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DID YOU READ

“Looper” director Rian Johnson talks time travel, genre-bending, and capturing the essence of Bruce Willis

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How do you hunt your future self? That’s the question posed by “Looper,” the new time-travel blockbuster from writer/director Rian Johnson, who first made a name for himself with the brilliant high-school noir mashup “Brick.”

In “Looper,” Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays Joe, a hired assassin in the year 2042, tasked with dispatching the mob’s enemies after they’re sent back in time and disposing of the bodies in the best hiding spot of all: the past. However, when Joe discovers that his future self (Bruce Willis) will be his next victim, things take a time-twisting turn that puts Joe, his future self, and everyone around them into the middle of an explosive chase that could change the present and the future.

IFC had the chance to sit down with Johnson for a brief chat about “Looper,” keeping track of Joe’s timelines, and why it’s so easy to believe Gordon-Levitt really is a younger version of his veteran co-star.

IFC: My first question for you is the one that everybody seems to be asking: How did you make Joseph Gordon-Levitt look so much like Bruce Willis?

RIAN JOHNSON: We had a really talented makeup designer, Kazuhiro Tsuji, who’s just a brilliant guy. But when we first showed him Joe and Bruce next to each other and told him what the challenge was, he basically said, “You can’t do it. It’s impossible.” He refused to do it. I had to pester him for a few months to get him to agree to do it. Because Joe and Bruce, they look so dissimilar. He showed me their faces and diagramed them out and said, “This is why they look different: their head shapes are different, their eyes are spaced differently…” Eventually, the way I won him over was I told him, “Look, we’re not going to try to make Joe look like Bruce in ‘Moonlighting.’ We’re just going to pick a couple of key features and nudge them a little closer to Bruce.”

IFC: Yeah, there’s definitely this confusing moment when you first see Joe, because you know what he looks like normally, but certain features of his face are very, very different…

JOHNSON: Yeah, it’s the nose, and then the lips and brow… We put these very uncomfortable contact lenses in Joe’s eyes, too. But it was all prosthetics. None of it was CG, it was all practical makeup.

IFC: I was particularly impressed by how much Joe sounded like Bruce — his inflection and general way of speaking were spot-on.

JOHNSON: Really, at the end of the day, if Joe feels like Bruce, it’s mostly because of his performance. It’s the voice and the mannerisms. He really dialed it in so that it doesn’t feel like a Saturday Night Live impression. He really captured the essence of Bruce. [Laughs]

IFC: One thing with time-travel stories that I’m always fascinated to know more about is how you, as the writer of the film, kept track of the different timelines and who needed to be doing certain things at certain times to make it all work out, and so forth.

JOHNSON: I did kind of diagram it out. The truth is that the diagram is fairly simple, though. If you step back and look at it, there’s really only one alternate element, and that’s Old Joe’s timeline. Other than that, it goes along in a completely linear way. I made it a little easier on myself than I could have with a time-travel movie. That was intentional, though. I’ve mentioned the first “Terminator” film before in terms of looking at a movie where time travel sets a situation going and then gets out of the way and lets that situation play out. That was the intention here, too.

IFC: Yeah, it felt like you were speaking to the audience at one point in the film when Joe and Bruce are discussing their characters’ timelines and how the actions Joe’s character takes affect Bruce’s character, and Bruce basically just says, “Stop thinking about all of that stuff. You’r just going to make your head hurt.”

JOHNSON: Yeah, I hope it’s speaking to audience, and to a certain degree speaking for the audience, too. Hopefully that’s where the audience’s head is at when we get to that point. As interesting as this stuff is and as many questions as we have in our heads at that point, we don’t want to see a 20-minute scene where he explains all of the time-travel rules in the movie. At least, I hope not. But at the same time, I’m always nervous because I’m a sci-fi nerd myself. I’m nervous that the line you mentioned is going to make people think we didn’t take the time-travel element of the movie seriously. Because I really did. I came up with a set of rules, and I can’t say that they’d hold up if you dig into them deep enough, but I had a set of rules that were consistent and that we applied to this story. And we showed the effects of those rules instead of having a scene where we explain them.

IFC: You have this great knack for superimposing one genre over another, or rather using the tone and setting that’s typical to a certain genre as the storytelling vehicle for a different genre. It was most obvious in “Brick,” but we see it again here in “Looper,” with the ’50s tone of Joe’s future world and the use of those “Blunderbuss” guns and so forth. Where does all that come from?

JOHNSON: I think when you’re working in a specific genre, it’s always nice to look for influence outside of that genre. It just infuses everything with a breath of fresh air and keeps it interesting for you. With sci-fi, a genre I’m such a big fan of, I grew up watching all these movies and I kind of know “Bladerunner” is going to be in there somewhere. I know that “Star Wars” and “Back to the Future” and “12 Monkeys” will all be in there and seep in naturally. So I try to push that out of my conscious mind and look for influences that are a little more far afield. In the beginning, I was looking at the [Jean-Luc] Godard films and the French new-wave films for the kind of loose anarchy of how these guys live their lives in “Looper.” But the back half of the movie probably owes much more to the film “Witness” than any science-fiction movie. For me, that’s always a way to keep things fresh and interesting: looking outside the typical range of inspiration.

IFC: You’ve mixed and matched so many genres at this point, so is there a genre you still haven’t worked in that you’d like to play around with?

JOHNSON: A musical would be fun to do. Joe has to do a musical, whether I do it with him or not. He needs to be in a proper musical. The truth, though, is right now I’m in the middle of coming up with ideas for the next film, and a lot of the things I’m coming up with are still in the sci-fi world — just vastly different from “Looper.” There’s such a breadth and range of what you can do there, and there are so many storytelling possibilities that sci-fi affords you. I had a lot of fun working with that in “Looper,” so I might actually stick around there for a little bit longer. I’m also a big Agatha Christie fan, and I have a whodunit idea that could be a lot of fun. I’ve got stuff all over the map.

IFC: What about television? I was pleasantly surprised to see that you directed some episodes of “Breaking Bad” a while back…

JOHNSON: Yeah, I did that and an episode of my friend Ted Griffin’s show, “Terriers.” It’s fun to do stuff like that when you’re a fan of it. So if something else presented itself that was awesome like that — the equivalent of Vince Gilligan knocking on my door — that’s hard to down. He’s Heisenberg, after all. [Laughs]

“Looper” opens Friday, September 28, and stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Bruce Willis, and Emily Blunt. Look for our review of “Looper” on IFC.com later this week.

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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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