Director Christian Papierniak on His Feature Film Debut, Izzy Gets the F*ck Across Town

"Whatever scene you’re doing is just about trying to grab whatever the truth is in that moment whether it’s a video game or whether it’s a movie." - Christian Papierniak
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In Izzy Gets The F*ck Across Town, perennial scene-stealer Mackenzie Davis gets a rare opportunity to carry a film on her shoulders. But she manages to do it with ferocious gusto. As Izzy, a struggling riot grrrrl rock star, Davis delivers a performance that possesses both dramatic insecurity and deadpan comic bite. Izzy may not be the easiest character to like and in many ways, is a complete mess. But Davis still makes her a protagonist worth watching thanks to her charisma that shines through in every single frame of the picture in which she appears. 

The film follows her journey to try and stop her ex-lover’s wedding and along the way, she runs into faces like her friend Walt (Haley Joel Osment) and her bitter older sister Virginia (Carrie Coon). Even though the picture is a starring vehicle for Davis, the supporting actors get to shine in their small roles. You have names like Carrie Coon, Haley Joel Osment, Lakeith Stanfield, Brandon T. Jackson, Alia Shawkat, and Annie Potts leaving an indelible impression. 

Its simplistic story also manages to feel innovative thanks to its title cards that feel as if they’ve been taken from a video game. Although, that makes sense considering writer/director Christian Papierniak has a background as a video-game director and is making his feature-film debut with this movie.

Thankfully, I got the opportunity to interview Christian about the process of making the picture. We got to discuss what his influences were for the filmmaking aesthetics, how he got Mackenzie Davis to sign on, and most importantly, where the heck the title came from!!

First off, I just want to say congratulations on the film. I thought it was very interesting.

Thank you. Interesting is a good word.

Well, one thing I really liked is its marvelous performance from Mackenzie Davis. How did you get her to sign on?

Well, she was our first choice from the beginning. We really like Halt And Catch Fire and we’re just a big fan of that and her work there. She seemed like a good fit for what we were trying to do. So, we got a casting director, Lauren Bass, and we approached her team and initially, she wasn’t available and then we went around with other options. But all of a sudden, she became available and we sent it to her manager.

He really liked the script and said, “I think this is the kind of thing she’s been looking for to be sort of the anchor of a movie at this point in time in her career. I just think it would be the right thing for her at the right time.” So, he sent it to her and said to give them 48 hours to see what happens. About 12 hours later, they called us and said “You’re gonna get on Skype Call for tomorrow.”

So, we got on Skype Call and about 10-15 minutes in, we agreed that this was a good idea. We got along really well right from the start and had a similar vision for the movie and for the character and all that stuff. She wanted to come on and be a producer as well because she hadn’t done that yet.

She wanted to be a full partner on the movie from start to finish with casting, figuring out the shooting, etc., all the way through post-production. It seemed like a good thing and we all got along really well. She was our rock all the way through.

Oh, that’s wonderful. I also have a question about the use of the “F” word in the title. What was the purpose of that?

That just seemed to fit when I was writing the script. I mean, there was really no larger or sinister purpose. As I sort of went around with it, though, I went to the bank because, you know, you set up an account for your LLC when you produce a movie.

The movie is registered under the title “Izzy Gets The F Across Town, LLC” and when I went to the bank and talked to the guy behind the bank, he was like “What is this? Izzy Gets The F Across Town, LLC.” I told him it was a movie and he was like, “Oh, s**t. Well, I’ll see that.” So, I got something here with this title and every time I would say it to people, it was an attention grabber.

It’s something that I did to fit the style and attention of the script for the movie we were trying to make. But then, it sort of dovetailed into this thing that became a great marketing driver because every time we brought it up to people, they were intrigued by it. Even if they’re a little offended by it at first, they’re like “Oh, no. That’s interesting.”

Most movies are named a very generic thing. Especially indie films. Also, there’s so much content that it seemed like it would help the movie stick out. Every time you see it written up in articles and different things, it’s always something they bring up. So, we just kind of chased it. To Shout! Factory’s credit, they never wanted us to change the title. So, we never came across any roadblocks.

One question I have involves the opening sequence.

Yeah?

It does become clear that it’s a dream sequence. But I’m curious as to why you chose a pink color scheme.

Well, something the DP wanted to experiment with was this RED camera that had just come out with this infrared lens. They were very invested in trying to get people to use it and test it out and try it. So, they gave us the lens to take a whack at it and we did some tests and we really liked the way it looked.

Question with doing a dream sequence is one of two things. Do you dive right in head first and say it is a dream or do you trick the audience and say this feels real before the person wakes up? In this case, because the dream isn’t something that’s having some sort of trick, it just seemed right to make it feel dreamy and different. Also, we had never seen that lens used before. They used it in Beyonce’s Lemonade video and other times but rather sparingly. So, we just wanted to create an interesting aesthetic and that’s mainly the idea of what we were trying to go for.

Also, about the scene where Mackenzie Davis and Carrie Coon are performing the song “Axemen,” I do have to say I thought the song was made up for the film.

(laughs)

What made you decide to use that one?

Well, Izzy’s obviously a musician. So, when you’re writing a script, you’re trying to think things through and wonder “What kind of musician is she?” because that’s going to dictate a lot of things. Then, I had this idea of them singing this song in the movie because it was an interesting way to bring the two characters emotionally in a way that you don’t have to do with words versus them having a big fight. It just seemed like a more natural thing especially because they were in a band together and whatever.

Right.

So, riot grrrl music is something that really inspired me when I was younger with genre music and bands I was inspired by and loved. So, I thought it’d be interesting to bring one of those songs into this because Izzy was kind of this riot grrrl punk and it fit her character. So, we reached out to Corin Tucker who is in Sleater-Kinney now and this is her first band. I asked if I could cover it because it was a song I loved and she said, “Well, let’s see the script.”

Instantly, she got it and wanted to be a part of it. Thankfully, because we had no money, she was generous enough to give us the song with very little money. But it was just sort of that. It was a place of inspiration that I was coming from when writing the character and things I cared about when I was little. So, I just wanted to spread that out into the world.

Now, I know that you have previous experience as a video-game consultant.

Yeah, a video-game director.

Right. How did that influence your filmmaking style for this project?

Oh, not at all (laughs). They’re two totally different processes. Doing a video game is a gigantic endeavor. You have two giant buildings of people. Producers, animators, sound departments, marketing departments, etc.. The game I worked on, NBA 2K, is the second biggest game in the world. So, it’s a massive project with gigantic budgets. I mean, the amount of money you spend on certain things dwarves the budget of Izzy by like $10,000.

So, there’s not really any connection between the two in terms of style. But obviously, in that case, you’re shooting motion capture and then it becomes animated. So, the visualization of what you’re doing on set with actors in motion-capture suits and helmet cameras is completely different then what it’s going to look like in the end. So, there’s a lot of visualization you have to go through to figure out how it’s going to look when it’s animated. Whereas with Izzy, it’s the complete opposite which is this raw filmmaking that we were trying to make. We didn’t have a lot of money and also, the movie had this '90s indie film vibe. So, we wanted to embrace that. We said “Let’s make a movie that’s kind of like that” and make a movie like Slacker or My Own Private Idaho. You know, have this rough indie vibe. We didn’t shoot on 16mm or anything but we wanted to have that kind of thing.

It’s the complete opposite. But I think the connection point with any of it is performance. Whatever scene you’re doing is just about trying to grab whatever the truth is in that moment whether it’s a video game or whether it’s a movie.

Izzy Gets the F*ck Across Town opens in theaters June 22

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