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Catching up with 2011 Subway Fresh Artists winner (and current “Portlandia” producer) Alice Mathias

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It isn’t altogether often that corporate promotions and genuinely creative ideas come together harmoniously, but Alice Mathias found a happy medium with “Do Whatever.” Capitalizing on the variety of options Subway Restaurants offers customers when they’re assembling their sandwiches, she and her collaborators created a series for the company’s Fresh Artists™ Filmmaker Series about a couple of twentysomethings who start a business doing pretty much anything people ask them to.

One of last year’s winners, Mathias has gone on to become an associate producer on the IFC show “Portlandia,” utilizing the experience and knowledge she accrued while putting together the fun and funny web series. IFC recently caught up with Mathias to talk about “Do Whatever” and her experiences as a winner of SUBWAY Fresh Artists™ Filmmaker Series; in addition to discussing the process of developing the idea for the contest, she talked about some of the things she learned while shooting the series, and offered a little perspective on how her experiences have shaped and sharpened what she’s done creatively since then.

Find out about this year’s SUBWAY Fresh Artists™ Filmmaker Series by clicking here.


IFC: Just to get started, talk about how you initially became aware of the contest and then how you developed an idea that you thought would be well-suited to the competition.

MATHIAS: I became aware of the contest through USC obviously as a student there, a graduate student. The contest was something a lot of the students participate in, so the person I work with, Andy Landen, basically encouraged me to participate and be on his team. So we teamed up with another producer, Giles Andrew, and the three of us sat down at a café and everybody just pitched ideas and we met I think a couple times trying to figure out which ones we wanted to move forward with. There were some great ideas that were batted around, but it seemed like “Do Whatever” was the one that had kind of the spirit of the Subway demographics, and we just thought it had the most potential for variety. It had kind of endless possibilities of fun places you could take it. So the fact that it was kind of not limited in any way is sort of one of those things that Subway values too – you can do anything with your sandwich (laughs). You can make it your way, so we felt like the theme of the show was really in line with the theme of Subway as a food chain.

IFC: What was your reaction when you were chosen as a winner?

MATHIAS: We were thrilled. I mean it was the first time that the three of us had worked with a significant budget on something that we had dreamed up ourselves, and to get the support of such a well-known institution in our society, [and] to get the support of a real business saying “here’s our money and we believe in your idea,” it was really exciting to have earned. So we were all just thrilled, and it was a great experience overall.

IFC: What were the things that getting into this situation, maybe having more resources that you had in the past, teach you that you could apply to future projects?

MATHIAS: Well, the scale of the production was much bigger because we had money. We could actually compensate some of our friends, too, who took the bigger roles; we couldn’t pay everybody, but people who took big roles in the show we could actually pay them. So it kind of had this trickle-down thing where you enabled your friends to work professionally also on something, and it was just exciting to have such a big crew and access to locations that were just incredible because of our budget. We had the opportunity to learn at a different level because we were making decisions on a bigger scale, how to best use the budget in the most responsible way, whereas when you’re in film school, since the resources are smaller some of the choices are obvious. We had to make some more advanced decisions about how to deal with the money. And also we actually worked with a real casting director, which was a big deal for us; we had access to talent in LA that were drawn to the Subway brand that otherwise they wouldn’t have really kind of had access to and working with a professional casting director, that was the first time I had ever done it. It’s a big difference [from] when you’re just doing a casting in a space that you had rented out yourself to have a professional casting director who has worked with comedians from all over the city before, who can call people who she knows are right for the role. It just made our cast what it was, and it really showed in the performances.

IFC: How do you feel like this program sort of laid the groundwork for what you’ve done going forward? Do you feel like this is reflective of the kind of material you want to work with?

MATHIAS: It was the first time that I worked at a professional level in the arena of entertainment that I want to work in. I’m pursuing comedy television as a career and so I’m working on a comedy TV show now, but “Do Whatever” was the first time I had been in a writer’s room really and it was the first time that I had ever had kind of creative control over or creative influence. At the collaborative level, previously I had really just been doing my own projects, and on this project I was collaborating with two other creators; that’s the spirit of comedy TV, that it’s very collaborative. So this is my first kind of foray into that, and it really prepared me for the writer’s room where I work now, in comedy TV, to see how people work together. So I kind of had experienced it once before, which is helpful.

IFC: Do you see any direct correlation between having done this and what sort of opportunities you have now or other jobs in between then and now?

MATHIAS: No, I already had the job that I have now, a version of it. I mean, I was a lower-level person on the show that I work on now, but I already had the job I have now. But that said, in the job I have now, the experience that I had doing Subway really was like a training ground that informed the choices and the way I work on the show now. So it was the first time that I had written anything comedy-wise that got made, really, and was seen by people, so that was amazing training.

IFC: What sort of feedback have you received since it came out, in terms of personal or professional people being more aware of you?

MATHIAS: Of course, yes. Personally, it was really exciting to have done some work that we were really proud of, that it wasn’t like we were asking our friends to do us a favor to watch it. When they were finished [watching it] they were excited and they wanted to see more of them. And then when we went to South by Southwest to have the screening done there, it was sort of an opportunity to introduce it at a more professional level to people in the industry, and overall the feedback was really enthusiastic and that was really encouraging for us to know that we had kind of seized the opportunity and created something that people actually laughed at. And it launched a lot of collaborations, like the director, Andy, has continued to work with the **** a lot and people have gone onto continue to work together.

IFC: Tell me what you’re working on now.

MATHIAS: I work on “Portlandia.” I’m an associate producer on the show and the writer’s assistant.

IFC: How instrumental do you feel like the Subway stuff either is or might be in terms of your current job?

MATHIAS: I’m not sure if people at “Portlandia” have even seen the Subway stuff to be honest (laughs). But I did get training doing the Subway stuff that enabled me to navigate a writer’s room, or [know] how to collaborate with people and support people. I think that was useful in my growth in my job, and I hope that it continues to be like helpful. But it’s important – it’s always important to be working, and it was good that I had been doing my own work while also trying to fulfill my duties on the show.

IFC: Ultimately, what did you sort of takeaway most maybe from the experience of doing this?

MATHIAS: It was a tremendous boost, personally and professionally. This is the first time that I was sure that I could produce anything, really, and I never really had that confidence before Subway so that was my personal growth from it. And then professionally, it was also the first time that I was really just the producer and writer. Previously I had to fill in all the holes of getting all the craft services together, doubling as the AD or even sometimes stepping in as an actor or whatever, and it was really nice to have a professional experience that was like your role is clear — you just have to be concerned with writing and producing and everything else is being taken care of by this tremendously talented crew that you have. And it was not the first time, but something exciting about it in general was just that everybody in the crew seemed to enjoy themselves and it was the first time where I had been on a shoot where people were really fighting laughter while we were shooting. When we wrapped, everybody at different levels was just really enthusiastic about seeing how it would turn out, and that was really exciting — and I think a lot of that was because of the scale and the amount of work we could put in because we were just really focusing on writing and producing.

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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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