Monday, June 28, 2010

Salivating at The Summer Fancy Food Show

Of the many events I have attended at the Javits Center, the one that really stirs the juices is the Fancy Food Show. A phantasmagoria of every style of condiment, sauce, chocolate bars and various packaged smoked salmons among the many foods sampled there, the Summer Fancy Food Show provides an incredible education for any journalist or professional foodie in the edible delights of a region or a country. The show takes over the NYC's Jacob K. Javits Convention Center June 27 – 29, 2010.

On the primary show floor, pavilions from countries such as France or Spain, or international distributors dominate and one can taste every variety of olive oil or pasta possible while sampling some new soda concoction or organic food phenomenon.

As the largest marketplace for specialty food in North America, this event showcases food trends as they become packaged, frozen or dried, this show reflects also the growing inclination towards the organic and sustainable -- all a good thing in this word of the artificial and chemicalized. This show is for those who want the best and the brightest and can get a chance to taste it.

To quote their own literature: "Since 1955, the Fancy Food Shows have been North America’s largest specialty food and beverage marketplace. Between the Winter Show in San Francisco and the Summer Show in New York City, the National Association for the Specialty Food Trade events bring in more than 40,000 attendees from more than 80 countries to see 260,000 innovative specialty food products, such as confections, cheese, coffee, snacks, spices, ethnic, natural, organic and more.

The NASFT is a not-for-profit trade association established in 1952 to foster commerce and interest in the specialty food industry. Today there are more than 2,900 member companies in the U.S. and abroad.
Only NASFT Members can exhibit at the Shows, where retailers, restaurateurs, distributors and others discover innovative, new food and beverage products. The Shows are attended by every major food buying channel, influential members of the trade and consumer press and other related businesses."

In addition to the two show floors, NASFT has scheduled the gala sofi™ Awards ceremony to take place tonight at the 56th Summer Show with internationally recognized executive chef Dan Barber to keynote

The sofi Awards recognize excellence in specialty foods and beverages in 33 categories and are considered the top honor in the $60 billion specialty food industry. “sofi” stands for Specialty Outstanding Food Innovation.

The awards are the highlight of the Show, and Barber, a prominent figure in the artisan and local food movement, was named one of Time Magazine’s 100 most influential people of 2009. He co-owns the restaurants Blue Hill in New York City and Blue Hill at Stone Barns in Pocantico Hills, N.Y., and is a board member of the Stone Barns Center for Food & Agriculture.

In honor of Barber's appearance at the sofi Awards, NASFT will donate his speaking fee to City Harvest, New York’s only food rescue program and the Fancy Food Show’s charity of choice for the past 20 years, and to the Stone Barns Center.

Barber is a member of City Harvest’s Food Council. Since 2007 alone, exhibitors at the Summer Fancy Food Show have donated more than half a million pounds of high-quality food to City Harvest, enough to fill 13 tractor trailers. The show donation has long been the largest single donation of perishable food to City Harvest each year.

The sofi Awards will be presented June 28, 2010, at 5 p.m. at the Javits Center.

For more information and to purchase tickets, goto

The Fancy Food Show is a trade event open to members of the specialty food trade only.

For more information on the NASFT and its Fancy Food Shows, go to

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Vincent Natali Fashion a Sci-Fi Horror Hybrid in Splice

Exclusive Interview by Brad Balfour

Every year at the Sundance Film Festival, the Sloan Foundation gives out special awards to filmmakers and screenwriters who craft a project with a science underpinning. Splice could have been one of those films with its forceful depiction of actual science at work.

Genetic modification scares the bejeezus out of people. They don’t want to allow such manipulation of humans, and least of all, cloning. But in Splice, the implications of such fiddling go beyond mere medical expediency. Such holding creates a being beyond human control.

Famed young scientists Clive (Adrien Brody) and Elsa (Sarah Polley) have a talent for splicing DNA from different animals into bizarre hybrids for medical purposes. But in this sf-horror film, they go a step too far; they splice in human DNA. Their corporate backers are aghast. So Clive and Elsa experiment in secret, and Dren (Delphine Chaneac) is the result.

She is an amazing creation whose rapid life cycle takes her from baby to adult in a matter of months. Clive and Elsa struggle to keep "her" a secret, but their connection to their "offspring" devolves from the scientific to the personal. Ultimately, Dren exceeds the couple’s wildest fantasies – and their most terrifying nightmares.

Best known for writing and directing his debut Cube in 1997, American-Canadian Vincenzo Natali masterminded Splice. Cube became a worldwide success, grossing $15 million in France, emptying wallets in Japan and breaking box office records for a Canadian film. It took Best Canadian First Feature at the Toronto International Film Festival, and Natali went on to direct Cypher (2002) and Nothing (2003).

Born in Detroit, Michigan, to a nursery school teacher/painter mother and a photographer father, Natali is a cultural hybrid (with Italian and English coding in his DNA). Raised in Toronto, Canada, he attended the Ryerson University ilm program before getting hired as a storyboardist at the Nelvana Animation Studios.

Following the release of Splice, Natali's next efforts are expected to be an adaptation of High Rise and a 3D remake of the Wes Craven natural horror film, Swamp Thing,for producer Joel Silver. A May 2010 item in The Hollywood Reporter, however, announced that Natali was to replace Joseph Khan as director of the highly anticipated adaptation of cyberpunk author William Gibson's 1984 masterwork, Neuromancer.

As a certified sci-fi geek, I was psyched for a verbal poke around Natali's past and future film lab.

Q: Rather than worrying about narrative implications, you err on the side of the fantastical, creating a creature that serves a science-fiction fan. Am I wrong or right?

VN: I always felt the most human character of this film was going to be Dren. And really, if there’s something special about the film, it’s the fact that it’s about how the monster emerges in the humans.

Unlike a lot of Frankenstein-type stories it’s not about the creature escaping into the world and wreaking havoc. It’s the opposite. It’s about how the scientists cage their creation and it becomes a catalyst for opening dark doors to dark places within themselves.

Q: Did it create dark places for the cast as well? Were there anguished debates?

VN: No, it was a surprisingly happy set actually. I was probably the only one who was anguished because it was such a tight shoot. But I had a lovely cast; they were very supportive of me and the making of this film. They have to do some pretty scary, transgressive things,
and never bat an eye. They were very much into it all the way through.

Q: I can imagine the debates between you and Sarah Polley, who is a political activist as well as an actor and director. Obviously you had to cast a Canadian for funding purposes. But besides that, Polley is the perfect person for a film with any kind of political implications.

VN: Right. Sarah was always on the top of my list, regardless of her nationality, because she’s so intelligent on the screen and I needed actors who we could believe are brilliant geneticists while still being attractive. Also you have make an emotional connection to the characters, even when they’re doing really transgressive, horrible things.

Sarah was just great to work with. I really respect the fact that, in spite of being an excellent writer/director, herself, she came to the film purely as an actor and treated me with tremendous respect. She’s a lovely person. They’re all great people.

Q: What was the discussion like?

VN: If you were in on some of the rehearsals, you would have thought we were making a Generation X romantic comedy because we were really talking about the characters and their relationship to one another and not so much about the morality of the science or anything like that. That kind of came along for the ride.

It was very important for me with Clive and Elsa that we believe this couple, that we like them, that we understand the dynamics of their relationship, because they’re fairly complicated. That was mostly where the discussion took place.

Other than that, Sarah and Adrien just got it. When Sarah read the script, to be perfectly honest, all modestly aside, she said there was no role she’s ever read for that she wanted more. She didn’t read for the role, we offered it to her, but there’s no role that she had read that she wanted more than Elsa. She just got it and I think the same was true of Adrien.

Q: Polley isn’t known for her science-fiction film roles but Adrien certainly is, having done King Kong. That must have been an interesting pair; that was another transgressive situation. Did he
appreciate the irony? Did that have an influence on your choice?

