Category: Production Notes
The director’s new film isn’t without resonance, writes Richard Lawson from Cannes, but is too preoccupied with its least interesting character.
There are maybe three different movies fighting against each other in Woody Allen’s new film, Café Society, which opened the 2016 Cannes Film Festival on Wednesday night. It’s part creakily nostalgic ode to Old Hollywood, part satiric appreciation of the Jewish-American male’s romantic neuroses, and part wistful, half-serious rumination on the ephemeral fixations of love.
I like that last movie, Allen in his reflective years revisiting a familiar, old trope—the sexual-social peccadillos of the heterosexual intellectual—with a final huff of “Eh, who knows?” Café Society ends on a pleasing note of bittersweet ambiguity—or perhaps there’s nothing ambiguous about it, Allen arguing that there is certainly some uncertainty in life, always a wondering about what could be, a speculation that never quite merits seeking out answers.
But the other two-thirds of this disjointed movie, which starts in 1930s Los Angeles and ends in the New York City social scene referenced in the title, is Allen at his most lazily Allen-ish, Jesse Eisenberg’s aspiring somebody (what he does to “make it” doesn’t really matter) rattling through scene after scene of fretting dully over women, all of whom are inexplicably attracted to this irksome, self-involved jerk.
Those women are played by Kristen Stewart and Blake Lively, both giving appealing performances. (Though, Stewart’s cadence is perhaps a bit too modern.) Neither character—the Hollywood assistant Eisenberg’s Bobby courts nor the New York society gal he eventually marries—is very fleshed out, but these two often unfairly maligned actresses do their best at pretending that Bobby is worth anyone’s time.
Buried underneath all of Café Society’s cheap-looking period gloss—the cinematography, by Vittorio Storaro, is oddly lush and intricate and garish for an Allen picture—is a simple story of a young man exploring the sense of possibility he finds in women. The movie treats its female characters as territory to be discovered, resources to be used, in Bobby’s journey toward manhood. There will always be another girl flickering and flaring on the outskirts of a man’s life, roads not taken more than people not known, and there is something a little sad, and a little sweet about that, Café Society suggests.
Which, sure. At 80 years old, Allen is well positioned to look back at the entanglements of youth with a knowing sigh. But much of Café Society is tainted by a cynical, transactional view of (straight) sex and romance, Allen perhaps setting his film in the shimmery past to protect himself from the glare of social consciousness. There’s a truly hideous scene in which Bobby hires a prostitute (played by Anna Camp with her usual despite-it-all dignity) who shows up late, annoying Bobby, and then practically begs him to sleep with her out of a desperate need for validation. Allen used to be somewhat insightful about women—Hannah and Her Sisters at least had a glow of empathy to it—but his view on the sexes has gotten narrower and far less charitable as he’s aged.
Bobby and his uncle, a high-powered agent played with alarming flatness by Steve Carell, consistently forgive their own loutishness as they go, preventing the film from achieving any truly honest self-assessment. Ultimately, Allen seems not nostalgic for the particular era of his birth—the dread-tinged time between the Depression and World War II—but instead for a certain callowness that is no longer celebrated the way it used to be. Only one man, Bobby’s gangster brother, played by Corey Stoll, gets any comeuppance for his loutishness, but it’s for a number of murders.
Bobby and his uncle—both philanderers and objectifiers of women—don’t need to be punished, of course, but some sense of balance or fairness or perspective would be appreciated here. Especially when the movie is so stocked with talented actresses giving winning performances. There’s Stewart and Lively, but also Parker Posey as a Dorothy Parker–esque friend, Jeannie Berlin as Bobby’s plainspoken mother, and a warm Sari Lennick as his sister.
Still, when Café Society reaches its quiet conclusion, Allen has managed to conjure up some pensive feeling, softening his movie’s jarring pointiness. The film is nowhere near as effective as, say, Midnight in Paris’s murmuring about time, or his earlier dramas’ rueful interpersonal wisdom, but it’s not entirely without resonance. I just wish the film wasn’t so fascinated by the least interesting character wandering around this whole crazy scene called life.
“People Like Us” was filmed entirely in Los Angeles and the surrounding area. Instead of iconic landmarks and tourist attractions, the locations the filmmakers chose were more grassroots, hometown Los Angeles—the L.A. most tourists never see. As producer Bobby Cohen explains, “There is something special about shooting in real locations. There is a texture to them that you can’t rebuild. It makes a difference. That had been one of Alex’s [Kurtzman, director] main things from the get-go—he wanted to shoot the parts of L.A. that don’t normally get attention.”
