Jonathan Krisel talks about the new season of Portlandia


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Portlandia co-creator, writer and director Jonathan Krisel is most comfortable working behind-the-scenes to craft Fred Armisen’s and Carrie Brownstein’s ideas into what the sketches we see during each episode. Krisel started directing when he was working with Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim on their show “Tom Goes to the Mayor.” Then he segued into the role of director and co-exec producer of the “Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job!” wearing many hats on the job, including editing, animating and writing. Jonathan went on to make acclaimed shorts for funnyordie.com, such as “Rich Dicks” and “Ed Hardy Boyz” with comedian Nick Kroll and also co-directed, co-exec produced and edited “Check it Out with Steve Brule” starring John C. Reilly. Jonathan then joined the staff of “Saturday Night Live” where he directed digital shorts such as “The Curse” starring Jon Hamm, and “Zach Drops By The Set” starring Zach Galifianakis. When Fred and Carrie were looking for a director to help take their sketch series Thunderant to the next level, Jonathan was a natural fit.

We talked to Jonathan about the new season of Portlandia, whether he’s about to break into acting and what it’s like directing Fred and Carrie:

So what’s it like directing Fred and Carrie?

It’s very exciting. The whole show is a collaboration between the three of us, from the writing to the character creation to coming up with wigs for all the other actors. So I’m not really directing them, I’m more of a collaborator. It could be a piece that Fred came up with and now it’s my mission for Fred to carry out. There is a looseness to comedy that makes it work and if it’s too structured, if it’s too packaged, it sometimes loses that spontaneity. I’m just telling everybody what to do to help them carry out their mission. The whole process of creating the show with them is one of the most fun things I’ve ever done. And we are all on the same page comedically and we’re not exactly thinking the same, but we’re always thinking similarly. We have the same cultural references. They are really good actors. There are a lot of funny people out there who are not good actors. There’s a lot of reality and grounded choices to their performances. A lot of the characters are very real. I think the three of us really like things that are very broad, but their acting choices are small and subtle which makes it funnier. As a director I’m always telling people to do less and they do that naturally.

How did you hook up with them?

They were doing Thunderant and I was working at SNL and they came in and said they were turning Thunderant into a show and wanted to know if I was interested in directing. I was a real legitimate Sleater-Kinney fan and …well, I knew Fred. The plan for the interview was that I had to pretend that I was cool on their level. And they went for it. Afterwards I just texted Fred and said maybe we should continue talking about this. There was no plan for the show at that time so I thought if I figured out what the show was about, maybe they would hire me. So I came up with the idea that the show would be sort of based on this Australian series called Summer Heights High that I was watching, but about Portland. I thought, you could do that show with Fred and Carrie and have them play all the characters. Then we did the pilot and it went really well. It’s so easy and natural. It just clicked. We have similar interests and ways of being and we just get along really well.

A huge part of making something work is getting along with people you work with. You want them to succeed; you want them to bring their ideas to life as much as possible. You could have a very small idea about someone dropping their phone and you want to bring it to life in a dramatic way, because it means a lot to the person who wrote it.

What’s it like moving in front of the camera?

Our budget is so low that we’re constantly trying having to cut roles. In the MTV takeover sketch, I was a VJ and the day of the shoot was one of the most chaotic days of the series. And I just thought I‘m going to do this myself. I just went to the wardrobe department and asked them, can you just make me look like Rob Dyrdek– who is one of the least charismatic people on earth. And they said, sure, we got it. As the producer of the show, I’m just problem solving. I’ll just jump in. One of my favorite things to do now is that when we’re shooting a scene and we had all these rolls for extras I just grab people who are there already. We were in an old folks home and they were like 90 and told them they had to talk. I just told this woman, “This is your line.” But, yeah, I had three roles this season.

Yeah, you’re breaking out!

As the director, you have it in your mind how you want the part done, how you want someone to do it, and so sometimes you just say why don’t I do it myself. So for a little role, I’ll just do it.

You have developed a good corps of actors that started in the first season of Portlandia and now appear throughout the show and its seasons.

There’s a good family of actors in Portlandia. It’s a small community with people who pop up again and again. The show’s a little weird show and you want to grow with the people who are in it, like Dana who plays the chicken waitress, and Ellen who was the adult babysitter. She’s great.

Directing-wise, how has it changed from season one to season three?

Once you’ve done things a bunch of times …well, in the beginning there was no expectation. Now we have a lot of takes we want to do things better. We start second guessing ourselves more. Things were so crazy and fun in the beginning, and as we’ve gotten bigger, there could be more pressure, so going into season three we have to keep things light and fun and not try think about getting bigger ratings. Not that I mind a little more pressure, but it’s good to remember to stay in a vacuum and do what made you laugh. Directing wise the tone is pretty consistent throughout. It owns it’s tone and as long as it’s me and Fred and Carrie it won’t change.

How hard is it to wear so many hats while you work?

It’s easy because it’s all in my head and I can just tell people what to do and how to do it.

Want the latest news from Portlandia? Like them on Facebook and follow them on Twitter@ifcPortlandia and use the hashtag #portlandia.

