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Catching up with 2011 Subway Fresh Artists winner R.J. Daniel Hanna


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With a title like “Jeff and Ravi Fail History,” it’s easy to assume that cowriter and director R.J. Daniel Hanna made a web-friendly version of “Harold & Kumar,” some serialized tome in which two slackers muscle through borderline failure powered by hipster wit and a succession of fast food entrees. But Subway Restaurants made a shrewd decision in choosing Hanna as one of last year’s Fresh Artists™, since the young filmmaker created a clever series of webisodes in which an overachiever and her doofus roommate find themselves lost in time – this time appropriately powered by fast food entrees.

IFC caught up with Hanna for a discussion about his experiences as an entrant in the SUBWAY Fresh Artists™ Filmmaker Series; in addition to discussing the challenges of coming up with an idea that was fun, clever, and appealing to judges, Hanna talked about the opportunities the contest afforded him, and explained how the experience influenced him as he moves on to his first feature, a low-budget comedy.

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

IFC: Just to get started, talk about how you got involved, how you became aware of it and how you sort of initially came up with an idea for the contest.

HANNA: There was going to be a competition to do a web series for Subway Restaurants. Coke used to do those student short films that they’d play at AMC theaters, so I’d done one of those the year before and I knew it’s a good opportunity to get money from a company and associate yourself with a brand and do something that you don’t have to fund yourself, that you can do on a bigger level. And it seemed really cool – three episodes of a web series, and maybe they would continue the web series down the line or something like that. So it just seemed like a really good opportunity; $40,000 for three episodes was more money than I’d ever worked with before.

So we just kind of got together with Brian Scofield and Ian Ward, and Brian and I kind of kicked around some ideas and what we wanted was something where we could use the money, which was $40,000, so we wanted to do something that could have some production value or do something we hadn’t done before. So we kind of kicked around some ideas and then kind of thought, well, there’s been a lot of time travel stuff, but not really on the web that we were aware of. Initially, we wanted to do it a little bit more handheld style, like a little more fluid in that sense, and do some more [improvisation] and that kind of thing. We thought that hadn’t really been done with time travel, and we knew that if we did get to do different episodes, we can go to a different place in each episode and this kind of opened up a lot of opportunities, we thought, to cover some of our favorite genres and stuff like that.

IFC: Once you came up with the idea, how much of it was developed by the time you entered it in the contest?

HANNA: But, initially, we had two episodes take place in the past – how we pitched it was they would arrive in the past and then you’d have basically one episode of them kind of arguing in the past and they meet a caveman at the end of the second episode. Then, after we pitched it and were selected based on that outline, we started thinking, why don’t we make a whole episode that is in the future and we’ll just really push ourselves to try and stretch every dollar and make that happen? So that was where that kind of came about.

It seems like kind of funny now, but at the time $40,000 was like so much money, especially in kind of school terms, where you can get a camera from school and get a bunch of resources from school, so it’s really $40,000 you can put up on the screen. So we just really wanted to try and make each one different, have like a different look and be in a different environment and explore a different genre, like sci-fi or the post-apocalyptic kind of movie.

IFC: Do you remember how you reacted when you found out you were chosen as a winner?

HANNA: Oh, yeah, I mean, I was extremely excited. When we were making it, like we knew it was kind of exactly what we wanted, because we got to make it during the summer, so we didn’t have class or anything like that. We were just focusing on making the movie. And I knew when we found that it was going to be an opportunity to really do something on a much more kind of real level and be able to hire people. Like we had a production designer from AFI who was great and being able to hire good people and really make something where we didn’t have to like cut every corner, and that was really exciting to think, okay, well, we’re actually going to make something that there’s no way we could have made this without their support. That was really exciting.

IFC: How reflective are the shorts that you came up with of the kind of content you want to create going forward? Do you want to go continue to do comedy, or was this sort of a fun platform to get to move on to sci-fi, action, drama, et cetera?

HANNA: I’m interested in comedy. But it’s funny – I have a definitive separation between what is more like commercial work, something for a brand, and then something that I really want to do. Like I’m probably more interested in like a Coen brothers kind of [comedy], more like Fargo or like Barton Fink, which has comedic elements but is primarily a dramatic storyline, and that’s kind of more where I would want to do personally, professionally.