Continues Cohen, “We’re not shooting the tourists’-eye view of L.A. As a born New Yorker, it’s been fun shooting in more offbeat neighborhoods. Alex intuitively understands the moods of these places and has done a very good job of capturing those moods on film.”
Director Alex Kurtzman comments, “I’m a native Los Angeleno and my city is not the glitzy, cliched Los Angeles that I feel like I see on screen in other films. I felt strongly about representing the L.A. that was the story of the movie and was one that others had never seen.”
One of the scenes in the film was shot at Rhino Records, one of the oldest record stores still in existence, and famed Hollywood High School became the setting for the Toluca Park Middle School. Old-time eateries Henry’s Tacos, Cole’s French Dip and Neptune’s Net were featured to lend authentic L.A. flavor—no pun intended.
Shooting in real locations, such as the houses, restaurants, schools and churches used in the film, presents challenges for lighting—walls cannot be moved and there are usually not high ceilings to accommodate the lights. But director of photography Sal Totino was a genius at coming up with simple, yet elegant ways to light the film that did not sacrifice the high quality of the filming.
Director Alex Kurtzman relates, “To Sal Totino, it isn’t about what’s the most beautiful lighting scheme. It’s about: how is this frame telling the emotional story of the characters? That’s the first question that he asks. He translates an emotion beautifully. I can’t imagine ever working with anyone else.”
Production designer Ida Random brought a very real look to the film, as if the audience were actually brought into the living room of a familiar house. Without overdoing the production design, Random was able to create an intimacy and comfort level that draws the viewers in, but never visually bores them.
Much of the music business memorabilia in the “Jerry’s Study” set belongs to Jody Lambert’s father Dennis Lambert, a Songwriters Hall of Fame nominee whose hits as writer and/or producer include “Ain’t No Woman (Like The One I Got) “, “Rhinestone Cowboy”, “Baby Come Back” and “Nightshift.” Lambert showed production designer Ida Random a storage unit full of his father’s memorabilia and she used it in the set, including photographs of Dennis Lambert himself and his actual Gold records.
Costume designer Mary Zophres continued the “real” look with her choice of clothing for the characters and the extras. Zophres says, “It’s not the kind of movie where you want the clothes to be front and center. They tell the story of who the characters are and then you move on. You shouldn’t be aware of the clothes. They should just sort of tell the story and go away.”
In dressing Chris Pine’s character Sam, Zophres had him in an expensive suit that is above his means at the start of the film, but when he goes to L.A. he only packs casual clothes for what he thinks is a 48-hour stay: two pairs of jeans, three T-shirts, a jacket and two button down plaid shirts.
For Elizabeth Banks’ character Frankie, Zophres chose a leather jacket that she wears a lot in the beginning of the movie. Then as the story progresses, she loses the jacket as her character evolves. The subtle shift in costuming was deliberate to parallel the storyline.
In dressing Michelle Pfeiffer’s character Lillian, Zophres took into account that the character had cared for her dying husband for some time and probably lost some weight without knowing it, thus she dressed her in slightly looser clothes.
Zophres was also very aware of the background costuming. “The background helps tell the story. We’ve had very specific scenes where there should be a look to where were, like we were at Cole’s downtown versus The Standard. Those are two hugely different looks. One is an old diner and the other is a trendy nightclub. You reveal those two places through how you dress the people in the background. It is a very important element to me.”
Related Link: View the Full Production Notes for People Like Us
Doris Miller, the heroine of Hello, My Name is Doris, began her cinematic life in an eight-minute film called Doris and the Intern, written and directed by then film student Laura Terruso. Michael Showalter first viewed the short while teaching film at Terruso’s alma mater, the prestigious New York University Tisch School of the Arts. He was immediately struck by the budding writer and director’s inventive sense of humor and fresh outlook on love.
“It was a very funny, very sweet, offbeat little film about a middle-aged office worker named Doris who marches to the beat of her own drummer,” Showalter remembers. “She develops a crush on a teenage intern and when she realizes that it’s unrequited, she steals his bicycle. Doris was a new kind of comedic protagonist with a lot of potential for development.”
Showalter, one of the creators of Wet Hot American Summer as well as a prolific actor, director and producer, is always on the lookout for new and original comic voices. “The character of Doris and her story were new and different,” he says. “To begin with, there aren’t a lot of movies that have an older actress playing the comedic lead role. She is an eccentric and, in a lot of ways, damaged person, but I also saw a great deal that I identified with and I think a lot of other people will, too.”
