Sweet Post on Strangers with Candy
by: Elina Shatkin
July 1, 2006
After three seasons and 30 episodes of success on Comedy Central, Strangers with Candy has finally made its way to the big screen, bringing with it every ounce of its deadpan humor and brutal satire. Directed by Paul Dinello, who helped create the show and also portrays sensitive art teacher Geoffrey Jellineck, the filmic version of Strangers with Candy serves as a prequel to the series. In both cases, Amy Sedaris stars as Jerri Blank, an ex-junkie, ex-con and ex-prostitute who has returned to her childhood home after 32 years of debauchery.
In the style of an absurd after-school special, Jerri returns to high school to both learn and teach life lessons in Strangers with Candy. Dinello explains that the idea was to "capture the tone of after-school specials-have that holier-than-thou message but twist it in perverse ways."
Unlike the show, which was shot in HD to allow for more improvisation, the movie was shot on 35mm film and was, according to Dinello, 99 percent scripted. "We're such fans of twisted dialogue, which needs to really be thought about and written out, because that stuff's harder to improv. And we shot in 24 days, so I didn't really have the luxury of going, 'Take your time,'" he explains. Strangers with Candy was shot by DP Oliver Bokelberg. Production took place in New Jersey in July 2004.
To cut the movie, Dinello brought in editor Michael R. Miller. "The approach to comedy was generally to let it play out in the wide shots. Don't try to be funny in the editing," says Miller.
"A lot of the comedy is broad, and a lot of the dialogue is absurd," says Dinello, "so we try to infuse it with a sense of drama in a way that parodies what I think is the biggest crime in a lot of mainstream movies: manipulation. They use a lot of tricks to manipulate the audience and make them believe there's drama happening even when the quality of the material would never make anybody feel moved. I wanted to use those same tricks to undercut the drama."
During the 24 days of production and for a few weeks afterward, Miller worked out of the Ed Sullivan Theater in Manhattan. Following that, he and Dinello set up an editing room in Dinello's farmhouse in upstate New York. "I don't like to have grownups around when I work," Dinello explains. "It was better when we knew we could work for a few hours and then knock off and swim in a creek. We made our own hours, and it really led to a relaxed environment."
"It was great for editing," echoes Miller, "because if we had an inspiration at 9 p.m., we could walk upstairs, boot up the computer and try it out." Miller worked on an Avid Meridien and, in a first for him, edited on a PC. "I'm used to working on a Mac, but it was an easy transition. I take my keyboard settings with me on every show."
The movie features no flashy editing or graphics tricks, but it is the simpler material that sometimes presents the greater challenge. One obstacle was determining how to present the bizarre syntax and double-speak that many of the characters use, most notably Stephen Colbert's character. "Material like that is a great challenge to an editor because it challenges you not to make cuts. Stephen Colbert's comedy requires unbroken attention. The challenge was finding the best take for him from top to bottom and putting it in unbroken. It's not comedy for the ADD crowd," Miller laughs.
Summing up his approach to the movie, Miller says, "With comedy editing, you have to maintain the illusion of simplicity-and sometimes that's very, very hard."
Copyright 2006 CMP Entertainment Media, Inc. All rights reserved.