VN: No I don’t think so. I cast Adrien for exactly the same reason as Sarah in so much as I thought he comes across as highly intelligent, a little bit geeky, and really lovable, and kind of hip too. I’m willing to bet that Clive in the film is about as close to the real Adrien as
any part he’s ever played, minus sleeping with a mutant. But he’s a very affable, lovable person, much like Clive.

So that was really my motivation for casting him. It was good that he did King Kong because he understood the technology and understood what it means to work with creatures, real and imagined. And that was essential because Dren, much like Kong in the film, is a character,
she’s not hidden in the shadows, she’s part of the fabric of the story.

Q: I read that you found the actress who played Dren on the street, but
then she came in for an audition.

VN: It’s confusing.

Q: I would have gone to Cirque du Soleil to cast that person.

VN: We wanted to go to Cirque du Soleil, but they won’t share their performers. They wouldn’t let us. They wouldn’t share names or anything because they want to keep their talents. I met a girl from Cirque du Soleil once, and she took me to one of their secret performances, so that was interesting. That was years ago.

Q: Sounds pretty provocative.

VN: It was pretty provocative. But with Delphine, she was always coming into the audition.

Q: And this is Paris?

VN: This is in Paris. We were specifically casting Dren in Paris because this is a France-Canada co-production, so it made sense to cast Dren there because she’s a non-speaking role -- and of course it’s not that hard to find beautiful women in Paris who don’t have to speak
English. With Delphine, she was the very first person who came into the audition, so we happened to see her on the street, not knowing that she was going to be auditioning for us.

My producer Steve Hoban said to me, “Well that looks like a Dren,” and that turned out to be her. She’s very beautiful and a lovely person too. And very talented; she’s written two novels, she’s a musician as well as being an actor. She’s a very interesting person. I had a very
intelligent cast. I had a very bright group of people working with me.

Q: What did you do to research the science of it?

VN: I co-wrote Splice in quite close consultation with a geneticist. Then, when we went to make the film, we had several geneticists consulting with us. The amazing thing about those discussions was that whenever I would propose an idea I thought was ludicrous or beyond the
realms of possibility they’d always say, "Oh, no, you can do that."
The truth is stranger than fiction, especially when you’re talking about biotechnology. It’s fucking weird. It just gets bizarre. So in the process of writing the script, I began to realize we should make the lab environments real. We should scale everything down to a human, real level.

Q: And you made it contemporary.

VN: Contemporary, exactly. There’s no reason to set this in the future. There is some technology in the film that doesn’t currently exist, but it seems entirely plausible.

Q: Do you ever worry about the film -- not just the cast -- being too smart?

VN: No. Is it that smart?

Q: Couldn't you have just made a story about scientists debating over this issue without adding in the creature? Why do you need the science fiction at all?

VN: It’s interesting because there are aspects of the film that are quite pulpy, which I like. I’m a bit greedy as a filmmaker, or desperate, because I don’t get to make movies very often and so when I do I throw in the kitchen sink, like I want everything.

Tonally, the film definitely goes in a number of different directions. There’s quite a bit of comedy and outrageous behavior in it. And yet at the same time, some of the moral questions and I think the complexity of the relationships…(operate) at a fairly high level. I think maybe there could be some discontinuity between those two things, but no, I didn’t worry about it being too smart. I
just don’t think about those things.

Honestly, in all of my films, for better or worse, I’ve really tried to do something a bit different, and I’ve paid the price. All of these films have been really hard to make, and a number of them have languished in obscurity. I’ve made my bed so I’ll lie in it.

Q: At least you got to be buddies with director Guillermo del Toro, who served as your executive producer.

VN: Guillermo is truly a great impresario of the fantastic arts. I think he supported me -- he supported many other filmmakers and artists -- and I had met him at a film festival and he said, “I’d really like to produce a film for you,” which was extraordinary to me because I’m a huge admirer of his, and I immediately thought of Splice, which was a script that had been gathering dust.

Q: That was your script?

VN: I co-wrote it, yes. It had been gathering dust on a shelf simply for the reasons stated, which are it’s kind of a hard thing for a studio to digest, and yet it could never be a low-budgeted film
because the creature effects were always going to have a certain price tag and on camera all the time. So it was just kind of a bad combination in terms of trying to raise money.

When Guillermo came on board, a lot of doors opened. His name legitimized me and the film, and kind of contextualized it in a way that made people think this could be commercial. It’s been a very long and painful pregnancy and a difficult birth as well. Believe me, the metaphors are easy to come up with on this film because it questions life-imitates-art in the making of this movie, but it really felt like a pregnancy.

I had this movie inside me for a long time, and intuitively I felt if I don’t make this film someone else is going to do something very much like it. It was pregnant in the world, out there, just the real science seemed to be mimicking what we had written in the script, so I felt like this has got to be done. And it was.

In a way, the film has been imbued with this life force. And while at every step it’s been challenging it’s almost like it willed itself into existence; it sort of always found a way.

Q: Does a movie like this always get developed with the potential of a sequel?

VN: No. I know that the ending is open and it seems leading.

Q: It’s almost like a classic science-fiction trope.

VN: No, it really does and I kind of resisted it a bit for that reason. But it’s the right ending; I thought this is the right ending for our characters and it just seemed very appropriate. But truly, I swear to God, I did not write it with any intention of sequelizing the film. Although, having said that, now maybe there will be a sequel.

Q: You’re also interested in making a film of the late British writer J.G. Ballard's futuristic novel High Rise, and you’re working on William Gibson's Neuromancer. Which is coming first?

VN: High Rise is cheaper. It might be a little more dangerous commercially speaking, but I don’t know. I’ve been working on High Rise for a long time, so it’s at very advanced stage. I have a great producer, Jeremy Thomas.

Q: Given the films he's made, he's the guy who gets it.

VN: Exactly. He gets it and can make challenging films like High Rise. So I think High Rise is a distinct possibility. It’s shocking to me, talking about technology out of control, but it’s shocking to me how information travels now by the internet. I haven’t officially signed onto Neuromancer literally, but it’s all over the place.

Q: Does that make production companies more or less interested to see it done?

VN: I hope more interested. That’s why I think maybe the internet technology is great. Certainly it helped Splice. Splice was languishing for a year after I finished it looking for distribution in
North America, and it’s really thanks to the internet via Sundance that the film created a buzz.

Q: How did Sundance help you?

VN: It saved the film. And truly our guardian angel was Joel Silver; he came in and swooped us away and has been nothing but supportive and protective of us.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

George A. Romero Strives for Survival of the Dead

Interview by Brad Balfour

Trundling down a portion of Second Avenue came a line of bizarrely dressed and horribly made-up folks -- okay so maybe not so weird or horrible for NYC -- until they hit the Village East Cinemas where legendary director George A. Romero waited to greet his fans and devotees before screening the latest in his Dead saga -- Survival of the Dead.

For a few moments on a recent Sunday, the zombies invaded Manhattan. Well at least they ambled along from 23rd Street to the East Village theater. And I don't mean just addled club-goers getting home after the usual 4 am closing.

That gave a few of us worshipful journos a chance to wedge in some questions in between the groaned and grunted queries by audience members -- zombie-fied or otherwise.

Ever since he made the black & white Night of the Living Dead in 1968, New York-born Romero's name is mentioned in the same breath when the word "zombie" is thrown about. When the now 70-year-old went to Pittsburgh's Carnegie-Mellon University, he started shooting short films and commercials but soon went on to produce and direct what became one of the most revered American horror films of all time (and was inducted into the National Film Registry in '99). Made for just over $100,000, Night returned its investment and was also hailed as a benchmark in indie flimmaking.

Romero's next films such as 1973's The Crazies and 1977's Martin weren't as acclaimed as Night of the Living Dead, but offered social commentary while still being horror-related. Like almost all of his films, they were shot in, or around Pittsburgh.