Eight minutes had given Terruso barely enough time to introduce Doris to an audience, so when Showalter and Terruso began developing the short into a feature film, they opened up the story, exploring different scenarios as they got better acquainted with Doris and her world. “Laura and I spent a lot of time talking about where we could take this,” the director says. “We expanded and refined the story line, added some other characters and spent a lot of time exploring Doris’ life.”
Eventually the pair developed a backstory for Doris that included a lifetime of taking care of her ailing mother and what Showalter likes to call “a clutter habit.” The Miller family home on Staten Island is a living museum, packed with “treasures” that Doris and her mother have accumulated over the years.
“We avoid saying that Doris is a hoarder because that brings in a whole lot of negative connotations that we don’t think apply to her,” says Showalter. “She certainly has a very strong relationship with her possessions. We came up with what we felt was a very authentic, very idiosyncratic way of being. Her wardrobe in particular has agency in the artisanal culture of New York City and she becomes an accidental hipster.”
Doris is a classic outsider, socially isolated by her temperament as well as her responsibilities for her ailing mother. At her job, longtime co-workers have been replaced by younger, hipper colleagues who view her as a vaguely amusing relic. When her mother dies, she is adrift. For the first time in her life, she is answerable to no one but herself.
“She is somewhat stunted emotionally, which in a lot of ways makes this an archetypal coming-of-age story,” Showalter says. “What happens is that Doris falls in love for the first time and has to learn how to navigate romance. Even though chronologically she is in her 60s, she also has her heart broken for the first time, something that happens to most of most of when we are teenagers.
“In a lot of ways, she’s unscathed by society,” he continues. “There’s a naivetÃ© about her that allows her to do things and say things that are both very funny and surprising, but also speak to her humanity. She still has the idealism of a child. That’s really appealing to me. She’s not jaded in the way that most of us become as we get older.”
With the character firmly in their sights, Terruso and Showalter passed the script back and forth, developing additional scenes, writing and rewriting. “Our earliest drafts of the movie were more darkly comedic,” says Showalter. “When we started working with Daniela Taplin Lundberg and Riva Marker of Red Crown Films, we began to find more of an arc and a catharsis for the character. We also started to focus on the comic aspects of Doris’ obsessive love for John, which helped us to figure out what is really motivating her.”
Taglines: Monsters come in many forms.
Following an argument with her fiancé Ben, Michelle leaves New Orleans and drives through rural Louisiana. Late at night, she turns on the radio only to hear that there were continuous blackouts in major cities.
Distracted by a call from Ben, Michelle gets into an accident and is rendered unconscious. She wakes up in a concrete room chained to a wall, and is approached by a man named Howard, who explains that an unknown attack has taken place and that he brought her to his bunker after finding her on the side of the road.
Michelle meets Emmett, another survivor who witnessed the attack and fled to Howard’s bunker. During dinner, an unconvinced Michelle steals Howard’s keys and tries to escape, but discovers Leslie, a woman suffering from a severe skin infection, begging to get into the bunker. When Leslie dies from the infection, Michelle realizes Howard was right and stays.
As time passes, the trio begins adapting to living underground, and Michelle learns of Howard’s daughter Megan. When the air filtration unit breaks down, Howard asks Michelle to climb through the air ducts to reset the system. She discovers a window with the word ‘HELP’ scratched on the inside and a bloody earring that she recognizes from a picture of Megan. She shows the picture to Emmett, who recognizes her as a missing girl from his high school, Brittany.
They then discover a polaroid of Brittany wearing the same clothes loaned to Michelle. Realizing that Howard is dangerous, they begin to plan an escape and fashion a biohazard suit, but Howard discovers what they are doing. In defense of Michelle, Emmett accepts the blame and claims he was creating a weapon. After accepting an apology from Emmett, Howard summarily executes him with a revolver.
Michelle works to complete the biohazard suit but is discovered by Howard. She dumps a vat of perchloric acid on him, severely injuring him and inadvertently starting an electrical fire. She climbs back through the air ducts, puts on the suit, and escapes outside, where she realizes the air is not toxic. Moments later, a techno-organic extraterrestrial craft appears in the distance. The underground bunker explodes, killing Howard in the process and attracting the craft’s attention.
Michelle flees to Howard’s farmhouse, where she finds Leslie’s dead body. Toxic gas is released, forcing her to take shelter in Howard’s truck, which is then picked up by the craft as it attempts to consume her. However, Michelle assembles a Molotov cocktail and throws it into the craft, destroying it in an explosion.
