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Interview: Adam Yauch on “Gunnin’ For That #1 Spot”

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06252008_adamyauch2.jpgBy Aaron Hillis

Beastie Boys founding member and filmmaker Adam Yauch (that’s “MCA” to you, sucka!) isn’t giving up the studio and stage for a life in Hollywood, though he’s certainly passionate about the medium. Besides directing many of his band’s videos and the multi-camera Beasties concert doc “Awesome; I Fuckin’ Shot That!”, Yauch recently launched his own indie film label and sales company called Oscilloscope Pictures. Their first project? “Gunnin’ For That #1 Spot,” a doc helmed by Yauch himself, about the 24 high school b-ball prodigies who competed in 2006’s first annual “Boost Mobile Elite 24 Hoops Classic,” held in Harlem’s Rucker Park. With a predictably well-curated soundtrack of hip-hop and break beats, the film chases eight of the competitors down the court and behind the scenes, as the media, shoe companies, money-eyed advisers and coaches line up to woo them with future NBA dreams. I passed the mic to Yauch, who rapped about the new film, his relationship with the enigmatic Nathaniel Hörnblowér and how much Brooklyn has changed since his childhood. Ch-check it out…

Late in the film, some critics discuss the danger of hyping up these kids at such a young age, but those factors aren’t investigated in their backstories leading up to the game. Why did you choose not to pursue that angle more extensively?

I think we do demonstrate it for a second going into that section where [announcer Bobbito Garcia] screams out, “Come on, Tariq. You’re on the cover of a magazine, show me something!” Similarly, there’s a scene at the beginning where Jerryd Bayless is talking about Tariq and says, “He’s on the cover of what? Who’s on there?” He’s sort of annoyed. I guess we don’t explore it that in-depth, but there are things that elude to it. My personal feeling is that some of the press stuff is probably alright, and if these kids really are interested in pursuing a career in the NBA, getting a taste of media along the way [shows them] what their job is going to be if they make it into the league. [Someone in the film] says, “If a kid doesn’t do well, everybody says, ‘Oh, the kid didn’t pan out,’ but nobody blames the media. He didn’t ask to be on the cover of a magazine when he was in the sixth grade.”

It’s definitely an interesting perspective, but on the other side of the coin, these guys are pursuing an extremely competitive sport. It’s part of what they’re going to face, too. Certainly, the question is, what does it mean when they’re minors as opposed to being adults? One could say that we’re guilty of the same thing in making the documentary, but personally, I’m not trying to do anything that’s harmful to the kids. Just taking a little time to look at that world.

A few F-bombs get bleeped out in the film. Were you concerned about a harsher rating?

Yeah, we wanted a PG-13 rating. I thought it was a good movie for kids to see, so I did beep out a few of the curses here and there. You still know what they are. I don’t mind my daughter seeing it, and she’s nine years old. I think kids have their own censorship of that kind of stuff. If I’m driving my car and somebody swings next to me with the car and I say “Aw, fuck,” she’s like: “Papa, don’t say that!” I don’t think it hurts kids to hear a few exclamations, but that being said, you have to beep some stuff out if you want to make sure your rating’s right.

06252008_adamyauch3.jpgYou use them both here and in your early videos. Please sing to me your praises on why you love the fish-eye camera lens.

Alright, I’ve got a short list. [laughs] The main reason is I like the surreal feeling that it gives. It takes things that are close and makes them look bigger, and things that are further away look even further away, so you get this stretching effect. I also like that the focus is very even because what I like to do is very run-and-gun and experimental. By having that focal plane where everything is in focus, if it’s across the street or one inch from the lens, it allows you to let things happen — you’re more likely to catch the action. I grew up in the ’70s, and if you open old magazines from the late ’60s, early ’70s, every advertisement is a fish eye lens. Not every car ad, but there’s a lot of it. In the early ’80s, when we started making videos, there wasn’t any of that. I always remembered that look from being a kid.

Where did your nom de plume Nathaniel Hörnblowér come from, and why did you abandon it for this film?

I think the first time I used it was when I took the picture of the cover of “Paul’s Boutique.” I wanted to throw some credit in there for that photo, but I thought it would look weird if one of the band members were credited as the photographer for the cover of the record. It seemed strange, too incestuous. So I put a fake name there, and then I started using it for any record covers I was designing or video stuff I was doing. Then it became a whole persona. But since this was not a Beastie Boys-related thing, it just made more sense to set that aside for a minute.

