Comedy

Zero Motivation wins Best Narrative Feature at TRIBECA 2014

zero motivation poster

A smash hit in Israel and winner of the Best Narrative Feature Award at the Tribeca Film Festival 2014, Zero Motivation is a unique, sharply observed, sometimes dark and often hilarious portrait of everyday life for a unit of young, female soldiers in a remote Israeli desert outpost.  Pencil-pushers in the Human Resources Office, best friends Zohar (Dana Ivgy) and Daffi (Nelly Tagar) spend their time playing video games, singing pop songs, jousting with stationery and dreaming of Tel Aviv. If this sounds boring, the film is anything but. With shifts of tone that go from slapstick to satiric to horrifying with fluid ease, and with a superb supporting cast of characters, Zero Motivation is one of the most original films of 2014.

Below is an interview with writer-director Talya Lavie taken in LA in January 2015 on the occasion of the film’s theatrical release in US cinemas.

Zero_Motivation_web_1

Dana Knight: Congratulations on a very funny, witty and refreshingly unusual “army film”. Where did the inspiration come from? I suppose it has a lot to do with your own service in the military?

Talya Lavie: During my mandatory military service as a secretary, I dreamed of making an army movie with the pathos and the epic proportions of classic war-films, but about the gray, mundane service that my friends and I had, with hardly ever getting up from our office chairs. I was inspired and amused by the idea of using envelopes, coffee cups, office intrigues, staple guns and Solitaire in order to create a female response to the Israeli male-dominated army-films genre.

Knight: Although set in the war-zone, the action is restricted to the administrative office, the sealed world of secretaries who don’t risk their lives although they could easily die of boredom. What elements of the characters’ lives were exaggerated for the purposes of comedy and which aspects are more true-to-life?

Lavie: The setting of the administration soldiers is very true to life. Although the film has some imaginary and surrealistic elements, it’s actually very authentic. The characters are not exaggerated, but they are extreme. Being in the desert area far away from civilisation can sometimes change your perspective about things. The conflicts between the characters, who are so different from each other and yet stuck together, is what makes it funny.

tayla lavie

Israeli writer-director Tayla Lavie

Knight: I think you made a very brave and risky choice in introducing the subplot of the suicidal girl into a film whose tone is generally satiric and light. How did you manage that feat?

Lavie: The film is defined as a “dark comedy”, but while writing the script, I didn’t want to lock myself into a specific genre. I put a large scale of emotions in it, and was interested in mixing the different spirits. Ultimately my greatest challenge was to maintain the specific subtle tone of the film; to balance the transitions between humour, sadness, nonsense and seriousness. I felt like an acrobat in a circus walking on a rope, trying not to fall off, while keeping the film’s free spirit.

Knight: This is an army film with an almost all female cast, which is very unusual and also very ironic. How did the casting go?

Casting this ensemble was quite a complex puzzle. I had the privilege of working with one of the most accomplished Casting Directors in Israel- Orit Azulay. We auditioned over 300 actresses and ended up with extremely talented comedians and actors.

Dana Ivgy, who won the Israeli Academy Award for leading actress for her role as Zohar, is a very well-known actress in Israel- It was her third Academy Award. The other actresses were a little less known before the film, but now they are stars. Nelly Tagar (Daffi) and Shani Klein (Rama) were both nominated for Best Supporting Actress Award (which was given, by the way, to Dana Ivgy for an appearance in another film in the same year).

All the actors of Zero Motivation were extremely devoted to it. It was nice to see that although the film is all about ranks and hierarchy- none of that existed on set. They helped each other and created a terrific ensemble.  

Knight: Could you talk about your creative process of writing this film and the aesthetic choices you had to make along the way?

Lavie: After 2 years of writing and rewriting the script, I was very lucky to have my project selected for the Sundance Screenwriters and Directors’ Labs. Beyond being a significant experience for me as filmmaker, I believe it also helped secure the funds later on.

The hardest part in bringing the project to life was, naturally, raising funds. Many of the first readers had a hard time accepting a black comedy taking place in the Israeli army, while having little mention/ excluding references to the of occupation, combat, or other aspects of the tough reality – and so had difficulty putting the film into a specific category.
But it was important for me to keep the story confined to the walls of an office, apparently disconnected from the world outside and even escapist, but actually giving an authentic glimpse into the characteristic-militaristic society from a different point of view.

