N.Y. Underground | A Flying Carpet, Demons & Psycho Sex Thrills

A look at three New York filmmakers sharing the underground spotlight: Adam Green, Jordan Galland and Matthew Ross.

Susan Kirschbaumby Susan Kirschbaum
Still from Adam Green’s “Aladdin”.

“It’s like the spirits of people in the movie came out to play. Like we all fell asleep in a dream and came out as friends,” says musician-artist and native New Yorker Adam Green of his second film, Aladdin, which debuts this month in the States and worldwide in May.

While Green, now 34-years-old, has been known to collaborate with famous pals in the past — including actor Macaulay Culkin (who plays a rebel leader in Aladdin), artist Devendra Banhardt, actress Alia Shawkat, and musician Pete Doherty, to name a few — he shares the underground spotlight with two other New York filmmakers: Jordan Galland, director of Ava’s Possessions, and Matthew Ross, cineaste of Frank and Lola.

In this age of mass and crass reality television and blockbuster film, these guys are doing it like punk rock Warholian art projects, where well known buddies work/advise for cheap.

Watching Ava’s Possessions, Galland’s spoof on a demonized twenty-something Ava (Louisa Krause) and the downtown NYC scene, you realize that the director is spoofing the spoils that come with late debauched nights. The demon cleansing club really fronts for Alcoholics Anonymous.

Galland, a graduate of NYU’s Gallatin School, made Ava’s Possessions with various producers for half a million. And he exchanged some personal favors. His cast features some notable NYC ‘it kids’ like Jemima Kirke (Jessa from HBO’s Girls), who is Galland’s childhood buddy, and Annabelle Dexter Jones (sister of music producer Mark Ronson, also Galland’s amigo.)

Known for his comedic horrors (his other films include a Shakespearean vampire parody called Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Undead and Alter Egos, about mortal men who moonlight as superheroes), Galland, a 36-year-old Manhattan native, readily admits his flicks reflect his real life  experiences. He tells Crave, “In Rosencrantz, there’s a line that the main character has in defending his late night, directionless, debauched lifestyle to his father, saying “I’m just fighting some demons, that’s all dad.”

“So I definitely expanded on that in Ava’s,” Galland continues. I spent most of my 20s fronting an indie rock band, and that job description is famous for cultivating a certain bacchanalian lifestyle— Bacchus is a hoofed predecessor to the more famous Christian demons, so there’s a direct historical connection. Once I chose to write about demons, and how they can effect the life of a young person living in the city, in oddly practical and problematic ways, the scenes and dialogue came naturally.”

They are demons of which Galland had warned his friend, Green, a few years ago after Green’s European musical tour. It may have been slightly before Green had shot his first film, The Wrong Ferrari (an over the top autobiographical comedy about love and friendship on Ketamine) completely on his iPhone. 

“Jordan has come and saved my life at different parts,” says Green. “I was never a junkie but I was pretty bad on drugs. He followed me home from a bar and had a long talk with me. It pre-empted me from doing as many drugs. I’ve always thanked him. Fast forward years later and Ava’s Possessions is my favorite film of his. It’s really clever to mix a horror movie and a comedy.It’s a fun place to spend time in and I want to see more episodes.”

Coincidentally, there’s probably not a more fun place to spend time than in Green’s new film Aladdin, for which Green had also enlisted Galland as an advisor and film editor. While Green is primarily self taught, especially as a filmmaker, his visions tend to inspire those around him. Aladdin stars most of his social circle. They include a menagerie of painters, musicians and actors including Natasha Lyonne (who worked for a few hundred dollars because she loved Green’s first film) and Jack Dishel (former guitarist for the Moldy Peaches) whose funny voices in the tour van inspired Aladdin’s mad cap Uncle Gary character.

“I invited actors to spend the summer inside of a cartoon.” Green says. “We were living inside a second life, in another dimension with no remnant of physical reality at all. I wanted to provide people with an old Hollywood experience, Aladdin flying on a magic carpet.” That experience cost about $250K, with a fifth coming from a Kickstarter campaign, another fraction from Swiss investors slash art friends from Zurich, and the rest from Green’s own money. He wrote the script and co-directed the film with his pal Dima Dobson. And he made all the paper mache sets himself, with the aid of myriad volunteers from Pioneer Works in Red Hook, where the pieces were stored and the scenes were shot in a nearby space. Green outlined every prop  in black paint, which connects the backdrops in a signature Green style.

One of the biggest kicks for Green was to have an idol of his, artist Francesco Clemente, on board to play his genie. “The artists at Pioneer Works were inspired by Francesco. He was very sociable on set. He brought up morale,” says GreenWhen introduced to Clemente, Green pitched the genie role in a presentation, which initially unnerved him. “Clemente was staring at me with his big eyes. He totally Jodorowsky-ed me. I learned how to draw looking at Francesco’s drawings. He doesn’t plan.”

Matthew Ross, 39, the oldest of this triad of renegade New Yorkers, did plan for his first feature film, a Polanski-esque meets French New Wave thriller called Frank and Lola, which debuted at Sundance and hits theaters nationally in early Fall. It has been picked up by Universal for a couple million and stars Michael Shannon and Imogen Poots.

A Harvard graduate and self-admitted lifelong film geek inspired by Goddard and Truffaut, it took Ross over a decade to make the film. “I was like the fool on the hill. I’ve got so much kind of macho pride,” says Ross. “I can’t give up on something. It got so close.” At times he had to crash at friends’ places in LA, supporting himself by working as a film journalist for Variety, Filmmaker and others. And he spent long hours being emotionally bolstered by his ersatz kid brother Galland.

“I met Jordan when he was 14,” says Ross. “He was ambitious, connected and fun and knew where all the parties were. He was making music and painting and making short films. Now, I don’t think there’s any working filmmaker who has been able to do what he’s able to do, working outside of the system, with not a low budget. I respect him for his fearlessness.”

But Ross knew he needed bigger coffers to create the type of artfully done, edge-of-your-seat, sensual film that Frank and Lola turned out to be. And he received it through formal, conventional channels. Yet, even with official Hollywood backing, Ross relied on local support — all New York pals. A female designer donated her shoes to the film; ditto for a custom suit maker; and a publicist who supplied wardrobe pieces free of charge.

Green, who got closer to Ross through Galland, calls his film “beautiful” and reminiscent of “Leaving Las Vegas.” Again, an autobiographical element comes to play.

Galland tells Crave how art imitated their lives in Frank and Lola. “I had been very good friends with [Ross’s] girlfriend, on whom he loosely based it on. It was interesting being there to give relationship advice as a sort of third wheel at times, and then similar advice about fictional characters when he was making the movie. I had based characters in my films off real life ex-girlfriends he knew well. It was all quite intimate and messy.”

Adam Green’s Aladdin hits iTunes and Amazon VOD on April 15th, 2016. Jordan Galland’s Ava’s Possessions is available on DVD and on iTunes, as well as pay per view Comcast/Time Warner. It debuts on Netflix mid April. Matthew Ross’s Frank and Lola will be released by Universal Pictures in early Fall 2016.