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Mark Romanek Holds On To “Never Let Me Go”

Mark Romanek Holds On To “Never Let Me Go” (photo)

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It’s been a winding road to “Never Let Me Go” for Mark Romanek, who after years as a major music video director (his best know work includes the videos for Nine Inch Nails’ “Closer”, Madonna’s “Bedtime Story” and Michael Jackson’s “Scream”) found his way back to the film world with 2002’s “One Hour Photo,” starring Robin Williams. A string of non-starter projects followed that release, among them adaptations of “A Cold Case” and “A Million Little Pieces” that never made it to production, and then “The Wolfman,” which he dropped out of in 2008 after creative disagreements with the studio — Joe Johnston replaced him. A longtime fan of author Kazuo Ishiguro, Romanek was brought on board to direct “Never Let Me Go” from a script by “The Beach”‘s Alex Garland, and the result is a thoughtful work of dystopian melancholy featuring the outstanding cast of up-and-comers Carey Mulligan and Andrew Garfield, along with Keira Knightley in an unexpected role.

What is it about Ishiguro’s novel that made it seem like good source material for a film?

The thing that I’m always looking for is: “Is this moving me? Have I connected with it emotionally?” Not that films of ideas aren’t important, but movies are best when they really just engross you emotionally. This book did that quite strongly. The other thing I ask is: “Have I seen this a million times before, or is it something fresh?” And if you can get that combination of something that’s a sincere expression about the human predicament, and that feels new, even in a small way, then you maybe have a chance at doing something that has some reason for being.

I fell in love with the characters — they felt really dimensional and real to me — but I was a little scared of the idea of adapting it, because it’s so odd and original and delicate and beautiful. I worried — do I have the skill set to tackle something this nuanced? But when I read Alex Garland’s adaptation, I felt that he had really cracked it, as a film, and I felt more emboldened to tackle it.

09172010_neverletmego1.jpgThe novel seems slower in its reveal about the true nature of the world in which the story takes place.

It’s all condensed. The book’s broken into three parts. The reveal, so to speak, is revealed toward the end of the first act, and the same is true of the film. You have to cram it into 100 minutes.

There’s a really distinct voice to the book, which is told in the first person by Kathy (Mulligan’s character) — she’s a typical schoolgirl with a lot of typical adolescent experiences, and yet underlying all that is this extraordinary world. What were the challenges of bringing that voice to screen?

Capturing that voice was a matter of finding the perfect actress for Kathy — for all the characters. When we discovered Carey Mulligan — the head of the studio at the time saw “An Education” at Sundance. He knew we were struggling to find the perfect Kathy, and typed me a text in the middle of the film that said, “Hire the genius Mulligan. This is the girl to play that role.” That’s a big part of it — Carey brought her to life.

You’ve said that you’d initially considered some more traditional sci-fi elements, visually, and then discarded most of them. Can you tell me about that decision, and whether you feel like there are some sci-fi influences on the film?

Part of the appeal on the filmmaking side was that I felt we could create a world that you hadn’t quite seen before, and that was a style of science fiction that you don’t often get to see. But if people go to the movie expecting to see a science fiction film, they’ll be disappointed. It’s a love story, and the brilliant, strange alternate history that Kazuo concocted gives the whole film this discreet science fiction feel, but it’s not very up front.

Early on, we were toying with more obvious science fiction tropes. We kept trying to get them in there, because we thought maybe it would make the film more fun or visually appealing or punchy. And they never felt right. One day, a light bulb went off, and I said, “I don’t think we should do any of this. This should be the science fiction film with no science fiction in it.” And that felt absolutely right, because the science fiction is really just a clever delivery system for the bigger themes.

09172010_neverletmego4.jpgI saw the film with a colleague who remarked that she found the main character very passive. Does that seem fair to you? How do you portray someone who never challenges that awful path she’s set on?

Technically, she is passive in the sense that she doesn’t always drive the action and she’s an observer of her world. But I think Carey plays it brilliantly, because she comes at it from a position of such moral and spiritual strength. She exudes this quality of stoicism that becomes a form of emotional activity. It’s a predicament of a lot of 20th century movies — there’s a quality of alienation, the characters are not driving the action. There’s other things they’re dealing with that are more internal. I find it deeply compelling, the grace that she displays in the face of her predicament.

This notion that she doesn’t rail against her fate, that none of these characters struggles to escape — Kazuo speaks really eloquently about this. He never set out to write the book about the brave slaves that rebel. There are lots of good stories like that, and that’s not what he was interested in. In almost all of his books, he’s simply more interested in how people don’t tend to escape.

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Give Back

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.


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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