In '78, Romero returned to zombies with one that topped his first. In Dawn of the Dead (1978), four people who escape the zombie outbreak lock themselves up inside a mall before they become victims of themselves. Shot on a $1.5 million budget, the film earned over $40 million and in '03, was named one of Entertainment Weekly's top cult films. It also marked Romero's first work with brilliant make-up and effects artist Tom Savini.

After that, the two teamed up on others including 1981's Knightriders starring an up-and-coming Ed Harris. Then came Creepshow (1982), which marked the first, but not the last, time Romero adapted a story by famed novelist Stephen King.

To be the one voice who exemplifies this genre is accomplishment enough, but this summer, Romero has a new zombie film available, and it takes off from where his last film Diary of the Dead left off. Summer means horror films and for reanimated dead fans that means at least one by Romero.

Q: What do attribute to the longevity of the series?

GR: If I could figure that out, I would know why I'm still here. I don't know. Zombies have become idiomatic. Videogames [even] more than films have done that. For some
unknown reason my stuff has a shelf life. I think that I've always tried to have a little theme underneath and maybe the stuff looks quaint.

It's like looking at an old movie like A Gentleman's Agreement -- it's like wow, "They were actually talking about something," and it becomes a bit quaint. I don't know. I should ask you; I'm not the guy to ask. I'm just happy that it's happened.

Q: What was the inspiration that made you wake up and say, "Zombies?"

GR: You mean way at the beginning?

Q: Day one.

GR: I've never thought of them as zombies; I never called them zombies. When I made Night of the Living Dead, I called them flesh-eaters. To me, zombies were those boys in the Caribbean doing Bela Lugosi's wet work for him [in White Zombie (1932)]. I never thought of them as zombies.

It was only when people started to write about them and said these are zombies that I thought maybe they are. All I did was make them the neighbors; take the voodoo and mysterioso out of it and make them the neighbors and I don't know what happened after that. The neighbors are scary enough when they're not dead. Maybe that's what made it click.

Q: Are you producing or developing videogames? If you do that would be amazing for anyone who's played Left for Dead or Resident Evil.

GR: In the past usually people come to us and say they just want to buy my name or the brand or whatever and "stay home. You don't know about videogames." It's true; I don't. I'm not a gamer.

I just did a talk show as part of the tour for this film where we looked at Left for Dead 2 and zombies are like tarantulas; on the ceiling, up the walls, crazy, running. I understand that mentality that it has to be like Tetris; faster, faster, faster, faster.

My zombies don't do that. My zombies are still slugging along just like the rest of us are. So I'm not sure that I get the mentality. I was talking to a game company executive and asked is it possible to do a slower, more intellectual game? And he actually said "I'm not sure." But we're talking to people about it - we're still talking to people about it - and I would love to be involved with a game, I'd love to write the story of a game, but I won't do it if it has to be...

Q: Are you ever going to switch over from slow to fast zombies?

GR: Never.

Q: What is it about slow zombies that you like over fast zombies?

GR: Because that's the way they would be; they're dead. Like in the first film the sheriff says, "They're dead; they're all messed up." If they ran their ankles would snap so by me they move slow.

Q: Would you outrun the zombies?

GR: Yeah. The whole point is you can easily get away, just nobody addresses the problem and humans screw themselves up. With my movies that's what it's about; it's about humanity making the wrong movies.

Q: Would have any advice besides run to survive a zombie?

GR: You've got to talk to Max Brooks [who has written a series of zombie books such as World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War]. Max believes this is really going to happen one day; I don't. With me it's pure allegory.

Q: How would you fare in a zombie apocalypse?

GR: What I need to tell you first of all, is that it's probably not going to happen. If you want to know what weapon to buy, call Max. He's the guy to tell you. I think Max halfway believes that it might happen. He's a buddy of mine and we hang out and we argue about this all the time.

I don't know. Come on! Find a tank; a tank is the best thing. Get inside a tank, you'll have a big gun, and you're safe in a big thing of metal. It's like give me a break over here. It's not going to happen. I promise you it won't happen. Or else, worse shit will happen before it does.

Q: What allegory are you trying to tell with this film?

GR: It's about the same theme that I've been beating on forever. It's war, it's like enmities that don't die, people, even faced with huge game-changing event still shooting at each other instead of addressing the problem.

Q: Do you think that society's listening to what you're saying in your films?

GR: No. Society doesn't listen to anything. Society has not listened to shit from the beginning of time.

Q: To be that one voice, is that why you make these films?

GR: It's fun to be silly and make fun of people because people are just not learning. We haven't learned squat; we're still fucking fighting abortion and homosexuality and everything. We're still fucking fighting, it's like ridiculous. Give me a break; I thought we were past that.

Q: You seem married to the horror genre. What is it about it that works for you?

GR: I love it, man. I grew up on EC Comics -- like Vault of Horror or Crypt of Terror -- and have a chance not only to work in the genre but be able to express my opinion. I've got a better gig than Michael Moore I think. I don't have to be real, I don't have to lie.

Q: What is your favorite horror movie?

GR: When you're a kid, it's like the stuff that impresses you the most or that scares you the most. I was 12 years old and I saw The Thing and it just scared the shit out of me. So that remains my favorite horror movie.

Q: Would you ever consider wrapping up the whole zombie thing, like reversing the curse?

GR: No. It's too much fun. I won't do it and the zombies won't take over because my stories are about the humans. I like being where we are with it; just leave it alone and let it be.

Q: You change the rules a bit in this new one.

GR: No.

Q: How important is the comical aspect of your zombie movies?

GR: Oh man, like I said, I grew up on EC Comics; they were all bad jokes and puns. It was a giggle while you barf. So to me it's almost essential. These last two films that I did I had creative control and I was able to just do what I wanted to do with them, so humor was an important part of both. This one is really, there are some real loony tune moments in this one. It has to be part of it.

Q: What's your favorite zombie kill?

GR: I don't know; It's not a kill. Tom Savini did this thing with the guy with a real actor with his head down in a table and the guy's body was a real actor's body from here down, just some tendrils connecting him to her like a pulsing brain. It's not a kill but it's I thought a wonderful makeup and a really cool thing. I don't know, kill, I don' know. There's one in this movie with a fire extinguisher that I really love.

Q: For someone who hasn't seen your movies would you prefer them to start with Night of the Living Dead or Diary of the Dead?

GR: I'd prefer them to start with Knightriders and Martin because those are films that were really from the heart. I like to think that these films are thoughtful but they're not me.

To some extent they're commercial films but I'm trying to do something with them, but they're not me. Knightriders is the most me. Martin is my favorite film of mine, so anybody that wants to see something that I did I would prefer they watch those first and then watch these.

Q: Which zombie one should they start off with though?

GR: Day of the Dead.

Q: Have you ever thought about redoing the original Day of the Dead the way you wanted to do it in the original script?

GR: No. It's over. I've been able to use some of it; I used a little bit of it in Land of the Dead and a little bit of it in this film, actually. But no; that's over. That's a script I did for the original Day of the Dead and the company that was financing the movie didn't want to finance it because it was too much money.

Actually it was a decision that we made -- my partner at the time and I -- because we wanted to release it without rating it. The [distributor] said "Okay, do it without rating it" but, we said, "Forget it, they won't [really] do that." So I decided to cut it down and do it without rating it. And the old script, I know people have it, it's on the internet, [and] people are digging it up, but I've used ideas from it so I don't think I'll ever go back to it.

Q: Why do you think zombies are having a renaissance right now?

GR: Beats the shit out of me. I don't know, what is it? Videogames. It's not movies, it's videogames. I think so. There's never been a huge movie hit; it's all videogames. That's what I think.

Q: Do you think about going back to making more psychological movies like Martin, in between the zombie movies?

GR: Yes, all the time. But I'm at an age right now where, Peter and I, we spent six years in Hollywood in development hell making lots of money and not making movies. It's like I'm at a point where I don't want to go and pitch something for two years and have it not happen. I can't afford that time.

