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A Spirited Q & A With “Tiny Furniture” Cinematographer Jody Lee Lipes

A Spirited Q & A With “Tiny Furniture” Cinematographer Jody Lee Lipes (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.

It would be one thing to say that Jody Lee Lipes had a beautiful year, but it would be equally accurate to say he made the year beautiful for the rest of us. Following the accomplishments of lensing Antonio Campos’ “Afterschool” in 2008 and directing the doc “Brock Enright: Good Times Will Never Be the Same” in 2009, 2010 began with a bang when Lipes landed at SXSW with the wondrous “NY Export: Opus Jazz,” the film he co-directed with Henry Joost that updates Jerome Robbins’ urban ballet that functions as a pure distillation of cinema and dance. He later headed to Cannes with the contemplative “Two Gates of Sleep,” Alistair Banks Griffin’s drama about two brothers transporting their mother’s corpse across rough terrain, and if there’s a common thread between the three vastly different films, it’s how Lipes can convey a sense of dignity in both the lightest and darkest corners of the world and of humanity in general.

02052011_lipes.jpgDuring his time in Austin, Lipes clarified to Aaron Hillis that he would prefer to be described as a filmmaker rather than a director of photography, a distinction that makes sense well beyond the fact he’s already worn many other hats besides that of a cinematographer. And yet his name has become a badge of honor on any film that lists him in the credits, a promise to the audience that their eyes will be dazzled.

Incredibly, as Lipes mentions below, he almost wasn’t hired for Lena Dunham’s “Tiny Furniture,” the film that garnered him a Spirit Award nomination for best cinematography. If there was any risk in hiring him, it surely paid off since it was his camerawork that brought focus to the writer/director’s cockeyed view of the world, operating almost as the prim and proper Laurel to the blustery Hardy of Lena Dunham’s Aura, the free-thinking, overprivileged/ understimulated New Yorker that barrels through the wilderness of post-collegiate life. Dynamic duos like this don’t come around often, so it’s no surprise Lipes and Dunham have continued their collaboration on the upcoming HBO series “Girls,” which in addition to his work on the Sundance winner “Martha Marcy May Marlene,” suggests 2011 may even be a more momentous year for the filmmaker than 2010. At this point, momentum may be the only thing that could widen Lipes’ scope.

Why did you want to make this film?

I had just finished working on “NY Export: Opus Jazz,” the largest production I had been a part of up till that point in my career, and I was looking to shoot a really small film without crew or any of the machine that comes along with a budget. So when Kyle Martin told me about Lena’s script and the scale he was imagining for the film, I really wanted to read it. I remember calling Lena when my plane was taking off as I was returning from some job in California, I sort of begged her to give me a try on that voicemail cause she had already decided against working with me. Luckily, she reconsidered.

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

Just watching Gordon Willis’ work prepared me for this film in a lot of ways. He is one of my favorite storytellers.

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

The toughest thing about “Tiny Furniture” was the camera we were using (the Canon 7D), it’s not very forgiving and it’s painful to operate. My longtime friend and AC quit the first day cause it was so difficult to work with. In the end, the movie got a lot of attention because we were one of the first couple features to work with that technology, but it’s not something I’m planning on doing again.

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

The most memorable moment was watching Lena on the Craig Ferguson show in December. It was kind of hard to believe a year after we starting shooting this no-budget film in her parents’ apartment that Lena had come so far and achieved so much. It’s really been a pleasure to watch.

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

My favorite thing about the film was the complete lack of expectation about the product we were making while we were making it.

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

The most gratifying thing to come out of this process has been the extreme pleasure of working with Lena, Judd Apatow and Jenni Konner on Lena’s new HBO show. It’s amazing to learn from and collaborate with such gifted and dedicated minds.

Your favorite film, book or album from the past year?

“Catacombs” by Cass McCombs is the album I’ve listened too most over the course of the last year, he is simply the best.

“Tiny Furniture” remains available on demand and continues to play throughout the U.S. A full list of screenings can be found here. The Spirit Awards will air on IFC on February 26th.

[Additional photo: “NY Export: Opus Jazz,” Credit: Yaniv Schulman, 2010]

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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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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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