Another interesting challenge was creating a low-budget army film without any actually help from the army, nor any possibility of using any of the real Israeli-army bases for filming. The assembly of all details and locations to seem like a single and specific desert base was a complex effort that required all the crew’s creativity. Also, since the story takes place in 2004, we were surprised to discover how many things had changed over the last decade, but most were gadget-related, or had to do with older computers etc. The feelings and personal stories and dramas didn’t seem to change at all.

Cinematically, I wished to keep the monochromatic palette of the army base, its grey structures, crowded offices and rundown living quarters, set against the beautiful desert scenery of the south of Israel, with its warm colors, constant changing weather, and sense of freedom.

I can’t talk about all that without mentioning the wonderful crew I had on board: Eilon Ratzkovsky the Producer, Yaron Scharf the Cinematographer, Arik Lahav-Leibovich the Editor, Ron Zikno the Production Designer, Ran Bagno the Composer and many others. And of course the wonderful cast I mentioned before.

Knight: I had the impression that the mise-en-scene was very well thought-out and that you left nothing to chance, is that correct? What is your preferred manner of working on a film?

Lavie: We rehearsed a lot, also on location. We had a very short time for the shooting so I wanted to be as prepared as possible. Years ago, before I went to film school, I dreamed of becoming a comics-artist. So I guess I’m very influenced by graphic novel aesthetics, in terms of squeezing many details- stories, jokes and information- into every frame, as if somebody’s going to pause on each shot and take a longer look at it.

Knight: The film was enthusiastically received on the international film festival circuit. How was it received at home?

Lavie: Zero Motivation was released in Israel six month ago and was very well received, much more than we could have imagined, it broke box-office records in Israel and won 6 Israeli Academy Awards (for best script, best director, best leading actress, best editing, best casting and best original score) and the Israeli Critics’ Award for best Israeli film. It has a strong effect in Israel and I’m happy about it. Now we’re very excited to have it shown in the USA. The mandatory military service is a very local aspect of the Israeli culture but it’s used in the film as a platform to tell a universal coming of age story, about friendship and about being a young woman.

Knight: What is next for you and is there anything you would like to add?

Lavie: I’m working on my next feature film, which is a contemporary free interpretation of a short novel by Sholem Aleichem, transferring its plot from 19th century Eastern Europe to present-day Brooklyn. We’re now starting to raise the budget for its production. As I learned, those things can take a while, so in the meantime, I’m very proud and excited that Zero Motivation is shown in LA, I believe it could be interesting and entertaining for the American viewer and hope that people give it a chance. I know I like to walk into the cinema next to my home and find myself in a whole different world.

Up For a Laugh?The LOCO LONDON FILM FESTIVAL Starts Tomorrow

LOCO Film fest

The LOCO LONDON COMEDY FESTIVAL  returns this weekend (23 – 26 January 2014) for the third year with its biggest ever line-up. Spread over four days  at venues across the capital (BFI Southbank, Hackney Picturehouse, Ritzy Picturehouse, Greenwich Picturehouse, Institut Français, the Lexi Cinema and more), the festival will showcase the world’s best funny films, lightening up London in the most miserable week of the year.

With its commitment to discovering and developing new British talent, LOCO will present the World Premiere of Jamie Adams’ independent British comedy Benny & Jolene (24 January, BFI Southbank)The film stars Craig Roberts (Submarine, The Double) and Charlotte Ritchie (Fresh Meat) as an indie folk duo trying to balance credibility with commerce, and just possibly falling in love along the way. The screening will be followed by a Q&A with director Jamie Adams, producer Jon Rennie and lead actress, Charlotte Ritchie. LOCO will bring summer to BFI Southbank for its premiere, creating a festival vibe with live music and DJs, accompanying the second film of the night – a preview of Lukas Moodyson’s festival favourite, We Are The Best, in which three Swedish teenagers form a punk band.

LOCO has a strong track record of introducing British audiences to the best foreign language comedies, proving that language is no barrier to laughter. UK Premieres in the festival include Les Coquillettes (23 January)a witty double narrative that contrasts three friends’ accounts of their romantic adventures at the Locarno Film Festival (where the film was both shot and premiered), with flashbacks to what actually happens when Sophie pursues her film star crush. Writer/director/star Sophie Letourneur, who is being hailed as the French Lena Dunham for her funny, refreshingly frank comedy, will make her first appearance in the UK at the festival. Another UK premiere is Matterhorn (26 January)which won the Audience Award at the Rotterdam Film Festival and the Audience Award and Best Film at the Moscow Film Festival, a deliciously deadpan Dutch tragi-comedy that follows two men and a dream to climb the Matterhorn.

