in reaction to the way Hollywood usually treats these stories (i.e. with a lot of money and little character). And when the interview was over, the director grabbed the remote that powered the room’s karaoke machine and fired it up.

You’re looking at the Highball karaoke list, so let’s begin there. What’s the best karaoke song ever?

It might be “Sweet Child of Mine” because it’s long and epic and catchy. If you’re drunk, it’s a lot of fun to sing.

What does it take to be a karaoke expert?

It’s not about being an expert. I love karaoke because it’s one of the few activities in which failure is more important than winning.

That’s true. A spectacular karaoke failure is arguably more fun to watch than a really good rendition of something.

Yeah, I don’t like when people pick songs they know how to sing. For example, yesterday I was singing Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy” and the reason I picked it is because I never sang that before. I don’t want things to work well at karaoke. When you go to karaoke and you see a girl who sings in an awesome way, it doesn’t make sense. You have to fail.

How does this theory of karaoke apply to filmmaking? Do you have to be willing to fail spectacularly there as well?

[laughs] Okay, yeah.

You have to be willing to try something you haven’t tried before.


Totally. And you have to be wild somehow. You have to irrational at times, and you have to have fun. Some directors hate shooting; I love to shoot. Shooting for me is not the dark part of the contract. I really love shooting because shooting is one of the few occasions you have in life to have a real adventure. We don’t go to the jungle anymore, because the jungle is already explored. We don’t go to the North Pole, we’re not going to solve a mystery, but when you’re shooting, taking a bunch of adults into a strange place and ordering them to make ridiculous things that don’t make sense until the very end when you watch it all edited together, it’s an awesome thing. Anything can happen when you’re shooting.


For example, one of the most complicated days in the shoot was when we were shooting the fight sequence [between Julio, Angel, and Carlos] because that was the very last day we had in that flat. That was the very end of the day and we were exhausted and we didn’t have any kind of special safety equipment. If a shot didn’t work, we didn’t have time to reset it and because we had to leave in an hour. It was like a climax in a film, like at the end of “Back to the Future” when they only have one chance to catch the lightning bolt with the wire. That happens all the time when you make a film. You have just one chance to make things good. I love that.

Was the movie inspired in some way by watching other alien movies and feeling like your own reaction to that kind of event wasn’t represented?

No, I didn’t want “Extraterrestrial” to go against any other movie; I just wanted to make this one. I’m not against movies like “District 9” or “Battle: Los Angeles” and I didn’t want to make a movie that’s against those kind of movies. In fact, I love alien invasion films. I’m not guided by hate of those other films. I just loved this idea about this guy who wanted to be close to this girl. I loved this story.

How much of the movie was driven by desire to make something different than “Timecrimes?”

That’s a deliberate thing. You know what happened with M. Night Shyamalan? He made three films with a similar structure, and then everyone began expecting the same thing from him again and again. Once he made “Lady in the Water” — which I don’t think is as bad as people say — people reacted negatively because they were expecting a big twist at the end. I prefer to be free; I don’t want to be a victim of my own success in that way. So, yeah, I have ideas for other mystery films with big twists. But when I laid out all my ideas on the table, I picked “Extraterrestrial” because it was the total opposite of “Timecrimes.” I don’t want to follow a path.

It’s not what people expect from me, and I know that some people are going to be disappointed with it for that reason; I read some reviews that were disappointed that it’s not “Timecrimes.” I’ll accept disappointing people that way if we can surprise other people in a good way. In other words, I prefer to play with expectations instead of satisfying expectations.

I love the way the film opens almost like an old “Twilight Zone” episode with all this ambiguity. The characters don’t quite know where they are or what’s happened, and to the audience, anything feels possible. How do you direct the actors to create that sense of ambiguity? You have to be very cagey with what you reveal or don’t reveal.

What I told [lead actor] Julián [Villagrán] was, “Have you ever had a massive hangover?” That’s it. When a movie’s ambiguous, it’s the movie itself that’s ambiguous, not the elements inside it. I can’t tell the actor to play ambiguous. That’s not fair. He’s just a guy who wakes up in the morning with a hangover.

I had written a sequence in which we see the characters meet the previous night. It was such a funny sequence; one of my favorite scenes in the script. But I found that the movie played better without it.

A few years before “Extraterrestrial” you made a similarly themed

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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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G.I. Jeez

Stomach Bugs and Prom Dates

E.Coli High is in your gut and on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Brothers-in-law Kevin Barker and Ben Miller have just made the mother of all Comedy Crib series, in the sense that their Comedy Crib series is a big deal and features a hot mom. Animated, funny, and full of horrible bacteria, the series juxtaposes timeless teen dilemmas and gut-busting GI infections to create a bite-sized narrative that’s both sketchy and captivating. The two sat down, possibly in the same house, to answer some questions for us about the series. Let’s dig in….

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IFC: How would you describe E.Coli High to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

BEN: Hi ummm uhh hi ok well its like umm (gets really nervous and blows it)…

KB: It’s like the Super Bowl meets the Oscars.

IFC: How would you describe E.Coli High to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

BEN: Oh wow, she’s really cute isn’t she? I’d definitely blow that too.

KB: It’s a cartoon that is happening inside your stomach RIGHT NOW, that’s why you feel like you need to throw up.

IFC: What was the genesis of E.Coli High?

KB: I had the idea for years, and when Ben (my brother-in-law, who is a special needs teacher in Philly) began drawing hilarious comics, I recruited him to design characters, animate the series, and do some writing. I’m glad I did, because Ben rules!

BEN: Kevin told me about it in a park and I was like yeah that’s a pretty good idea, but I was just being nice. I thought it was dumb at the time.

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IFC: What makes going to proms and dating moms such timeless and oddly-relatable subject matter?

BEN: Since the dawn of time everyone has had at least one friend with a hot mom. It is physically impossible to not at least make a comment about that hot mom.

KB: Who among us hasn’t dated their friend’s mom and levitated tables at a prom?

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

BEN: There’s a lot of content now. I don’t think anyone will even notice, but it’d be cool if they did.

KB: A show about talking food poisoning bacteria is basically the same as just watching the news these days TBH.

Watch E.Coli High below and discover more NYTVF selections from years past on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

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