10 Cloverfield Lane
Directed by: Dan Trachtenberg
Starring: Mary Elizabeth Winstead, John Goodman, John Gallagher, Mat Vairo, Jamie Clay, Cindy Hogan, Sumalee Montano, Suzanne Cryer, Bradley Cooper
Production Design by: Ramsey Avery
Cinematography by: Jeff Cutter
Costume Design by: Meagan McLaughlin
Set Decoration by, Michelle Marchand, Kellie Jo Tinney
Music by: Bear McCreary
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for thematic material including frightening sequences of threat with some violence, and brief language.
Studio: Paramount Pictures
Release Date: March 11, 2016
Dissatisfied with the state of her career covering low-profile stories, television journalist Kim Baker (Tina Fey) agrees to take a short assignment as a war correspondent in Afghanistan during Operation Enduring Freedom, to the disappointment of her boyfriend Chris (Josh Charles), who also spends a lot of time traveling. Assigned low-budget living quarters with other international journalists, she begins friendships with noted Australian correspondent Tanya Vanderpoel (Margot Robbie) and openly lecherous Scottish freelance photographer Iain MacKelpie (Martin Freeman).
After a period of adjustment aided by her Afghan “fixer” Fahim Ahmadzai (Christopher Abbott), she begins taking well to the assignment, eliciting frank remarks on camera from soldiers questioning the value of their assignment there, and putting herself in harm’s way to capture combat incidents on video. American Marines commander General Hollanek (Billy Bob Thornton) takes a dim view of her, as an inexperienced nuisance.
Despite the danger, Kim stays in Afghanistan for months, then years beyond her original assignment. She catches Chris unprepared with a middle-of-the-night video call, and finds him with another woman, ending their relationship. Against her better judgment, she begins a sexual relationship with Iain, which over time also develops into a more personal one.
Although her status as a woman presents challenges in a society which places restrictive roles on women, she also uses it to her advantage, gaining access to women in a village who explain that they’ve been sabotaging the US-built well because they welcome the daily walk to the river away from the men, and recklessly carrying a camera under a burqa to record a religious demonstration.
She also walks a tightrope, taking advantage of the thinly-veiled sexual interest of Afghan government figure Ali Massoud Sadiq (Alfred Molina) to use him as a source. Fahim – who treated opium addicts before the war – cautions her, pointing out that danger can be like a drug.
Whiskey, Tango, Foxtrot
Directed by: Glenn Ficarra, John Requa
Starring: Margot Robbie, Tina Fey, Martin Freeman, Billy Bob Thornton, Alfred Molina, Ava Del Cielo, Evan Jonigkeit, Julianne Medina
Screenplay by: Robert Carlock
Production Design by: Beth Mickle
Cinematography by: Xavier Grobet
Film Editing by: Jan Kovac
Costume Design by: Lisa Lovaas
Set Decoration by: Lisa K. Sessions
Art Direction by: Derek Jensen
Music by: Nick Urata
Studio: Paramount Pictures
Release Date: March 4, 2016
Julie Taymor, the groundbreaking visionary behind Revolution Studios’ new film Across the Universe, says that she first conceived a film that would, in her words, “investigate the ‘60s. It had to penetrate all levels of the Beatles’ songs. From the love songs to the political songs, the music and the film would not just reflect the microcosm of a character’s experience, but, from my perspective, would also represent the macrocosm of the events that are happening in the world.”
For Taymor, though the film is set a generation back, making the story and the film fresh and alive for today’s audiences was the entire point. “I really want young people to see the passion in this movie – to see with what fervor these characters invested themselves into social movements as well as self-exploration,” she says. “I hope it really speaks ‘across the universe’ and across cultures… that anybody could identify with the situations and the events that are happening in this movie.”
According to producer Jennifer Todd, the film is an artistic statement from Taymor. “In addition to being a unique voice, Julie is the hardest-working director I’ve ever worked with,” she says. “It’s an amazingly satisfying experience to work with someone who lives and breathes the movie morning, noon, and night. One particular weekend, we went away and came back to discover that an entire new sequence had been invented. Because she’s like that, she attracts people who want to work just as hard to achieve her vision.”