But I’d actually really like to get into commercials and would really be interested in doing more web series and things like that that are comedies. So [the web series] is not, ultimately, what I’d want to do, but it’s something I would really like to do more of, because it is a lot of fun. It’s probably the most fun I’ve ever had on set, just because the actors really brought a lot and we just tried to keep it fun and keep it open to improvisation and that kind of thing. And it’s just kind of neat to be able to feel like we could try anything. In comedy, you can be a little bit absurd and kind of push things in that direction, which is a fun thing to explore.

IFC: Obviously, you’d had training beforehand via school and everything else, but were there different things that you learned from the competition or just the process of making the shorts themselves?

HANNA: Yeah, definitely. The experience of having to just sort of make the scene work and figure out a lot of the blocking stuff right there in the moment and kind of working with the actors while everyone else is setting up and coming in and just trying to work on the spot instead of being able to plan every little thing out. Because we didn’t have the sets built until like right before we were shooting and we couldn’t really get all the locations much before we were shooting. It all happened very quickly, so in films where you’re kind often used to being able to focus and find out every little detail before it happens, it wasn’t really like that. We had to figure a lot of it out on the spot and adapt a lot more on the spot. And it really taught me how to delegate, I think, because then you’d let the crew do their thing and trust that they were going to get it right. Then you’re trying to do what’s really important, I think, which is getting the actors ready and making sure that it’s not just people standing there the whole time not doing anything.

IFC: How do you feel like this contest sort of laid the groundwork for what you’re doing going forward, be it in terms of opportunities or creatively shaping the direction that you might go in?

HANNA: Well, obviously, it was a good opportunity to do a fun project with a good budget and stuff, so it’s a really good reel piece. I think it definitely helped to have worked for Subway Restaurants or Coke or brands like that, because it’s something people recognize and kind of legitimizes me a little bit. It’s like here’s something I did for a major brand and they trusted me with it and paid me money and this is the result – people were all happy with it.

IFC: What sort of opportunities has winning created since then, and what are you doing now?

HANNA: Well, actually, I am going to edit like this indie feature, like a $1.2 million feature. A friend of mine recommended me, it’s a comedy, and then they really liked the web series and that’s why I got hired, ultimately, so that seems like a pretty direct correlation. But in terms of really direct things, that’s probably the most direct like job.

IFC: What has this experience sort of meant for you personally, much less professionally?

HANNA: I mean, it’s always really validating to pitch an idea that you think is good for somebody and having it be accepted and fun to just have people support it and like it enough to try and associate with South by Southwest and play it at IFC and stuff, because those are really critically respected brands. South by Southwest and IFC is really something that’s really important to filmmakers starting out, to not just be associated with big corporations but also organizations that support art, even if it’s not like the most artistically groundbreaking thing.

So that was really important and a really good feeling that helps think, okay, well, I’m not crazy, people maybe do have good ideas and we can kind of push the boundaries in terms of what we could do with the money and the time and stuff and actually get this thing done. Because there were definitely a lot of, not doubts, but they were kind of like, great, I hope you guys can do this. It’s really ambitious, so I hope you pull it off. That was kind of the – I don’t want to say attitude, because that’s how I’m thinking of it, because they were very positive the whole time, but kind of the feeling. And we were very proud that we felt like we kind of obtained the level that we wanted.

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A-O Rewind

Celebrating Portlandia One Sketch at a Time

The final season of Portlandia approaches.

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Most people measure time in minutes, hours, days, years…At IFC, we measure it in sketches. And nothing takes us way (waaaaaay) back like Portlandia sketches. Yes, there’s a Portlandia milepost from every season that changed the way we think, behave, and pickle things. In honor of Portlandia’s 8th and final season, Subaru presents a few of our favorites.


Put A Bird On It

Portlandia enters the pop-culture lexicon and inspires us to put birds on literally everything.

Colin the Chicken

Who’s your chicken, really? Behold the emerging locavore trend captured perfectly to the nth degree.

Dream Of The ’90s

This treatise on Portland made it clear that “the dream” was alive and well.

No You Go

We Americans spend most of our lives in cars. Fortunately, there’s a Portlandia sketch for every automotive situation.

A-O River!

We learned all our outdoor survival skills from Kath and Dave.

One More Episode

The true birth of binge watching, pre-Netflix. And what you’ll do once Season 8 premieres.

Catch up on Portlandia’s best moments before the 8th season premieres January 18th on IFC.

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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…


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.


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).


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.


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.


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.



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 and the IFC app.

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