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Paul Schneider’s Bright Ideas

Paul Schneider’s Bright Ideas (photo)

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“So…Andrei Tarkovsky!” Paul Schneider said when I sat down to talk with him. I wasn’t really prepared to discuss the merits of the Russian auteur, but then neither was he — it was the just the kind of disarming introduction you’d expect from Schneider, who’s made a career of playing guys you’d want to have a beer with in films like “All the Real Girls” and “Elizabethtown.” Schneider can currently be seen working his low-key charms on the Amy Poehler sitcom “Parks and Recreation,” and serving as a much-needed leavening agent in Jane Campion’s period romance “Bright Star.”

In the film, Schneider plays once again, the best friend — Charles Armitage Brown, the colleague and confidant of poet John Keats (Ben Whishaw) and unlikely rival to seamstress Fanny Brawne (Abbie Cornish) for Keats’ attention. While Whishaw and Cornish tug at the heart, Schneider’s turn as the sharp-tongued Scot who attempts to come between the two is even more likable. Schneider got the role by sending in an audition tape showing off the brogue he picked up by watching “Trainspotting,” and, with not a speck of false modesty, still seems slightly perplexed to have worked with one of his heroes.

So how did it feel to make a film with Jane Campion?

I was really affected by “The Piano.” Had I not seen that movie, I wouldn’t have gone to film school. I [took] a long, circuitous route, which got me into acting. So it was a really strange thing to hear from my agent that she wanted to get in touch and talk about this new film that she was making. Obviously, I’m going to go along with it, even if it’s some horribly distasteful joke. And it turned out that it was real.

It’s this strange process, understanding that your heroes are real people. It sounds stupid to say, because of course they’re real people, but when I was growing up, I didn’t know anybody in the arts. I have fantastic people in my life, but the idea that you could make a living making art is still very new to me. I’m still in this mode of thinking that well, I’ll do this acting thing until I wake from this dream and have got to go do a crappy job.

In the past, you’ve usually played well-intentioned characters. Did it feel any different to play a bit of a spoiler?

I hope that I played Brown like a well-intentioned guy. I was surprised when I saw the final product, how much havoc he had caused in this story. I don’t remember causing that much havoc. [laughs] I was very focused on the fact that my relationship with my best friend is changing because of the intrusion of this girl, and the idea that the work we were doing was more important. I was feeling very protective of Ben as John.

09232009_BrightStar2.jpgIt’s like the indirect effect — if you shoot for something, you’ll miss it, so just don’t shoot for it and you might hit it. With Brown, there was a lot of me listening and being adoring to Ben, and because I think he’s a really fantastic actor, I could just sit across from him and as Paul, just admire his acting, but it looked like Brown was admiring Keats’ poetry.

I tried to make corollaries between how I feel about things and how Brown feels about things. I didn’t go into “Bright Star” knowing much about poetry — what I needed to find were the things that I loved in the same way that Brown loved poetry. During a conversation Ben and Jane and I had, we talked about the fact that these young romantic poets were like the punk rock kids of their day. They had a following, people waited for their new poems to come out, they were definitely choosing against the mainstream. They were doing only what they loved, polite society be damned. Once we made that connection, I was able to say oh, the way Brown feels about poetry is the way I feel about Black Sabbath.

I would guess acting in a costume drama would have different pressures than a contemporary one, but once you got on set, was it easy to fit in?

Yeah, it has an intimate quality, whereas the Merchant Ivory films, a lot of which I love, had a very distancing effect — this movie feels very close to me. The language was stripped down, we’re not spouting iambic pentameter. It’s authentic to the time period, but it’s not rococo dialogue. Also, they used so much handheld camera, [the idea it] was a period piece melts away. To me, it’s about how insane it is to be in love for the first time, and how crazy you feel, like you’re going to die. No matter how old you get, you always go back to those one or two experiences.

It was a real testament to the fact that the actors got along so well. If the actors aren’t really close, I don’t think you can fake that kind of intimacy — when you’re acting with someone you consider a friend, you have a ton more freedom than with someone you’re wondering whether or not it’s okay to do this or that with. I’m never so lost in a character that I feel like I can do anything to this other human being that I’m working with. I’m always very aware that we’re making a movie.

09232009_PrettyBird.jpgYour directorial debut “Pretty Bird” got its share of attention when it premiered at Sundance last year, but it left without a distribution deal. What’s going on with it now?

I wish I knew. I don’t know what the status is, but it makes me wonder whether the current film marketplace isn’t one with really sharp elbows, and if there are going to be places for small films that are off the beaten path. I don’t know if the current marketplace is gambling on small films that much anymore.

“Bright Star” is currently open in New York and Los Angeles. It will expand into limited release on September 25th.

[Additional photo: On the set of “Pretty Bird,” Two Lane Pictures, 2008]

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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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A-O Rewind

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.

via GIPHY

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…

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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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