Producer Matthew Gross, who generated the project, concurs. “Julie is a national treasure,” he says. “She is a true artist – not only does she bring visual appeal, but she has just the right touch with the singers and dancers, which was so necessary for this film. The work she did in Titus and Frida show her incredible vision. In addition, because everyone wants to work with Julie Taymor – and with good reason – she is able to attract top artists and amazing talent to work with her. She is a tremendous asset to the film in every way.”
Unlike most musicals, where a story comes first and songs are inserted in at key points, the songs created the story. “Beginning with over 200 songs written by the Beatles, we eventually chose 33 that we felt best told the story of a generation and a time,” says Taymor.
Todd explains, “The film is an original musical and it has an original story – one you’ve never seen before, inspired by Beatles’ music in a way that you haven’t heard before.” “The entire concept of this musical,” Taymor explains, “is that the lyrics will tell the story. They are the libretto, they are the arias, they are the emotion of the characters.” Although Taymor was only in her early teens in the 1960s, the story was inspired by her childhood observations:
“Lucy and Max, the brother and sister, are modeled slightly after my own older brother and sister, and I’m Julia, the young girl who’s watching. During that time, I was a voyeur to what my parents were going through with teenagers and then college students who were going through the radical political movement: the draft, the hippies, the drugs. And so I was there – I didn’t get immersed myself, but I watched it.”
Taymor admired the outspoken spirit of the time. “People really took chances,” she says. “As Lucy says, ‘I’d lie down in front of a tank if it would bring my brother home from the war.’ And of course Jude responds, ‘But it wouldn’t,’ and she gets upset and she says, ‘Does that mean you don’t think I should try?’ I’m so moved by the fact that at that time, people would try.”
But Taymor definitely did not view the project as a piece of nostalgia. She notes that many of the issues facing young people in the ‘60s are still very relevant today. The filmmakers’ goal was to translate the passion and feeling of the 60s and have it resonate in a way that made it feel as contemporary as possible. The reason to make a film like this, in her mind, was the immediacy of the themes. “You constantly have to revisit these stories in order to reflect upon your present and really think, ‘What is it that’s different now?’” Taymor says. “That era is explicitly important to our time now.”
In order to bring the era to life, Taymor and screenwriters Dick Clement & Ian La Frenais created an entirely new story, using the songs to guide their way. “Characters were created for the songs,” Taymor continues. “For example, the character Prudence: I loved the idea of taking ‘I Want to Hold Your Hand’ and giving it to an innocent cheerleader in Ohio.”
The song begins with the young girl singing plaintively on the sidelines of the football field. “We don’t change the lyrics,” says Taymor, “but partway through, you realize she’s not in love with the quarterback – she’s in love with the blonde cheerleader. All of the sudden the song works in a totally different way, because it’s about repressed love. By the end of the song, this young girl, who doesn’t even know what she’s feeling, leaves home. She hitchhikes her way to New York City. Without having to go into the background of the character, without having to see her mother and her father and her life story, the song says it all.”
“As we went through the journeys of characters, songs came up,” Taymor continues. “In the story, Max is going to be drafted into the Army. I went through dozens of songs until finally I got to ‘I Want You’ and it registered in my head, ‘My God, “I Want You,” isn’t that the Uncle Sam motto?’” It was a perfect fit.
In still other cases, like “Revolution,” the directness of the lyrics led them to portray the emotion of a scene in a stronger way than dialogue could. “When Jude sings ‘Revolution,’ he’s actually breaking into the Students For Democratic Reform office, going right up to Lucy, and using the emotion of the music and those lyrics to express himself instead of saying it just with straight dialogue,” notes Taymor. “He keeps singing because he’s in a state of being that is beyond the everyday; he’s in a heightened state that’s going to get him beat up and thrown out by the end of the song. It really helps us encapsulate time, because the music helps you to go very quickly through an emotional state and get to another level that is very, very heightened and very dramatic.”
Related Link: View the Full Production Notes for Across the Universe
Midnight in Paris is a romantic comedy fantasy film written and directed by Woody Allen. Set in Paris, the film follows Gil Pender, a screenwriter, who is forced to confront the shortcomings of his relationship with his materialistic fiancée and their divergent goals, which become increasingly exaggerated as he travels back in time each night at midnight. The movie explores themes of nostalgia and modernism.
Produced by Spanish group Mediapro and Allen’s Gravier Productions, the film stars Owen Wilson, Rachel McAdams, Marion Cotillard, Léa Seydoux, Kathy Bates and Adrien Brody. It premiered at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival and was released in North America in May 2011. The film opened to critical acclaim and has commonly been cited as one of Allen’s best films in recent years. In 2012, the film won both the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay and the Golden Globe Awards for Best Screenplay; and was nominated for three other Academy Awards: Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Art Direction. It was shown on Channel 3 on Spanish television with subtitles and won a Goya Award.