And yeah we have ideas and plans, we have things we'd like to do, but as I say, I'm at the point where I need to take the thing that I like the most that's easiest to do and get it done. I don't know how long I'm going to be standing. Listen, I'm never going to quit; I'll be like John Houston man, I'll be with the breather and the wheelchair still trying to make a film. I can't answer you what's going to be next. There are things I'd love to do; who knows.

Q: What stories do you want to tell that aren't zombie related?

GR: I might be passed that; I told them already. I have a couple of things, my partner and I, we have a couple of scripts that we're working on. I don't know; it's a long story and I'm too tired to tell it right now.

I'd like to do a couple more of these and what I'd like to do is have a little set of these that all the characters would come out of Diary and have a little set and hang it up and go off and do something else.

Q: Would you use the internet as a medium to tell them in short story form?

GR: Maybe. I don't know. I'm very puzzled right now; I don't know what to do. You finish a movie and then all of a sudden you're still doing it and I'm still traveling with it. I'm just waiting to get off. I'm waiting for some time off and then maybe I can decide what to do.

Q: What about returning to comic books?

GR: I'd love to. I'm talking to some guys now. I'd love to do it.

Q: Would they be zombie related or something else?

GR: I'd love to do something else but usually that's what they want from me is zombies.

Q: What's next?

GR: I'm hoping a couple of drinks at a bar someplace. I don't know, man. If you're talking about movies, I don't know. We don't know; my partner, Peter [Grunwald] and I, we have a couple of projects that are non-zombie but we don't know. If it happens that this film does well and we're asked to do another; my idea is to do two more.

I wanted to do three; right from the puff I wanted to do three films with characters from Diary of the Dead, take them on their own adventures and be able to cross-collateralize characters, story points, stuff like that.

I would love it and it would be like a vacation. If this film does well enough and somebody says hey let's do more I would jump at it. Sort of like I'd have a job for the first time in my life; I know what I'm doing for the next three years.

I'd love to do it but we don't know what's going to happen with this. So far this film has performed pretty well with audiences and people seem to be digging it, so maybe it will happen. Otherwise, we have a couple of things that we're ready to do and really like.

I would love it if I could do a couple more of these because it's where I've lived. I love playing around with new zombies. By the way, thank you. I can't believe you guys go to this amount of trouble and energy and glue that goop on your face. Anyway, it's much appreciated by me and thank you; thanks for doing it.

Q: What do you think of the remakes that have been made of your various films? Are you happy with them?

GR: Not particularly. No.

Q: What do you think that they misunderstood or didn't get?

GR: I don't know. The remake of Dawn was more like a videogame than a movie. The first 20 minutes were really hot and then it lost its reason for being. The Crazies was the same thing. Crazies was a film of a certain time; we were pissed off about Nam. The new film might as well be 28 Days Later. Both directors did good jobs with Dawn and with Crazies, they're just not films I would have made.

Q: What are your favorite horror movies?

GR: When you're a kid it's like the stuff that impresses you the most or the stuff that scares you the most. I was 12 years old and I saw The Thing and it just scared the shit out of me. So that remains my favorite horror movie.

Q: Any directors working now that you're excited about?

GR: Well Guillermo del Toro's my man right now. He's a great guy. Such a sincere guy; he makes a commercial thing and then goes off and does what we wants to do. He's great.

And John Carpenter's doing a new movies, I have big hopes for Carpenter. I hope he's back in the ring. That's it pretty much.

Q: A lot of people consider you the grandfather of independent film in many ways. What do you think about that?

GR: Come on.

Q: Come on, you did one of the first real indie films.

GR: There are a lot of guys that have just figured out a way to do it without selling out or whatever. John Waters, man. He gets my vote.

Q: When you go, what do you want on your headstone? When you rise, what do you expect to see?

GR: I don't know man. If I manage to get back when that happens I'll just look for a camera.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Zoe Kazan Explodes with A Behanding in Spokane

Exclusive interview by Brad Balfour

With A Behanding in Spokane playing on Broadway through this weekend and with feature films -- including the recent The Exploding Girl -- coming out, actress Zoe Kazan is one of New York's go-to talents.

Though the Los Angeles born daughter of screenwriter Nicholas Kazan and multi-hyphenate Robin Swicord, and granddaughter of late film and theater director Elia Kazan has an insider's edge, this 26 year-old has really established a presence on her own.

While the pixie-faced Kazan doesn't look much older than a pre-teen, she has played a remarkable range of characters from the befuddled pot-dealing Marilyn in Behanding to the epileptic college student Ivy in the New York-centric indie The Exploding Girl. And since A Behanding in Spokane star Christopher Walken got the Tony nomination for best actor in a Drama, the play's been on the hot list all along.

While having a vet playwright like Irishman Martin McDonagh such a fan to cast you in a four-hander along with Walken, Anthony Mackie and Sam Rockwell, is compliment enough, Kazan keeps getting the work. But given all the acting she's done, it's surprising she still finds time to write her own scripts -- something she is getting known for as much as she is for her on-camera time.

Though she has said she didn't know that grandfather Elia was famous until she was 13, the genetic link is obvious. And with more movies coming out this year -- one by director Kelly Reichardt, (Meek's Cutoff) as well as the Josh Radnor directed film, Happythankyoumoreplease (a Sundance Audience Award winner out this August) Kazan will not remain in the public consciousness. And hopefully, through this Q&A, which draws on a roundtable and exclusive one-on-one, she offers some enlightenment on her time on stage and in front of the camera.

Q: You have a particular affection for playwright Martin McDonagh.

ZK: I did one of Martin's plays in college, The Cripple of Inishmaan, and had seen The Beauty Queen of Leenane when it was on Broadway when I was kid and I had read for it before, so I was already a big fan of his. Then I saw a play of his in 2005 and it just blew me away.

Truly, I think A Behanding is the most exciting theater experience, and I wonder if anything will ever top it for me. It's the most extraordinary play and that was the most extraordinary production. So when I head that he had written a new play I jumped at the chance. The fact that we've become friends out of this process is just an added bonus.

Q: It's a pretty dark black comedy.

ZK: Yeah. My dad has similar sensitivities to Martin's. My dad has a very dark sense of humor and definitely that was reflected in the bedtime stories that I heard as a child and the movies that were shown to me.

I have a gothic, and by that I mean Victorian gothic, sensibility myself. So many great stories, so many primal stories have both of those elements -- the humor and the terror. If you look at something like Grimm's fairy tales, or even look at stories in the Bible like Job, Jonah and the Whale, or Noah's Ark. Most of the storytelling that gets absolutely at the root of our civilization has both of those elements.

Q: Having done more than one McDonagh play do you find that you have a good idea of him and his work?

ZK: I was young when I did Cripple; I was in college, I was like 19 or 20 years old, and I don't want to belittle myself, I'm sure I was fine in the part, but it's just completely, completely different than anything that I'm doing now in terms of my command of language and my command of my body. I'm just a different actor than I was.

Q: Did it give you a leg up on understanding him, or do you have to approach it differently with each play?

ZK: It's different every play. He's writing different worlds. It would be one thing if it was all the same world, but the plays have so little in common.

Q: When you're working with a new play that doesn't have a history like something by Chekov. you're really defiining the characters; you are all defining it each night, it's not like something you can fall back on archetypes and things like that.

ZK: In some ways it's both more and less creative than interpreting a part that's been played before. When I was playing Masha in The Seagull, everyone knows my first lines in the play; they could practically say it along with me. Everybody knows who she is and if I deviate from the way that people normally play Masha, it's not going to get lost in the mix. It's like you have a coloring book that's already half colored in, so if you color in the rest. It's fine.

