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“Doctor Who” movie: 5 pieces of advice for director David Yates

“Doctor Who” movie: 5 pieces of advice for director David Yates (photo)

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Today’s report that “Harry Potter” director David Yates was planning to make a “Doctor Who” movie has caused no small amount of discussion around the online world, and public opinion seems to lie somewhere between “the worst idea ever conceived” and “the most brilliant project of our generation.”

Already a polarizing topic for fandom, some of Yates’ initial comments about adapting the beloved British television series have only seemed to add fuel to the fire. In discussing his plans to give “Doctor Who” a “radical transformation” en route to the big screen, Yates said he plans to “put aside” the current version of the series — which relaunched in 2005 but is steeped in almost 50 years of continuity — and “start from scratch” for the movie.

While Yates’ plans for “Doctor Who” will still unfold under the watchful eye of the BBC, longtime fans of The Doctor’s adventures can’t help but wonder how much will change in this new incarnation of the franchise. As a lifelong fan of “Doctor Who,” I have a few pieces of advice for Yates to consider if he wants to find success in The Doctor’s big-screen future while parting ways with the character’s past.

1. The Actor Makes The Doctor

One of the most unique elements of “Doctor Who” is the series’ ability to recast its lead on a regular basis. Along with current lead Matt Smith, ten other actors have played the role over the series’ long history, and each one has brought a particular set of mannerisms, fashion sense, and even a level of “humanity” (without forgetting that he is an alien, after all).

That’s why, when casting the “Doctor Who” lead, it’s important to keep in mind that the actor won’t simply be inhabiting an existing character — he’ll be creating his own version of The Doctor. And while that may seem like an appealing role for some actors, that blank slate can be as a daunting to an actor as a blank page of paper can be to a writer. There is no single performance to model The Doctor after, but rather 11 very different takes on the character that any new iteration will be measured against. When it comes to choosing the lead, make sure he’s up the challenge.

2. Don’t Let Effects Make The Doctor Ineffective

Even the most loyal “Doctor Who” fans will acknowledge that some of the series’ special effects haven’t been very, well… special. Still, “Doctor Who” has achieved success despite its famously low-budget digital effects and makeup, and Yates would do well to consider why that is. It’s probably not too off-base to assume some of that “radical transformation” he mentioned will be focused on the aliens and other effects-driven elements of the series. And that can certainly be a good thing, if handled properly.

Over the decades, “Doctor Who” has overcome its low effects budget by relying on great performances from its cast and letting its leads pull the audience along at a pace that doesn’t allow them too much time to ponder the rubber costumes or silly ray-guns — after all, when you craft a compelling story, the audience will fill in the fuzzy spots on its own. If Yates is looking to bring “Doctor Who” into the modern effects era, he should remember that the series’ fans would rather be told a good story than watch a sequence of fancy effects.

3. Companions Aren’t Sidekicks

In our era of superhero cinema, it’s easy to lump The Doctor’s companions in with traditional “sidekicks” and similar character archetypes whose purpose is to either be rescued or make a mistake whenever the story could use some exposition from its hero. In the “Doctor Who” universe, despite the fact that The Doctor is a brilliant alien who will outlive us all, he’s rarely framed as being “above” his human companions. Over the years, his companions have been his advisors, best friends, caretakers, confidantes, and in a few rare cases, his love interest. More often than not, though, they’re simply his traveling buddies.

When it comes to adapting “Doctor Who” for the big screen, Yates should avoid Hollywood’s need to establish a clear hero-and-sidekick dynamic. Let The Doctor’s companions treat him as their eccentric, time-traveling buddy and let him revel in showing them the universe. When it comes down to it, that’s the relationship dynamic that made the last 50 years of “Doctor Who” so enjoyable.

4. Remember: Keep It Fun

“Doctor Who” has had its share of serious, somber moments over the years, but at its heart the series has always been about the wonder of discovery, the thrill of adventure, and the joy of returning to a familiar, friendly place after all is said and done. At a time when every adaptation seems to be going after a “darker” version of the source material, “Doctor Who” is the sort of project that relies on its lighter elements for success. While the temptation might be to make “Doctor Who” a more serious affair when it heads to the big screen, it’s worth keeping in mind that everything is already world-threateningly dangerous when it comes to The Doctor.

One aspect of the series’ appeal is The Doctor’s ability to make light of scenarios that would have the average person crying on the floor while curled-up in the fetal position. Don’t give The Doctor a “Batman Begins” or “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” treatment that has him grimacing at the world. Don’t let the big-screen Doctor be a big downer.

5. The Past Can Still Be The Future

Sure, Yates said he wants to “put aside” The Doctor’s past and the 50 years of continuity that comes with it, but when former “Doctor Who” showrunner Russell T. Davies set about relaunching the program, he made sure to include ample nods to the decades of stories behind the character. At first, they were just vague references that only the longtime fans would catch, but as the series progressed, those references to the past became as important to the series’ success as all of the new characters and creatures that were created. Acknowledging the series’ history not only gives the show a sense of weight, but it also rewards fans for the time they’ve spent with The Doctor.

However, that’s not to say the movie should let itself be bogged down in decades of continuity (Davies and current “Doctor Who” showrunner Steven Moffat still play fast and loose with The Doctor’s fictional history), but rather that Yates shouldn’t shy away from making his big-screen version of The Doctor a product of his past. In the end, The Doctor is supposed to be brilliant, fun, and mysterious — and what’s more mysterious than someone who has had years and years of adventures in time and space that he hasn’t told you about yet?

And there you have it, fellow Whovians and “Doctor Who” newcomers: some words of advice for David Yates as he begins work on a task that will make the scrutiny he was under during the “Harry Potter” years seem tame by comparison. Whether you’re excited about the “Doctor Who” movie or terrified by the thought of it, the one thing to keep in mind is that we all want to see the best “Doctor Who” adventure possible — and that’s something everyone can agree on, right?

Chime in below or on Facebook or Twitter with your “Doctor Who” advice for David Yates.

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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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