Even for people who have never been to Paris, the name of the city is more than a metaphor for magic—it’s almost a synonym. Certainly there’s no better place on earth that Woody Allen could have chosen for his new romantic comedy than Paris. It is a city with a unique mythology and heritage, celebrated for the extraordinary beauty of its streets, boulevards and gardens, as well as the splendor found inside so many of the greatest museums in the world.
The resonance of its history, from major political and cultural events to the aura of its legendary restaurants and cafés, is felt everywhere. The past endures and shines brightly in Paris, which makes it well-suited for a story of a man reinvigorating his feelings and finding inspiration to reflect on his life.
Midnight in Paris is Woody Allen’s valentine to the City of Lights, which he considers equal to New York as the great city of the world. “Of course I’m partial to New York because I was born there and grew up there,” he says, “but if I didn’t live in New York, Paris is the place I would live.” The film is the second time Allen has filmed there, after a small bit of EVERYONE SAYS I LOVE YOU. “I get great enjoyment out of presenting Paris to the cinema audience the way I see it,” he says. “Just as with New York, where I present it one way, and other directors present it other ways, somebody else could come and shoot Paris in a completely different way. I want to present it my way, projecting my own feelings about it.”
Allen fell in love with Paris during the shooting of WHAT’S NEW PUSSYCAT, his debut film as an actor and writer. Much like Gil, the protagonist of MIDNIGHT IN PARIS, he’s rueful about not staying there after the filming, as others on the film did. “It was an adventure that was too bold for me at the time,” he says. “In retrospect I could have stayed, or at the very minimum taken an apartment and divided my time—but I didn’t, and I regret that.”
Midnight in Paris
Directed by: Woody Allen
Starring: Kathy Bates, Adrien Brody, Carla Bruni, Marion Cotillard, Rachel McAdams, Michael Sheen, Owen Wilson, Nina Arianda, Audrey Fleurot, Alison Pill
Screenplay by: Woody Allen
Production Design by: Anne Seibel
Cinematography by: Darius Khondji
Film Editing by: Alisa Lepselter
Costume Design by: Sonia Grande
Set Decoration by: Hélène Dubreuil
Art Direction by: Jean-Yves Rabier
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for some sexual references and smoking.
Studio: Sony Pictures Classics
Release Date: May 20, 2011
Related Link: View the Full Production Notes for Midnight in Paris
Written, directed and starring Lena Dunham, Tiny Furniture explores the depths of romantic humiliation and the heights of post-college confusion; the darkest parts of the big city’s bright lights and the newest ways to tell the oldest story in the book.
The film also stars Dunham’s real-life sister, Grace, and real-life mother, Laurie Simmons, the celebrated artist and photographer. Tiny Furniture was beautifully shot by Jody Lee Lipes (Afterschool, NY Export: Opus Jazz), the emerging cinematographer and filmmaker who was named by Filmmaker Magazine as one of their 25 new faces of 2009.
In Tiny Furniture, Lena Dunham plays Aura, just graduated from college and broken up with her boyfriend, who returns to the family apartment in Tribeca, where she lives with her mother, Siri, a famous photographer of tiny furniture, and her prettier and cooler sister, Nadine. (They are played by Dunham’s real-life photographer mother, Laurie Simmons, and real-life sister, Grace Dunham.) Aura wants to be a filmmaker—she posts exhibitionist videos on YouTube—but is more than a little adrift.
She spends the movie doing not much at all: bickering with her family, hanging out with her druggy-spoiled-abrasive BFF, Charlotte (scene-stealing Jemima Kirke), making sorta friends with an aspiring comic, Jed (Alex Karpovsky), and halfheartedly working as the hostess at a restaurant whose sous-chef Keith (David Call) she finds hot. Aura is, put simply, caught in young-person’s limbo. A child of privilege, she’s equal parts alienation and entitlement, ambition and confusion.
Tiny Furniture is an American independent comedy-drama written by, directed by, and starring Lena Dunham. It premiered at South by Southwest, where it won Best Narrative Feature, screened at such festivals as Maryland Film Festival, and was released theatrically in the United States on November 12, 2010. Dunham’s own mother, the artist Laurie Simmons, plays Aura’s mother, while her real sister, Grace, plays Aura’s on-screen sibling. The actors Jemima Kirke and Alex Karpovsky would also appear in Dunham’s television series Girls.
