The Brooklyn 100: Jody Lee Lipes, Cinematographer/Filmmaker

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As much as any other single person, Lipes is responsible for how Brooklyn looks on screen today: as the DP of Tiny Furniture and most of the first season of Girls, he gave millennial angst a sneaky polish, and it led to higher-profile work from Jay-Z’s “Picasso Baby” video to Trainwreck. His pretty pictures are an implicit advocacy for the continued relevance of 35mm to mainstream and indie directors alike, and his dance films, NY Export: Opus Jazz and Ballet 422 (made with his wife, former NYC Ballet dancer Ellen Bar) are simply lovely.
What’s your favorite place in Brooklyn to go to the movies?
BAM, there really isn’t anywhere else on their level. They have great programming, great theaters, and they’re trying to keep film alive. I think of it as the Lincoln Center of Brooklyn. Florence Almonzini, Jacob Perlin and Ryan Werner believed in me as a filmmaker before anyone else did, and for that reason BAM is the only theater in the world that has screened all of the films I’ve directed. I owe them a lot, and I feel proud knowing I’ve been a small part of their history.
What are some films you’ve watched that you can point to and say, “That’s my New York”—films where what’s on-screen (visually, culturally, thematically) resonates with your experience of life in the city?
There are none I can think of. I would probably find a film like that boring cause I’m a homebody when I’m not out shooting, and just focused on being a Dad right now. Being a filmmaker forces me to get out of the house and meet new people, that’s probably why I do it. The movies that make me love New York City are James Gray’s entire body of work, Kids, the Godfather trilogy, Frances Ha, The French Connection, Klute, and of course Woody Allen’s work from the 70’s and 80’s.
Maybe a related question: when you’re filming in New York, is there a vision you have of the city that it’s important for you to “be true to”? Or does the city vary from story to story?
I just hate shooting places that are commonly used in New York. I think it’s a real challenge to find environments that are New York, but totally untouched by movie cameras, and that was a big part of our location scouting process on NY Export: Opus Jazz because the film is about young people occupying spaces where they can be alone, away from adults, hidden. I’m very proud of the New York we created in that film, but the movie was almost destroyed because of it. One of our main locations was condemned after our first day of principal photography, and many of the locations are completely gone now, so the film is also a historical record of another era, even though we only shot it like seven years ago.
Tell us about your upcoming projects—you’re soon to make the leap into directing fiction features, correct?
There are two scripted films I have been chipping away at for a long time, just writing and crafting the story without bringing them to the market. The one we’re hoping to make first is called Mother Tongue Reader. Micah Bloomberg, who was one of the writers on the film Creative Control and Stand Clear of the Closing Doors, has been generous enough to bring me onto that project as a co-writer and director. Kyle Martin (Tiny Furniture, Teenage) my long time friend and collaborator is producing the film. Mother Tongue Reader is a movie about a totalitarian dystopia… Terry and Keith are gifted young artists in love with each other and their mother country. But when Keith is summoned to collaborate with their God-like leader and Terry is imprisoned for political re-education, each must choose to stay true to their country, or reject the only way of life they’ve ever known.

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