Whereas, if I play Marilyn against what Martin's written on the page no one's going to get to see the play. It's just a very different responsibility as an actor. It is amazing to be in a play with so few people; when we did our first run-through and I saw everybody afterwards and it was just the three of them and me, I thought, "Holy shit. That's not a lot of people to be pushing this boat forward." Being the only girl in the cast, I feel really lucky; they're such great guys and they all take really good care of me and I'm learning a lot.

Q: The only bad thing is you can't step outside yourself and watch yourself in the play.

ZK: It's true, but you can't really do that in any show because you can't watch yourself. You can watch the rest of the play and see how it's going but at a certain point you don't want to do that anymore because it takes you out of your concentration on your character.

Like when I was doing The Seagull, there were large portions of the play when I'd be offstage, and I had to stop watching because when I went onstage I wasn't thinking about Masha, I was thinking about the play as a play, not as the real world I was living in. So I'd go upstairs and I'd put on my music and I'd knit.

Q: Once you've done a play, it's not like each night after it's totally new. Doing a character in a movie is experiencing the experience as it happens. If you don't want to know anything about your character other than your experience of living as it's happening you can do that. Does the theatrical familiarity make it easier or harder to come at it with the freshness of the experience as it unfolds?

ZK: Like you have to have perspective on it?

Q: On the one hand it's a good that you know the play so well that you go in and do it, but how do you make it fresh every time? With a movie, you don't have to read the book, you don't have to read anything but your part, and can come into the movie like it's all new to you as it is happening to you.

ZK: I always read the whole script of whatever I'm doing, even if I have just a little scene, just to get the sense of where I belong and what the tone of the piece is. So there's not a huge difference for me in what I know and don't know.

It is different though because you're doing the same thing every night, night after night, eight shows a week, weeks on end, for months at a time. That does get -- I don't want to use the word -- monotonous, but it can become practiced or it can become rote if you're not careful. You know how sometimes when you're tired and you drive home and you get home but you don't remember how you got there because you've done it so many times you can almost do it in your sleep?

Doing plays sometimes gets like that where you through a scene and all of a sudden you're like, "Did I say that line or did I not say that line? Did that part of the play already go by?" It can become disorienting in that way. And I think one thing that helps that is you usually get bored with yourself, right?

You are aware of what you're doing every night. But my costars Sam and Chris and Anthony, are always infinitely interesting. They're always doing something different even if they're not aware that they're doing it. Whenever I get bored I just plug into the people around me I guess.

Q: You're a writer as well. Does it helps you to work both in film and in theater? Or do you lean towards theater in your writing?

ZK: I grew up mostly exposed to and loving movies. My love of theater is something that came a little bit later in my life. I love plays and feel absolutely passionately about the theater, but in terms of where my imagination goes, I think more cinematically than I do theatrically, and writing a play is a very difficult thing.

It's not difficult for everyone, but for me the thing is getting people on and off stage and writing in a theatrical way, in a way that's specific for the theater and couldn't interchangeably be a short story or a movie. I get a great deal of pleasure out of it but it doesn't come as naturally to me as writing for the screen does.

Q: You'd think it would come naturally just because of genetics.

ZK: Right. Well, that's the other thing. I've been reading my parents' scripts since I was a little girl, like since I could read, since I was five. They gave me their scripts at that age to give them notes on it, so they were exposing me at a very early age to scripts. I've been reading scripts and learning about script structure since I was a little girl, so it's not in my blood but it's definitely upbringing.

Q: Did your grandfather have any influence; did you know him much?

ZK: He passed in 2008. I was 24 then, so yeah, of course he was a big part of my life growing up. As for artistic influence on me, I think every actor working in a naturalistic way now is indebted to my grandfather. So in a professional sense, he has had an impact on me, or his work has had an impact on me. But on a personal level, I didn't ask him for any advice or anything like that.

Q: Is it easier to go from a play to a play, or from a play to a movie then to a play? For some people it's easier to break it up. Once your chops are down and you're going play to play, is it easier to get into that mindset? What works for you?

ZK: I did three plays back to back in the 2007 / 2008 season, and that was a mistake. I shouldn't have done it. I was so tired by the end of it. By the third play, which was Come Back, Little Sheba, I had very little appetite left for it.

It was the only job that I've ever done that felt like a job, and it's not the fault of the play, I love that play, and I had a great cast around me and a really good director, and I'm still proud of my work in that show, but I wasn't curious anymore, I was just tired.

I'll never do that again; I might do two plays in a season, but not back to back and definitely not as much. I think it's easier to go from a play to a move to a play because it's a different way of working and you can kind of get your appetite up.

Q: You grew up in Venice, California; I find Venice an interesting bohemian enclave. Do you feel that was helpful? If you had been more in the high-speed LA, Beverly Hills world would it have changed you?

ZK: I do. I think my parents did a very smart thing. Especially the neighborhood I grew up in, in the 1980s, early '90s, when I was a really young kid, it was such a sheltered way to live. It was not a very affluent community then, and there were a lot of artists.

I was not raised in any way like an LA child. When I got older and went to high school I was exposed to more of that but my parents were very careful about the way they raised us and were really determined that we were going to be like those kind of kids.

Q: It feels like you've done a million movies before you did The Exploding Girl.

ZK: I did a lot of movies that didn't come out for a while, so I don't know because I can't remember at what point that was.

Q: So do you like working on big mainstream films or the indie ones?

ZK: Everybody needs those mainstream ones. I love going to the movies and watching a big cushy movie. I really like getting the big cushy paycheck too, but that's not an issue. Everybody has to do some for the money, but I definitely prefer a smaller scale. Especially coming from a theater background, and because my parents are in the industry, the values I grew up with were values of collaboration and doing something all together. 

On the big budget movies you're always squirreled away in a massive trailer and alone, then you're brought to set and have to look perfect and all of that. That's not really what I got in it for.

I love not having a trailer, just being thrown into bathrooms to change and being with your costars all the time and not having a thousand people fussing over you. It seems much more conducive to the work to me.

Q: Of the recent characters that you've played, which ones do you think are closer to you?

ZK: Well, it's funny because, with It's Complicated, Nancy [Meyers] is a screenwriter and a director, my mother's a screenwriter and a director. Her husband's a screenwriter and a director, my dad's a screenwriter and a director, she has two daughters who went to private schools in LA who are friends with people I know; I went to private schools in LA.

There's a lot of overlap between us, and then in some ways there's none. Nancy lives in this perfect world where everything's from Shabby Chic and looks really beautiful and I grew up in this kind of grungy Venice world with my parents and there was never a lot of money thrown around.

In some ways our values are really similar and I totally got who that character was, and in some ways I'm like, "Why remodel that kitchen?"

So when Nancy met me she was like, "You're my girl; you're exactly who I wrote on the page," and I was thinking that's not who I am at all. So it's all about perception.

I feel like probably of all the characters I've played, I don't really feel like I've played someone close to myself on film. I did this play, Things We Want, at the New Group and I feel like that character is probably the closest I've ever played to myself. Even though she's a concert pianist so we have nothing in common that way, she's an artist and her psychology was closer to mine.

But definitely between The Private Lives of Pippa Lee this one, and Happythankyoumoreplease that was at Sundance, all girls are very different from me.

Q: What drew you to the role of Ivy?

ZK: I auditioned for Brad [Bradley Rust Gray, director] almost four years ago for another movie he was making, and he didn't end up getting to make that movie right away. I didn't get cast in it, but he remembered me and I remembered him.

About a year and half after that he called and said, "I want to make a movie with you," and I remembered him because I loved his movies so much in the first place.

I said, "Okay. What's it about?" and he was like, "I don't know. I haven't written it, I have no idea what it's going to be about. I have an idea but I can't tell you about it. Do you want to do it?"

I was like, "Yeah, I do." So we started meeting and have these epic walks around Manhattan. We'd walk for hours. I was doing Come Back, Little Sheba at the time and I actually got bronchitis from walking around with him and had to miss a show. So I blame him for that completely. Like in the middle of January and February these massive eight-hour walks and we would talk about love and life and how we grew up and just kind of getting to know each other, almost like a blind date.