Directed by: Lena Dunham
Starring: Lena Dunham, Laurie Simmons, Grace Dunham, Jemima Kirke, Alex Karpovsky, Merritt Wever, Jody Lee Lipes
Screenplay by: Lena Dunham
Cinematography by: Jody Lee Lipes
Film Editing by: Lance Edmands
Set Decoration by: Chris Trujillo
Art Direction by: Jade Healy
Music by: Teddy Blanks
MPAA Rating: None.
Studio: IFC Films
Release Date: November 12, 2010
Related Link: Read the Full Production Notes for Tiny Furniture
The legend impacted multiple generations
In its more than 40-year history, one that has impacted multiple generations, “Star Trek” has carved out an iconic place in modern pop culture as the only ongoing story that encapsulates the awe, wonder and bold audacity of the human desire to reach for the stars. With the indelible opening words of the original 1960s television series, “Space, the Final Frontier,” a succession of journeys were launched across the cosmos that did and, to this day, still celebrate the thrill of adventure, the pioneering spirit of exploration and the drive to create an ever-more amazing future full of possibilities. The daring and provocative voyages of the Starship Enterprise, and the many ships that would soon follow in her flight path, have appealed to the stargazer in all of us, and our hopes and dreams that technological and cultural advances will bring out the best of our humanity.
The original TV series was not a hit when it first aired, but later caught on like wildfire among the ever-growing legion of fans who responded to its compellingly funny, contentious, charismatic personalities and its five-year mission to peacefully engage new worlds and cultures. But how did that mission begin? What brought together this disparate group of brash, brilliant, ambitious young men and women and drove them to explore new frontiers? And how did they forge that special chemistry and sense of purpose that would inspire so many discoveries and fantastic adventures for years and even centuries to come?
For director / producer J.J. Abrams, going back to the beginning after more than six television series and ten feature films was the only way to forge into the future. His vision was to literally start fresh, beginning with James T. Kirk and his one-day First Officer, the Vulcan Spock’s advancement in the placePlaceNameStarfleet PlaceTypeAcademy and their extraordinary first journey together.
Abrams came to the project with great respect for series creator Gene Roddenberry and all that “Star Trek” had achieved as the creator of an archetypal modern myth and cult phenomenon. However, he also wanted to take the story where it had never been before: making a state-of-the-art action epic about two heroic leaders as brash young men in the making.
“I was a fan of the original series, although I was never a Trekker,” says Abrams. “Yet I always felt there was something that had not been done with `Star Trek.’ There have been ten movies, but this is the first time that a movie has dealt with the fundamental, primary story Gene Roddenberry originally created in 1966.” Abrams continues: “What I hope with this movie is that you never have to have seen anything about `Star Trek’ before to really enjoy a comical, romantic, suspenseful adventure, but that it also does proud the lasting, brilliant world that Gene Roddenberry created. The brilliant thing `Star Trek’ brought to the world was a dose of optimism and I hope this movie continues in that tradition.”
While many anticipated a total re-boot from Abrams, he was excited to go in an unexpected direction, heading way back, as it were, into the never-seen 23rd century launch of the U.S.S. Enterprise. When he brought the idea of a “’Star Trek’ origin story” to producer Damon Lindelof, with whom Abrams (along with Jeffrey Lieber) created the contemporary television phenomenon “Lost,” the producer was instantly taken by the idea.
Explains Lindelof, “For me, the idea that no one has ever told an origin story for Kirk and Spock and all these characters was very cool. We had a great conversation about how this crew of people might have come together and learned to sacrifice certain parts of their personalities to get along. It was really fun and, next thing I knew, Bob Orci and Alex Kurtzman were writing a script.”
A fan of “Star Trek” since childhood, Lindelof believes the story’s premise and characters have continued to be so relevant for so long because they capture something essential about the space travel mythos: the sheer hopefulness of it. “Most stories we see now about the distant future are bleak, dismal and dystopian. The incredible thing about the initial `Star Trek’ television series is that it was so energetic, optimistic and cool. It presented the future the way we’d like to believe it will unfold. It’s a future to aim for.”
That view, he felt, was a great match for Abrams’ exuberant style of character-and-action-driven storytelling. “J.J. brings innovation to everything he does, but also brings an ability to boil a story down to its most human elements and translate hugely complicated production challenges into something with mass appeal, and that was all necessary to go back to the beginning of `Star Trek’ with today’s cinematic technology,” says Lindelof.