What was the impetus for starting Oscilloscope Pictures?

It’s something I’ve been thinking about for a while, doing film distribution. I’ve been going to film festivals for a while, and I often look at movies and think, “Wow, it’d be cool to put that out,” or “I can’t believe that movie never came out.” Especially growing up around indie record labels, I had this idea of applying some of the principles to making a small indie film distribution company. As I was finishing “Gunnin’,” it just felt like this was the time to do it. I went to start the company rather than going out to another distributor. So I went to David Fenkel from ThinkFilm for his thoughts, and he was down. So he left Think, Dan [Berger] left with him, and they came and did it with me.

Criterion’s “Beastie Boys Anthology” was one of the greatest marriages of music and DVD. Do you have any further plans to innovate like this?

I don’t know, that one just felt like it made sense. When I first heard about DVD, like what DVD was going to be, someone was explaining to me that there are going to be multiple audio and video channels. It just sort of hit me, thinking about that: “Oh wow, I could sync up this outtake footage from videos, like whole takes, sync up remixes, and you could choose between different takes.” Once I thought of the idea, I couldn’t let it go until it was done.

06252008_adamyauch1.jpgDoes the wavelength animation at the beginning of that DVD’s menu screen have anything to do with Oscilloscope?

Yeah, I guess so. The oscilloscope is a machine that I’ve been partially obsessed with for many years. So I had the studio named that, but the Criterion disc pre-dates that. I even have oscilloscopes in other videos and things like that. It’s a cool machine; I’ve always liked it since I was a kid.

Are there any plans to get your Beastie brethren involved in your films? I’ve wanted to see Ad-Rock in front of the camera again after his comic sidekick performance in 1992’s “Roadside Prophets.”

It would be cool, yeah. It was great having them involved in this; they helped with some of the scoring. I think Adam is a really good actor and I don’t think that’s his best work. It’s a pity that he stopped acting. I feel like he kept getting typecast in these momma’s boy roles, these kind of wimpy roles, which I think is weird. He can play much stronger roles, but that’s neither here nor there. I think he’s sick of acting right now.

As a downtown Brooklyn transplant, I’d like to pick a native’s brain. You live in lower Manhattan now, but what do you think of Brooklyn in 2008 compared to when you were growing up?

It’s definitely really different. If you went over to [the now restaurant hotspot] Smith Street, it was rough. On Smith, when I was a kid, there were just a few bodegas with the plexiglass in front of them, where you were handed what you wanted through the [window]. Boerum Hill was much rougher. Not so much Cobble Hill, but even through Carroll Gardens and what-not. But I like where Brooklyn is at right now. I feel like Manhattan has gotten too gentrified in many ways, and I really enjoy whenever I visit Brooklyn, hang out at my parents’ house, or walk around, go to Prospect Park. I think about [moving back] all the time. I feel like Brooklyn still has the multi-cultural aspects that I love about New York. Manhattan just seems like a world of stock brokers. [laughs]

[Photos: Director Adam Yauch; “Gunnin’ For That #1 Spot,” Oscilloscope Pictures, 2008]

“Gunnin’ For That #1 Spot” opens in New York and Los Angeles on June 27th.

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Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

It’s the final countdown to Christmas and thanks to IFC’s movie marathon all Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, you can revel in classic ’80s films AND find inspiration for your last-minute gifts. Here are our recommendations, if you need a head start:

Musical Instrument

Great analog entertainment substitute when you refuse to give your kid the Nintendo Switch they’ve been drooling over.

Breakfast In Bed

Any significant other or child would appreciate these Uncle Buck-approved flapjacks. Just make sure you’re not stuck on clean up duty.

Cocktail Supplies

You’ll need them to get through the holidays.

Dance Lessons

So you can learn to shake-shake-shake (unless you know ghosts willing to lend a hand).

Comfy Clothes

With all the holiday meals, there may be some…embigenning.

Get even more great inspiration all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC, and remember…

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Celebrating Portlandia One Sketch at a Time

The final season of Portlandia approaches.

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GIFs via Giphy

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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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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