Then I went away to shoot Me and Orson Welles, and when I got back he had a script and he said, "Read it, and if you want to do it, let's do it."

I loved it. Ivy is so unlike me in so many ways, so I was really surprised that he had written this character because Brad's worked mostly non-actors before and written characters very close to the people themselves so they could play them. I was really excited that he had written something so different from myself for me. But it's funny; it was hard for me to talk about Ivy while we were shooting it. We had a lot of shorthand, like he'd come over and be like, "No, no, no, no, no. The way you're breathing isn't right."

We both had a picture of her in our heads and knew what we were aiming for, but we didn't have a lot of coherence talking about her, and it's only been afterward when I look at the movie that I realize what her qualities are. When we were playing it was all much more unconscious.

Q: Did you relate to your character's sense of detachment given that you went to college and had the whole college experience?

ZK: A detachment from home?

Q: Or a detachment from what's going on. Being home on break is a weird situation.

ZK: It is a weird situation. Brad and I talked about that. There's Taiwanese director Hou Hsiao-Hsien's movie, Café Lumière, that we looked at a lot. There's a moment where the lead character comes home in that movie and she falls asleep on the couch, or lies down on the floor, and we thought about that, about what it's like when you come home and it's sort of your home but it's not your home anymore. She's definitely in that liminal space between childhood and adulthood where she doesn't quite belong there anymore but it's still the only home she has.

Brad and I talked about that and about wanting to capture that feeling. But I'm an actress and I think that there is some truth to the stereotype that comes along with that. I'm very emotional and I have very easy access to my emotions, and I hesitate to say it because I'm sure my family is going to laugh at me, but I think I burden other people with my emotions sometimes, like "Take care of me."

Ivy is not at all like that, she's incredibly self-contained, and some of that feeling of detachment that you get in the movie comes from that. She does not want to be a burden to anyone and she doesn't want her illness [epilepsy] to be a burden to anyone. So when the breakup happens she keeps that to herself, she doesn't even tell her friends, and I think there's a kind of strength in that, and I think there's deep loneliness in that. I also think it would be much better for her if she had more access to self-expression.

Q: Did you study about epilepsy?

ZK: Yeah, I did. I don't have a chronic illness but I know people who do and I didn't want to dishonor anybody by doing it wrong. Not just the epileptic seizure itself, but also the psychology behind having something that you have to take care of and that way of taking care of yourself.

I actually read a lot of parenting books for parents who have children who have epilepsy because I wanted to think about the way that she had been raised, especially because her mother's a single parent and I feel like Ivy's taken on a lot of the burden of parenting herself because of that. And also we watched videos of seizures online; not on YouTube, although a little bit of that, but a lot of those are hoaxes.

There are videos on medical sites about epilepsy; diagnostic videos basically. We looked at those and we looked at the brain scans of what happens to the brain during the epileptic seizure, and I practiced it at home. I was really anxious about doing the whole thing because it's so out of your control when you do it and it seemed like such a big part of the movie that I was going to have to tackle. I was really freaked out about it and finally I thought, "This is silly. I've just got to do one, and if I do one then I've done one and I don't have to worry about it anymore."

I was lying in bed and my boyfriend was in the other room brushing his teeth and I was like, "Baby, can you come in here?" So he comes in the room with a mouthful of toothpaste and I was like, "Watch this. Tell me if it looks real."

I do the seizure, and he's standing there with his toothbrush, and I open my eyes afterwards and ask how I looked and he was like, "Never do that again! Are you crazy?"

And I was like, "But did it look real?" and he was like, "Yes it looked real! You're freaking me out!" And I was like, "Sorry, brush your teeth. Go spit."

But I practiced it that once and then I didn't practice it anymore, and we did two 15-minute takes.

Q: It's not like you can go ask an epileptic, "Hey do a seizure for me."

ZK: Yeah, exactly.

Q: You mention that gap between childhood and adulthood and since this was a two character story and that's interesting. I don't know if this was a conscious effort by the director or not.

ZK: I think it was.

Q: One reason it works is because Ivy is so complex. She's not a child but not quite an adult; she has that wide-eyed, childhood, idealistic expression that you do so well. Mark Rendell plays his character the same way, but is a male version, also between childhood and adulthood, idealistic with everything still new, yet he seems to have a much easier time.

ZK: Well he's a boy.

Q: Was that in the script or in the characterizations that you were drawing on?

ZK: It has something to do with the script. It has more to do with their characters than anything. First of all, Ivy's more grown up than Al is; she's just had to take care of herself at a younger age. Epilepsy, like diabetes, is something that you have to take care of; you have to mind what you eat, you have to mind how much sleep you get, what kind of stress you're under.

And to be a young person and to be minding those kinds of things, most teenagers aren't capable of that, let alone someone who has a mother who's not 100% present. So I think that there's a way that she guards herself, takes care of herself, that's much more akin to an adult than anything that Al's had to go through. She does his laundry for him; she takes care of him in an unconscious way, not in a manipulative way.

She's not trying to prove anything by taking care of him; she just takes care of him. And I think that he brings to her, like what the trade off is, is that he brings a lot of childish joy, and I think it's one of the reasons that they make a really great pair, really great friends. The other half of it is that Mark is like Al.

For one thing, Mark's a lot younger than I am. I'm 26, and when we shot the movie I was 24, and Mark was 18. So that's a big age different; we would never have been in high school together. I think when you watch the movie you don't see it because I look young and Mark has an ageless kind of look to him. We could be almost any age within a certain range.

Q: That's a testament to your acting too, because it's not easy to pull that off.

ZK: Yeah, totally. It's funny because Brad said something, and I don't want to age myself too much, but Brad said something to me recently and he was like, "We wouldn't have been able to make the movie now because I've grown up two years since we made the movie. I'm not in a very different place in my life, but I feel older in a way."

And when I talk to Mark now, he's older too. When we met he'd never had a girlfriend, he was living with his parents still, and there's something very endearing about that to me, and I think that informs what you see on screen a little bit too.

Brad has a real sense of decorum as a filmmaker. He thinks about the characters as being people, and I think that one thing he was very concerned about was giving Ivy her privacy. So the breakup scene, the scene where she cries, the seizure, those are all things that he shot from further away and with objects between them.

And he did that very purposefully. Of course as an actor, I'm like, "Put the camera on my face when I'm crying, dude. Don't back-light me and make sure nobody can see my face, you asshole."

But he knew what he was doing and I think that there is more emotional impact because you're given a little bit of distance. Sometimes when you're forced to look at something in close-up all the time it kind of becomes about the acting and not about the character, and I really respect what he did with that. It's just a very different style of telling stories. If you look at It's Complicated, you couldn't have two more different movies.

On It's Complicated, every scene we shot with a wide-shot, a two-shot, close-up, close-up, medium-shot, medium-shot, over the shoulder; I mean she got coverage on every kind of coverage you could possibly want.

So the way that movie cuts together, it cuts together in a much more conventional way. You get into the scene on the wide-shot and then you go in, and you go in, and you go in. We didn't have the money to do that, so part of what is happening is that there are solutions having to do with economy.

We just didn't have the time; we shot this in 17 days, so if he could get it in one shot that was a wide-shot he would get it in the wide-shot. But because of that he had to make specific decisions before he edited about what he wanted it to look like.

In some ways it made my job much easier because I only had to do it a couple of times. Especially with the seizure; only having to do that a couple of times was a godsend because it's really exhausting. And other times I was begging him for another take.

Q: When you're in between being a kid -- dependent on your family -- and being an adult, on your own, there's a bohemian ideal where you don't have to be doing things for a job. Do you think the film is communicating to the audience about that period of life?