Adds executive producer Bryan Burk, who has also collaborated with Abrams on “Lost,” “Alias” and “Cloverfield”: “We envisioned this `Star Trek’ as a truly grand adventure about two very different men whose destiny is not only to become true friends, but iconic partners, guardians and explorers.”
Executive producer Jeffrey Chernov, who oversaw the line production, concludes: “The film for me became not only a new look at the `Star Trek’ universe, but a kind of cross between `The Right Stuff’ and the original `Star Wars.’ It has that fresh, imaginative, intergalactic storytelling, but is also very grounded in the idea of young men and women with a lot of heart and camaraderie. When you add J.J.’s mastery of action and love of scope, you have something very fun and entertaining.”
When it came to costumes for the Muppets, costume designer Rahel Afiley had her work cut out for her. “The biggest challenge was proportion of the Muppet body,” says Afiley. “Even if you design something that looks good on a person, it doesn’t mean it will look good on a Muppet. You have to keep in mind how much detail there is in the outfit, because if you have too much, it just takes over. If you have too little or if it’s below the waist, the detail is lost since the Muppets are only shown from the waist up.”
According to Afiley, fabric selection is critical in designing costumes for the Muppets. Lightweight fabrics aid in the ease of maneuverability of the Muppets. The costume designer also considered how each fabric would lay on the Muppet’s felt “skin.” And though cost was certainly a consideration, the needs of the scene were always top of mind. “We didn’t skimp on the quality of the fabric,” she says. “Miss Piggy has a jacket made of cashmere that cost 300 dollars a yard.”
True to her character, Miss Piggy was the biggest wardrobe challenge due to the quantity of costumes she required as well as her role as editor of Vogue Paris. Says Afiley, “James [Bobin] and I are not really into trends. We both love classic looks, and it was really important to us to bring Piggy back to how she was in the early Muppets.
“If you watch old movies,” Afiley continues, “you can take an outfit worn by someone like Audrey Hepburn that could easily be worn on the red carpet today. That was my inspiration for Miss Piggy’s fashions.”
To dress a fashionista like Miss Piggy, Afiley called on notable designers like Christian Louboutin, who designed a pair of glitter platform stiletto heels complete with the Louboutin signature red bottom. “We sent him a picture of the potential outfit the shoes would be worn with and he designed a custom creation based on that,” says Afiley.
Zac Posen was also tapped, designing a signature dress for the diva. Says Afiley, “I felt it should be a vintage-inspired gown.” The result? A spectacular Posen-designed gown in lavender that was used in the film’s finale.
Miss Piggy wasn’t the only Muppet who captured the attention of the fashion world. Kermit was dressed by the high-class men’s fashion house Brooks Brothers, which was already involved in the film—providing much of Chris Cooper’s wardrobe as well as tuxedos for other cast members. The Brooks Brothers design was worn by Kermit in the scene when he and Piggy walk the streets of Paris together.
Walter proved a fun challenge for the costume designer. The first task was to establish the newest Muppet’s character, and Bobin was convinced a powder-blue suit would do the trick, says Afiley. “Walter is like a proper little man, and James felt that the powder-blue suit represented this manly personality.” Brother Gary donned a similar suit for the film’s early travel scene, which helped showcase their attachment to each other.
Afiley had a clear vision for costumes for both Amy Adams and Jason Segel: timeless and classic. Because Segel is so tall, vintage clothes were hard to find for him because they tend to run small. “We literally went from thrift store to thrift store looking for his clothes,” says Afiley. While Gary’s character goes through an evolution in film, so did his attire. “He kind of grows up and evolves,” says the costume designer. “He transforms into a more mature person and we tried to reflect that in his wardrobe.”
According to Afiley, small-town girl Mary had to have clothing that wasn’t too trendy. “In the opening number, I wanted Amy to stand out and, because it was such a happy number, I wanted her outfit to reflect that. The yellow skirt was definitely a strategic choice to represent the happy world she came from.”
Mary’s wardrobe was to reflect her positive attitude across the board. The catch? Afiley was assembling the wardrobe during autumn months. “Everything in the stores was black, brown and gray,” says Afiley, “so we decided to go the vintage route. I designed all of her dresses with a vintage inspiration and then we found vintage fabric.” And like Gary, Mary’s character evolution inspired her wardrobe, says Afiley, who dressed the actress in a sophisticated look for the finale.
Related Link: Read the Full Production Notes for The Muppets Movie