Filmmaker Q&A: IZZY GETS THE FUCK ACROSS TOWN Director Christian Papierniak
One of our favourite parts of the festival is promoting up-and-coming indie films, which this year includes the debut feature from director Christian Papierniak, IZZY GETS THE FUCK ACROSS TOWN. As an in-your-face, fast-and-fun journey through Los Angeles with the titular character, the movie balances heart and happiness with soul and sorrow...and more than a little punk rock.
We chatted with Christian to hear a little more about the film and the process that went into creating it. Here's what he had to say!
Can you briefly summarize what your film is about?
Quick and dirty, like a punk song - this movie is about a riot grrrl named Izzy who wakes up, hungover AF, to find out that her ex-boyfriend is celebrating his engagement to her ex-best friend at some bougie party across town. Not having a car in Los Angeles is not going to stop her from stopping them. Hell the F no! Featuring a "who's who" ensemble cast, the movie showcases the city’s finest and weirdest inhabitants in a comedic, riotous love letter to Los Angeles -- all set to a blazing punk soundtrack. And I'll just come out and say it: Mackenzie Davis owns this movie as the shameless hot mess that is Izzy. Nothing wrong with watching one of the best actors on the planet throw down a tour de force.
What was the inspiration behind this story?
The central plot is very similar to something I went through in my own life. It was a time when everything in my life felt broken - personally and professionally, nothing was stable, and it all seemed to be spiraling at the bottom of a toilet bowl. And then to make matters worse, I found out someone I had relied on as a close "friend" was also actively sabotaging me behind my back. It was awful. And sadly it's incredibly universal. Every time I show this movie to an audience, I can't tell you how many people come up to me and say, "Oh yeah, I went through that." And there's always a name: goddamn Mike, effing Sarah, if I ever saw Pete again I'd.... Of course, the movie portrays a funny version of it, but the movie also wears its heart on its sleeve. There are very real moments as the movie arcs toward its conclusion.
What's one new thing that you learned when making this film?
How interested people are in discovering (or re-discovering) "riot grrrl" culture. It was never meant to be something that was foregrounded in the story; it was just subtext for me as a writer - I've always loved the music, Corin Tucker is one of my personal heroes, the crafting of Izzy's persona is deeply rooted in that culture - but it's just taken off. And I think it's because riot grrrl culture is dearly missed. Especially in the United States, we're missing those voices - that anti-corporate, take-no-prisoners approach. And if people pick up a Heavens to Betsy, or Bikini Kill, or Sleater-Kinney, or Bratmobile album because they saw our logline or movie? Great, then we accomplished something of real value and I hope they get inspired.
Can you share a behind the scenes story from filming?
Mackenzie and I had just started working together as producing partners, and we didn't know each other that well yet, so there's always a feeling-out process. I sent her a picture of some shoes I wanted Izzy to wear in the movie - she wears the same costume for 90% of the movie so it was a relatively important choice. I'm very detailed in my filmmaking decisions, so it wasn't a hasty decision at all. And I really expected Mackenzie to say, "Cool, those are the shoes," (which is honestly what too many actors do). Instead, Mackenzie wrote back a two-page email about why Izzy would wear a different pair of shoes with a detailed, bullet-point explanation. I remember grinning ear to ear - if this movie was ever going to be good, the person playing Izzy had to own it completely (she's in every frame of the movie). From that moment on, I knew we were on to something special.
This is your first feature-length film. How is it different from (or similar to) all of your prior work? Did you have to change your approach?
I also direct the blockbuster franchise video game NBA2K. The budget dwarfs IZZY - buildings full of incredibly talented people work on this game, many of whom I will never meet face to face, because there is just that much work to go around. I work with animators and actors on set, make phone calls to producers from set, manage a writing staff, get animated clips during lunch to review, have morning meetings with motion capture teams, work with NBA players on the road - it's a huge job with a ton of responsibility and logistical challenges. In many ways, it's the complete opposite of a 17-day, quick and dirty indie. But in many ways it's exactly the same - whether it's one camera on a tiny set, or hundreds of cameras firing on a mo-cap stage, you find a way to tell the truth in the material.
The title makes an impression on anyone skimming past it. How did you decide on it? Has it caused any trouble in the film's career so far?
The writing of this movie started with the image of Izzy and the title. It's aggressive, it's riot grrrl, it embodies the character perfectly and a movie that wears its heart on its sleeve. Of course it also grabs people's attention immediately, and that has been nothing but positive, as indie films need every edge. We don't have a marketing or advertising budget so every bit helps. I was always told I would eventually have to change it, but so far so good - even the distributors are completely behind the title because they understand that it's part of the soul of the movie. If the movie was garbage, we would probably suffer some backlash - but nothing so far!
What do you hope audiences take away from the film?
IZZY is meant to be a throwback to '90s indies like CLERKS, MY OWN PRIVATE IDAHO, SWINGERS, SLACKER, and BOTTLE ROCKET - it's immediate, fast-paced, stylistically aggressive, and funny, yet it takes itself seriously when it needs to. We've lost a little bit of that in recent years with independent cinema and we were hoping just to bring a sliver of that back.
Catch IZZY GETS THE FUCK ACROSS TOWN on Thursday, September 21 and Saturday, September 23 at Globe Cinema (head over to the film page to get your tickets). Christian, as well as producer Meghan Lennox, will be in town for the first screening, so if you have any more questions or comments, you can let him know at the Q&A!