ZK: Ivy has to work; she helps out at her mom's studio during her break. She's not going to have a lot time where she just gets to sit at home and figure her life out; she doesn't come from that socio-economic background. But I do think that when you're in college, especially when you're on break and you don't have any homework, it is a feeling of being a kid again. Like summer break or spring break, suddenly you're not a grownup living at school, having your own life.

I remember this so clearly, being at school and taking care of myself; I feed myself all my own meals, put myself to bed whatever time I want. Then I come home and my parents are like, "Where are you going? What time are you going to be home?" and being 19 years old and being like, "I don't have a curfew at school." And I do think there's some of that liminal space.

Q: Does being a New Yorker now...

ZK: I've been here five years.

Q: For living in such a crowded city, feelings of loneliness can pervade because everybody's doing their own thing. Did that informed the role for you.

ZK: In New York, there's a sense of being alone in a crowd of people all the time. I grew up in Los Angeles and I think LA is a much lonelier city than New York is. You're alone in your car or your house, people don't really go out in the same way that they go out in New York, so if you don't know anybody in LA I think you're much lonelier.

In New York it's much easier to be alone than it is in Los Angeles because you can always go to a bar or a coffee shop or go to Film Forum and there are people around you and you feel like you're in a community. But I think that when you have that much availability to people and there's still no connection, that's the kind of space that Ivy's in. Her mother isn't really taking care of her and her boyfriend isn't really available to her.

She's self-sufficient, but I think she's lonely, and I can definitely understand that. There are times when being on the subway, like when you're depressed, it's physically painful because there's no privacy, there's no space. Like after her breakup when she's taking the subway home, there's no space for her to be alone and cry, and I think that there is a kind of prison of publicness that is happening in the movie.

Even when Greg calls her when she's at that party, or having the seizure at that party, the door is open, there are people walking by. There's a sense of there's no place for her to be alone.

Q: What did you hope this film conveys to an audience?

ZK: I hope people can see past Ivy and Al's youth to the [see the] universality of the story. It's about loneliness and learning how to connect with other people. It's about the thing of not being willing to know your own heart or not knowing your own heart. I do think it's specifically about young people and about a very young stage of life; I hope that it has more to offer than that.

Q: Was it weird working with your boyfriend Paul Dano in the upcoming Kelly Reichardt film, Meek's Cutoff?

ZK: It was really normal actually. There was another actor that was supposed to play the part Paul played and the actor had a visa issued but couldn't come at the very last minute. Like literally two days before we were going to shoot Paul came in to do it and I think he was more nervous about it than I was.

We met doing a play together, so we had worked together before, so I knew how he was as an actor. But it was actually an incredible thing because it was a very grueling shoot. 

We were in the middle of nowhere, like in the desert of Oregon six hours from civilization.

We had no cell service, very little internet, and we were in these incredible salt flats with all this alkaline dust. It was like two hours from our motel to the set everyday over literally no road, just over dirt, with dehydration and sunstroke, then hypothermia.

We had such grueling conditions, so to have someone there with me who I loved, who at the end of the day would just be content to help me get some food and help me get to sleep was great.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Photog Greg Friedler Becomes Stripped Naked In Las Vegas, So To Speak!

Q&A by Brad Balfour

I got a press release about this film, Stripped: Greg Friedler's Naked Las Vegas, that was being released as a DVD and as part of Showtime's rotating schedule. I figured, "What a weird thing to do to yourself." Here is a film shot by a doc filmmaker about a photographer as he photographs people willing to be photographed naked for a book.

So when visual artist Greg Friedler decided to mine the making of his latest book as material for a documentary, what happened in Las Vegas didn't just stay in Vegas. The feature-length documentary chronicling this photog creating his latest book in his Naked series premiered on Showtime in March.

The shootist got a chance to have others step into his world when he enjoined director David Palmer to fashion this film. A New York native, Palmer has worked in Hollywood for over a decade as a director, photographer and editor on docs, features, commercials, branded content and music videos for such talent as Nelly, Toni Braxton, Lil Wayne, The Dandy Warhols, The Charlatans UK, and Tripping Daisy. Palmer has completed two half-hour TV docs for Rip Curl, and making an indie mocumentary, Brothers Justicewith Dax Shepard and Tom Arnold.

But this isn't 39-year-old Friedler's first nudity project -- he made three previous books before this one, set in New York, London and Los Angeles. Most photographers are lucky if they have one book in their lifetime; he has these four and more. And he has had two films made about his work already: Naked London shown on the BBC in 1999, and now Stripped: Greg Friedler's Naked Las Vegas.

Still garnering attention; Stripped will be featured at the Las Vegas Film Festival on June 6th, 2010, with the Colorado-based photographer attending. Currently shooting three new art projects, Friedler's teaching his workshops, writing a book about human suffering and is to shoot his first narrative short this summer in Denver. And he is launching a new website,, that will be live this week alongside Still, he found time to sit down and denude the core of his art.

Q: What's the fascination with getting people to expose themselves, of becoming naked in public?

GF: Spencer Tunick is [the photographer] who does [the public thing].

Q: By "in public," I mean you’re seeing them clothed, then seeing them naked. It’s in a book and a movie going out to the world. So it’s "public" in that sense.

GF: This deals with documenting people in a non-sexual, non-erotic way. This is not about sex; it’s about showing the entire person as they exist in society.

The clothed and unclothed, what they do for a living, their age -- all ties into my fascination with documenting society. Showing how someone looks if they’re a banker. How do look in their clothing? Then, how do they look when they’re naked?

When they’re naked they’re on [an equal] playing field because there are no demarcations of what they do for a living, their wealth or their poverty or whatever. It’s just the raw person. I saw the opportunity in Vegas because of what I did in London and the BBC documentary in London. I just had a vision for it and we did Stripped: Greg Friedler’s Naked Las Vegas.

Q: When you made the film, did people react differently than when you made it strictly as a book? You’re asking people to be in a movie about it, so it has a different layer or level of exposure, so to speak.

GF: I took photos of 170 people in Vegas, which is a huge number because only 75 people make it into the book. I think only one out of those people didn’t want to be in the movie, only one. So they went for it and it was great.

Q: There’s got to be a slightly different permutation to making a movie versus making a book.

GF: Well it’s a different paradigm; it’s a different starting place. The book is, “Okay, I’m going to shoot you clothed in three shots, three shots nude, ask what you do for a living and your age, and then, 'nice meeting you,' ” and moving on to the next person.

The film is just a different set of assumptions. But only one person out of 170 did not want to be in the film, so it worked out.

Q: In New York, you can walk up to people on the street and say, “You want to be naked in a book?”

GF: That’s not my style exactly.

Q: You obviously were trying to get different walks of life, so how did you find people when you got to individual cities?

GF: I found people through websites; I placed ads on places like Craigslist. You find people however you can find them. I talked to the bartender at the Stratosphere, where I was staying, and he did it. You just talk to people and you feel them out and see if you think it would be something they’d be interested in.

When you show them a published book like Naked New York or something, all they can do is say yes or no, and I would say I’m 50/50 -- 50% of the time they say yes.

Q: How different were each of the cities?

GF: Well, New York was the original city, so I did it as my thesis for grad school at the School of Visual Arts. I shot in a friend’s dingy, tiny loft in Chelsea on West 27th Street between 10th and 11th before it became nice.

I shot that over a year. I placed an ad to begin with in the Village Voice, and 11 people responded. I met with them at the School of Visual Arts in a studio and talked to them, then somewhere within those two weeks, I decided I didn’t want to shoot them naked in the studio. I wanted to shoot them clothed and naked in a loft, and did that.

I shot it over a year and it was an amazing project. LA was next and that was quite different because LA’s got a very different feel to it, a different energy and culture. LA was good but not great.

London was amazing. Not exactly with LA, but New York and London are very, very old cities with deep roots. Vegas isn’t like that. It’s a very new city. It’s a very specific, transient culture in Vegas.

