Monday, April 25, 2011

Le'Talk: An Interview with director Jeff Lipsky

by Natalie Gallagher

Each year, the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Film Festival welcomes a great variety of established independent filmmakers—among them, Jeff Lipsky. Arguably one of the figureheads of the independently distributed film movement, Lipsky has been at the forefront of the industry since 1974, when he, along with John Cassavetes, distributed A Woman Under The Influence—the first nationally distributed specialized film. In January 2011, Lipsky debuted his own fourth full-length feature film as writer/director, Twelve Thirty, a family drama centered around a virginal young man who, in the span of a week, encounters two young daughters and their mother, becoming involved in their delicate web and, ultimately, altering their lives. Lipsky wrote and directed the film, which premiered on January 10th at the Lincoln Center in New York. I caught up with Lipsky to discuss his latest venture and his thoughts on the independent film industry.

L’etoile: So, tell me about Twelve Thirty. What was the inspiration behind this film?

Jeff Lipsky: Well, what Twelve Thirty has in common with my other films—and, really, my future films—are the common themes of family, love, and sexuality. They’re the only three things that everybody on the planet has in common, and I want to make films with universal themes. I think the inspiration to write this script was threefold… I pride myself in the success I’ve had in creating multidimensional, realistic real roles for women, and it’s interesting because I’m competing a against so few people. But I was inspired in part by a Russian comedy called Adam's Rib, about three generations of Russian women who live under the same roof, and I thought it would be really interesting to flip that premise on its head and go with two generations of women who live under the same roof who hardly knew each other… And the other piece is obvious—at least I think it’s quite obvious to most people over the age of 16—and that is the relationship between Benjamin Broddick and Mrs. Robinson in The Graduate. I sort of morphed all those notions together, but at the heart of it is the story of mothers and daughters. It’s not a dysfunctional family, but a non-functioning family. It’s very different, about a man who in the span of a week implodes—he comes into contact with all of these women and, completely unknown to him, he becomes a lynchpin, who hopefully allows the family to begin a healing process just as his life is thrown into turmoil. It’s a cautionary tale about the danger of abstinence, and it’s got a few barbed comments about lawyers.

At the end of the day, it describes the story of family. Everybody, everywhere should be able to identify with some character at some point, and that’s what I do—I provoke audiences. I bring them to laughter, I bring them to tears sometimes… the worst criticism, for me, is for a couple to get up afterwards and say to each other, “What are we going to have for dinner?” I want them to think about it for days. Popcorn movies are all well and good, but those aren’t the kinds of movies that inspired me growing up.

L: What are your plans for distribution for Twelve Thirty?

JL: Twelve Thirty has another month of proactive distributing with me at the helm, before I segue into production for my next film.

L: In a recent article with indiewire, you talked about recognizing and “embracing theatrical”. Can you expand on that?

JL: I think it’s kind of a very simple notion that I was embracing and continue to embrace that in this day and age, with filmed entertainment and digital entertainment and home entertainment and streaming, that the experience of seeing a feature length film in a large motion theater remains a singular experience that cannot be matched or approached. It’s still a form of entertainment that is rife with distractions and imperfections in their smallness and bigness, but nothing can duplicate the sociological sensation of experiencing a movie in the dark amongst strangers. I believe we have to move away from 3D—that’s the goose that’s killing the golden egg—but the last three weeks have been great: streaming is up, TV on demand is up… Maybe people are—God help them—watching more YouTube videos for free, but nothing has or will ever vanquish the movie business, nothing no matter what they invent or create is going to dissolve or displace movie going.

Production still from Twelve Thirty

L: You started in the independent film business when it first began itself, in the early 70’s. How do you feel independent film has progressed since you started the business?

JL: Well, I think it’s a cyclical business, like most businesses. When the independent film makers found how much money could be made, the major motion pictures started their own divisions… and every fifteen years or so they come in and start their own divisions and every five years they shut them down, and right now they’re in the process of shutting them down again. I would say since 1990 the total number of film distributors has stayed mostly the same. The digital revolution is going to help really talented filmmakers at the end of the day, while it’s hurting everybody right now… and it’s something new, I guess, like with the internet bubble when all those websites popped up, and then the bubble burst and the real websites stayed, and the ones that contributed something to humanity and to business have survived—and the same thing will happen to digital filmmaking. It’s going to take another five or ten years, but it’s going to happen.

L: You seem pretty tireless in your contribution to the industry.

JL: I love what I do. It’s exhilarating. There hasn’t been a day in production that hasn’t been exhilarating to me… I truly feel blessed to be doing what I wanted to be doing from the age of ten years old, and if I can’t appreciate it then I shouldn’t be doing it. I feel bad for my cast and crew, because we do 12-hour days and I don’t want to stop. We shoot 6-day weeks, and for their benefit of the crew I want to shoot 5-day weeks, but for my benefit I want to do 7-day weeks... The great thing about being an artist or being a musician is that our work will outlive us, and I think we are learning to appreciate art history and I think that’s exhilarating. It’s a pretty heady thing, and again, if you can’t get excited about that there’s something seriously wrong.

For more info on Jeff Lipsky's Twelve Thirty visit

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