Portlandia airs on IFC on Fridays at 10/9c

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Weird Roles

Anthony Michael Hall’s Most Rotten Movies

Catch Anthony Michael Hall in Weird Science on Friday at 8P on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Universal/Everett Collection

Anthony Michael Hall was the quintessential ’80s nerd. We love him in classics like The Breakfast Club and National Lampoon’s Vacation. But even the brainiest among us has his weak spots. In honor of Weird Science airing this Rotten Friday, we analyze Hall’s worst movies.

Weird Science (1985) 56%

A low point for John Hughes, Weird Science is way too wacky for its own good. Anthony Michael Hall’s Gary and his pal Wyatt (Ilan Mitchell-Smith) create the “perfect woman.” Supernatural chaos ensues. The film costars a young Bill Paxton, floppy disks, and a general disconnect from all reality.

The Caveman’s Valentine (2001) 46%

This ambitious drama starring Samuel L. Jackson couldn’t live up to its rich premise. Jackson plays Romulus, a Juilliard-educated, paranoid schizophrenic who lives in a cave. Hall co-stars as Bob, a rich man, who wants to see Romulus play the piano. The plot centers around Romulus investigating a murder, but with so much going on, the movie never quite finds its rhythm.

All About the Benjamins (2002) 30%

Ice Cube plays a bounty hunter who teams up with Mike Epps’ con man to catch diamond thieves. Hall plays Lil J, a small-time drug dealer. It’s definitely a role we’ve never seen Hall in, but overall the movie isn’t funny or original enough to justify its violence.

Freddy Got Fingered (2001) 11%

This showcase for Tom Green’s goofy gross-out comedy is often hailed as one of the worst films of all time. Green plays Gord, a 20-something slacker, who dreams of having his own animated series. Hall is Dave Davidson, a CEO of an animation studio who eventually helps Gord find success. Too bad Tom Green wasn’t so lucky.

Johnny Be Good (1988) 0%

Hall plays against type as Johnny Walker, a star quarterback. Robert Downey Jr. is his best friend and Uma Thurman plays his devoted girlfriend. Despite the support of a future A-list cast, the movie lacks central conflict and charm. Or, as TV Guide put it, “Johnny be worthless.” Ouch.

Catch the “Too Rotten to Miss” Weird Science this Friday at 8P on IFC.

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Season 6: Episode 1: Pickathon

Binge Fest

Portlandia Season 6 Now Available On DVD

The perfect addition to your locally-sourced, artisanal DVD collection.

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End of summer got you feeling like:

Portlandia Toni Screaming GIF

Ease into fall with Portlandia‘s sixth season. Relive the latest exploits of Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein’s cast of characters, including Doug and Claire’s poignant breakup, Lance’s foray into intellectual society, and the terrifying rampage of a tsukemen Noodle Monster! Plus, guest stars The Flaming Lips, Glenn Danzig, Louis C.K., Kevin Corrigan, Zoë Kravitz, and more stop by to experience what Portlandia is all about.

Pick up a copy of the DVD today, or watch full episodes and series extras now on IFC.com and the IFC app.

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Byrning Down the House

Everything You Need to Know About the Film That Inspired “Final Transmission”

Documentary Now! pays tribute to "Stop Making Sense" this Wednesday at 10P on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Cinecom/courtesy Everett Collection

This week Documentary Now! is with the band. For everyone who’s ever wanted to be a roadie without leaving the couch, “Final Transmission” pulls back the curtain on experimental rock group Test Pattern’s final concert. Before you tune in Wednesday at 10P on IFC, plug your amp into this guide for Stop Making Sense, the acclaimed 1984 Talking Heads concert documentary.

Put on Your Dancing Shoes

Hailed as one of the best concert films ever created, director Jonathan Demme (Silence of the Lambs) captured the energy and eccentricities of a band known for pushing the limits of music and performance.

Make an Entrance

Lead singer David Byrne treats the concert like a story: He enters an empty stage with a boom box and sings the first song on the setlist solo, then welcomes the other members of the group to the stage one song at a time.

Steal the Spotlight

David Byrne Dancing
Cinecom/Everett Collection

Always a physical performer, Byrne infuses the stage and the film with contagious joy — jogging in place, dancing with lamps, and generally carrying the show’s high energy on his shoulders.

Suit Yourself

Byrne makes a splash in his “big suit,” a boxy business suit that grows with each song until he looks like a boy who raided his father’s closet. Don’t overthink it; on the DVD, the singer explains, “Music is very physical, and often the body understands it before the head.”

View from the Front Row

Stop Making Sense Band On Stage
Cinecom/Everett Collection

Demme (who also helmed 1987’s Swimming to Cambodia, the inspiration for this season’s Documentary Now! episode “Parker Gail’s Location is Everything”) films the show by putting viewers in the audience’s shoes. The camera rarely shows the crowd and never cuts to interviews or talking heads — except the ones onstage.

Let’s Get Digital

Tina Weymouth Keyboard
Cinecom/Everett Collection

Stop Making Sense isn’t just a good time — it’s also the first rock movie to be recorded entirely using digital audio techniques. The sound holds up more than 30 years later.

Out of Pocket

Talk about investing in your art: Talking Heads drummer Chris Frantz told Rolling Stone that the members of the band “basically put [their] life savings” into the movie, and they didn’t regret it.

Catch Documentary Now!’s tribute to Stop Making Sense when “Final Transmission” premieres Wednesday, October 12 at 10P on IFC.

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