 

THE BIG THEME: SATIRE

One of comedy’s most important roles is to poke fun at the powerful. Satire rarely changes systems, but it does change people. By exposing how media, marketing and political systems work, satire can show people how to laugh at them and thereby diminish their influence. So this year LOCO will be celebrating satirical comedy, with Satire Day, a full day of discussions, screenings and live performance (Saturday 25 January, BFI Southbank) and a 50th Anniversary screening of Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (25 January, BFI Southbank) with special guests including Kubrick’s friend and producer Jan Harlan. Other satirical screenings include: Trafic (26 January, Institut Français)the classic 1971 Jacques Tati French-Italian comedy; Doomsdays (23 January, BFI Southbank), a Kickstarter-funded pre-apocalyptical comedy that has been described as “Michael Haneke meets Wes Anderson”; Life of Brian (23 January, The Lexi Cinema); and The Infidel introduced by its writer, David Baddiel (26 January, Hackney Picturehouse).

LOCO has commissioned artist Rachel King to work with the festival’s artists in residence for 2014, Crank Theatre, to create The Face Of Satire (23 – 26 January). This will be a unique exhibition of photographs of Britain’s leading satirical writers, performers and thinkers. Sitters include John Lloyd, David Baddiel, Bryony Kimmings, Howard Jacobson, Al Kennedy, Sara Pascoe, and many more.

Cementing their commitment to education, LOCO will also launch School of Satire, a schools programme encouraging satirical thinking through sketch comedy, cartooning, art and writing. By giving children the tools of a satirist LOCO will help to increase their media literacy and critical thinking in an engaging, creative and entertaining way.

NEW BRITISH COMEDY FILMMAKING

LOCO’s mission is to discover, develop and screen the world’s most distinctive comedy film-makers. Each year they present two Discovery Awards, for a short film and a feature, which highlight the most exciting and original new British comedy talent, chosen by a panel of industry experts. The winners will be announced on 1st January.

LOCO is also presenting two programmes of new British comedy short films and an evening with leading animator Chris Shepherd.

 Supported by the Creative Skillset Film Skills Fund and presented in association with Domino Publishing, LOCO’s highly commended Kickstart Your Comedy Career course (24 – 25 January, BFI Southbank) will offer insider advice from TV commissioners, film-makers, distributors and more. Previous speakers include Ben Wheatley, Julia Davis, Alice Lowe, Jesse Armstrong, Sam Bain and Ben Willbond. Previous students have gone on to win Baftas, BIFAs and featured in Screen International’s Stars of Tomorrow.

For aspiring comedians aged 6 – 12, LOCO’s popular School of Slapstick returns to BFI Southbank with another opportunity to learn silent comedy techniques and make short silent comedy films. To celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Little Tramp characterthe festival will screen Charlie Chaplin’s silent satire The Idle Class (26 January), in a double bill with Buster Keaton’s satirical silent One Week. An original live score performed by The Lucky Dog Picturehouse will accompany the two films.

EXCLUSIVE PANEL EVENTS

LOCO will present Killer Dialogue and the Art of Representation in association with Birds’ Eye View Film Festival (26 January, BFI Southbank). The female stars of the 1940’s had equal billing and their dialogue was as filthy, feisty and cutting as their male counterparts, if not more so. With archive footage and an industry panel comprising writers, comediennes and a psychologist we delve into what makes great female characters and how to write them.

The festival will close with 21st Century Sketch (26 January, BFI Southbank), a celebration of contemporary sketch comedy with clips from TV and the internet, and live performances from some of Britain’s most exciting sketch comedy artists.

Booking Information:

Please see www.locofilmfestival.com for details.

About LOCO:

LOCO is a not-for-profit foundation that champions the craft of comedy film-making through training, screenings, outreach and funding. It was founded by Denise Hicks and Jonathan Wakeham in September 2010, and its mission is to kickstart the next generation of British-based comedy film-makers.

LOCO’s first event was a 30th Anniversary screening of Airplane! with writer-directors David and Jerry Zucker and star Robert Hays. Leslie Nielsen sadly died just ten days before the screening, which became a celebration of his life and work, described by The Guardian as “the perfect tribute to an actor who has gone to the great departure lounge in the sky”.  This is LOCO’s third comedy film festival.

LOCO’s Patron is Jerry Zucker.