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A Spirited Q & A With “The Exploding Girl” Director Bradley Rust Gray

A Spirited Q & A With “The Exploding Girl” Director Bradley Rust Gray (photo)

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As a way of celebrating this year’s nominees for the Spirit Awards in the weeks leading up to the ceremony, we reached out to as many as we could in an effort to better understand what went into their films, what they’ve gotten out of the experience, and where they’ve found their inspiration, both in regards to their work and other works of art that might’ve inspired them from the past year. Their answers will be published on a daily basis throughout February.

Being a director can be a lonely profession, which is why Bradley Rust Gray is clearly onto something. A year after his wife So Yong Kim was nominated for the John Cassavetes Award at the Spirit Awards for the drama “Treeless Mountain” (on which he was a producer), Gray returns to the same category this year as a director with “The Exploding Girl” (a film that naturally his wife produced). However, the theme of isolation has been very much a theme of the Gray-Kim household, whether it’s in a foreign country (like Kim’s “In Between Days”) or abandonment (“Treeless Mountain”) and so it continues with “The Exploding Girl,” a beautifully wrought character study of a young woman (Zoe Kazan) afraid to reveal her true emotions at the risk of triggering her epilepsy during a summer in the city.

Gray’s nomination for the John Cassavetes Award is an allusion to the film’s sparse budget, necessitating stolen shots on the subway and a primary cast of just two. But in that famous New Yorker’s spirit, it could just as easily be a reference to how the director presents the metropolis, not necessarily in the gritty style of Cassavetes, but nonetheless a side that isn’t often seen on film. Yes, the commotion of the sirens and the constant construction can be overwhelming to a fragile soul like Kazan’s Ivy, who also finds herself at the mercy of that staple of urban panic, the cell phone, awaiting the call of a boyfriend who seems to be drifting away. Yet in Gray’s Manhattan, she can take shelter in the darkness of a dimly lit street where the plastic sheets covering a corner bodega float in the night or sit atop a rooftop with her friend (Mark Rendall) and bask in the wonder of flight of the birds overhead. In “The Exploding Girl,” the experience of growing up needn’t be an ugly one, and Gray summons the full power of cinema to demonstrate why.

Why did you want to make this film?

I was at the end of my rope.

What was the best piece of advice you received that applied to the making of this film?

“Dude, just make it.” from my wife.

What was the toughest thing to overcome, whether it applies to a particular scene or the film as a whole?

The schedule was a bit tight in that we had a 17-day shoot and our actor, Mark Rendall, was unexpectedly available for the first seven days. But everyone made this work to our advantage. The main actress, Zoe Kazan, and I got to really spend time with her character and the crew fell into a good rhythm. It was a pleasure to shoot the film, despite the obstacles. For example, it took two hours to mount the camera on the hood of a car for the opening shot, and just when we finished, the battery died. So we had to spend another two hours re-doing it. In turn, [we] had to cut two scenes out of the film in order to shoot the opening and closing scenes that day. But I haven’t missed those lost scenes since. And I’m happy with the beginning and end of the film. We also lost all of the financing about four weeks before starting and had to make the film on a fifth of the original budget. But I feel this helped focus our intentions, not that I’d like to repeat that approach.

What’s been the most memorable moment while you’ve traveled with the film, either at a festival or otherwise?

We showed the film in Ljubljana exactly when the Slovenian national team was playing their qualifying match for the World Cup. The game ended about ten minutes before the film did and I found out that a small cheer spread through the film audience over Slovenian’s victory. (I was watching the game during the screening.) I’m not sure how they liked the film, but it was the most excited I’ve ever seen an crowd after a viewing.

What’s your favorite thing about your film that’s been largely uncommented upon?

There’s a scene in the film where the main character, Ivy, finds her friend’s tape recorder in a suitcase he’s left at her mother’s apartment. When we shot the scene, I asked Zoe to just pick up the recorder and press play. I had no idea what was on the tape. I figured I’d just record something with Mark later on that would fit the scene. Unbeknownst to all of us, however, he had recorded a song that was cued up. It was a wonderful found moment for all of us on the crew and for Zoe. But no one ever really comments on it, because it’s unlikely anyone would think it was a surprise.

What’s been the most gratifying thing to come out of this film for you personally?

I’m very happy that the actors were well-received.

What’s been your favorite film, book or album from the past year?

We just saw a rough cut of a new film by Romanian filmmaker Adrian Sitaru called “Best Intentions” and it’s incredible. The film has locked itself in my head. The acting is mindblowingly naturalistic, he’s doing something I’ve never seen before with the camera (unique and simple, but extremely well executed), and the film has a very honest heart. It focuses on a family relationship on the level of Ozu. I’m a big fan.

This is going to sound biased, but I’m also very excited about my wife’s new film, “For Ellen.” We’ve been editing together for the last two months, so I’ve probably seen the film over thirty times recently, and I still fall into it. I’m very inspired by her work.

“The Exploding Girl” is now available on DVD, Amazon On Demand, Netflix Instant, and iTunes, among other services. The Spirit Awards will air on IFC on February 26th.

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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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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

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