Q: What was a common thread with the people that were willing to be naked?

GF: Well you have your nudist contingent. You have the everyday Joe Blow lawyer accountant who’s got kind of a wild streak to them who wants to be in it. You’re got your sex workers, which were a very huge population of Vegas. You have people that are dealing with entertainment and gambling.

But I knew going in I wasn’t going to get celebrities, or get people that are “Playboy” models; and I wasn’t going to get people that are hanging out at the Palms casino. I wasn’t going to get that demographic because they have no reason for doing it. It doesn’t promote their career at all.

Some of the people I shot were high on meth. The meth problem in Vegas is worse than anywhere else in the country; it’s insane. There were four people I tried to track down. I went through friends, and they were like, “Yeah, they’re dead. They moved.” Meth is a huge problem in Vegas.

Q: How did it feel to be the subject as opposed to being the documentarian?

GF: I don’t really love it, but I put up with it. I cringe when I see myself on screen.

Q: This film project was directed by David Palmer. Did you ever consider directing it yourself?

GF: I was thinking about it. The whole thing was my idea; I came up with the notion of doing Naked Las Vegas and documenting it. In 1999, I went to London for eight weeks and they did a documentary about me shooting Naked London, which aired on the BBC.

Q: What was it about this particular director that made you feel he was the right guy to do it?

GF: He was very excited about it. He had the right kind of energy and ideas, so we hooked up.

Q: Did you fight the urge to micromanage?

GF: I didn’t want to micromanage.

Q: Were you shooting the movie while taking the pictures?

GF: During the entire month of August 2007, I was shooting pictures and he was shooting the movie.

Q: How different was it having David shoot the movie while you’re doing the pictures?

GF: Not very different. I tried to keep it real and just let him do what he wanted to do. He would have me go and open a door or do certain things so that he could edit it back into the film later on.

Q: The difference between the book and the movie is that people are sharing directly into the camera. You’re getting their feedback. There’s something communicated by the wordlessness of the book, but by having the words heard here, what effect did that have for you and the viewer? Does it change or enhance the experience? You're the subject of the film, but you’re not; you’re the generator of it but you’re also the subject. Being videotaped doing the process makes for two different subjects.

GF: Sure. The real subject matter…

Q: There's documenting you doing it; it’s a layer upon a layer. It’s different from documenting something that’s just happening. It’s one thing to go into the whorehouse and go in to videotape it.

GF: It’s a documentary of me on my journey and Naked in Las Vegas. It’s a documentary that has its ebbs and flows of what I’m thinking, what I’m feeling, what I’m wanting.

During some of the film I’m really down. I’m not in a good mood because Vegas is an exceptionally crazy place to go for 30 days; it’ll hurt your soul big time.

I ran into a lot of problems with not being able to find people to shoot, and what I ended up doing, which was very wise, is Vegas, like Denver and some other cities, has First Fridays.

Usually I would shoot over a weekend and shoot 15, 20 people a day, if that. On First Friday in August of 2007 we put up a banner and I shot 55 people in the back of a gallery in three hours.

Q: What were the similarities and differences between people from New York, LA, London, Vegas?

GF: One good one is there was a gap from London, which is 1999, to eight years later in Vegas. One big thing is lack of pubic hair. A big lack of pubic hair, almost no pubic hair.

Lee, the guy in the film who’s the homeless man -- I fell in love with him -- is just amazing, he doesn’t have any pubic hair. The guy doesn’t know where he’s going to sleep every night, and he’s shaving his pubic hair. That befuddled me.

That's why I am into being an artist, to ask, "Why is this woman wearing fake nails and why is she wearing this type of fake nails and what does that mean about her and what does that say about her humanity?"

Q: You are right. What amazes me is that even normal, ordinary people shaved in this thing.

GF: In the film, I talked about the lack of pubic hair and then -- Oscar Goodman’s the mayor of Vegas -- I say as a joke, “Yep, it’s almost like Oscar Goodman put out a mandate: 'No more pubic hair for females.' ” He’s in the film; it’s hilarious. I cannot believe he signed a release and went in the film, but it’s hilarious.

Q: But not naked...

GF: No. Are you kidding me? He’s with the book and says, “I’m going to have to look at this after 10 martinis."

Q: Do you think of the gap in terms of era? Or is it more about place?

GF: Something changed in society. I don’t think it has to do with London versus Vegas. And I wonder about these things. Where do they get the idea of shaving their pubic hair?

Q: You say there’s an obvious gap between New York, London and this book. New York was your first shoot.

GF: New York was in 1995.

Q: Would it be interesting to go back and do an addendum to New York and see if it was any different?

GF: It would be interesting to see if people look any different, if the people that came forth did anything different for a living.

Q: Or go back to the same people.

GF: Well that would be the only way to do it. I can’t do it because I don’t have contact with those people, but if I so choose, and I wouldn’t choose, but I would probably go back and do London if I could find those people. London was a very rich experience. It’s an amazing city; it’s a big city, and I got people from all walks of life. When I get my hands on Naked London, I’ll send it to you. You can watch that DVD.

Q: And how was LA versus New York?

GF: LA was very difficult. I succeeded, I did a good job, but it’s not as powerful a book.

Q: Who would have thought LA? Because they go to the beach and they’re virtually half naked.

GF: It’s hard to get in touch with people in LA. They’re so spread out and it’s a car culture. It’s very different. LA was not my favorite at all.

Q: I was in LA recently; I stayed in Venice part of the time.

GF: Venice is where I shot the LA book.

Q: I love Venice.

GF: I do too. I shot in a private outdoor courtyard.

Q: How did you find it?

GF: Through a friend who’s an artist who had a space next door. A guy that used to date Sandra Bullock who’s an artist found me the space; it was brilliant.

Q: Did you find a difference in the kind of jobs that people had in LA versus New York or any of the other places?

GF: No.

Q: What also interests me is the difference between the men and the women. Do you find that the women are more willing to be naked -- or the men?

GF: You know what? It’s even. There’s no way to really know it. People came forth, and they were very open, very loving, very nice, and they didn’t have a problem with it.

Q: Any differences in terms of age range?

GF: It’s always harder to get older people, always.

Q: I'd be hesitant just because I’m fatter than I used to be and it bothers me.

GF: Younger was not a problem. Middle-aged was not a problem. It’s just a little older and was a little bit harder. I got more people in New York and London that were older.

Q: You were saying that when you do a book like this, you’re also getting a sense of the character of the people.

GF: I do a book in a specific city because I’m interested in the culture; I’m interested in the people; I’m interested in the place. I get to know the people through the city and the city through the people. It’s all one.

It’s not about shooting naked people; it’s about educating yourself about what a place is about. What is the culture? What are the trends? What’s the energy?

And I did it in Vegas, and that’s why Tokyo would be exquisite. If I do another book, like in Tokyo, I’d want to do that a little bit more, but it will not be another Naked book. It will be a massive survey of Japanese culture which involves my photographs and the work of three writers. We’ll see what happens.

Q: That’s another reason why it was good documenting London or Vegas as a film… you’re learning about the people there. That isn’t easy to convey unless you have a camera there to share it.

GF: It’s conveyed in Stripped. It sheds light on a lot of things.

Q: The books offer one kind of aesthetic experience. Seeing images is one kind of experience. Seeing them in a film, it’s almost like an adventure story unfolding as opposed to just seeing the end result, a document.

GF: Of course; it’s a film versus a book, a film versus an art project. It’s seeing something on a printed page versus motion picture. It uncovers a lot more.

Q: Did you ever think about getting naked yourself and doing your own portrait?

GF: Not really in these books. I’m in a couple of books naked. There’s a book called Self Exposure where I do a self-portrait.

For now I’m over the naked thing and just moving on to other things. Things kind of ebb and flow as an artist, and you’ve just got to shoot what you want to shoot.

For more articles by Brad Balfour go to: