Director Joe Swanberg in town for Vail Film Fest
Ryan Summerlin March 29, 2013
In Joe Swanberg’s film “Drinking Buddies,” coworkers Kate (Olivia Wilde) and Luke (Jake Johnson), freely drink and flirt on the job at a Chicago craft brewery. The only problem is they’re both dating other people, played by Ron Livingston and Anna Kendrick. The film, which closes out the Vail Film Festival tonight, premiered at the SXSW film festival a few weeks ago, where it generated a lot of buzz. We talked to Swanberg about improvisational process, his interest in craft beer and what he plans to do during the short time he’s in Colorado for this festival.
Vail Daily: There’s no trailer for your film “Drinking Buddies” yet. In lieu of this, tell us why people should go see the movie on Saturday night.
Joe Swanberg: The actors, many of whom I’m sure you’re all familiar with, give amazing performances. Much of the film is improvised, and it’s a chance to see the actors in a different kind of way. It’s also about craft beer, and I’m positive in Colorado there’s a lot of craft beer fans.
VD: Most of your previous films have featured unknown actors, but “Drinking Buddies” stars Olivia Wilde, Jake Johnson, Anna Kendrick and Ron Livingston. How did you get the actors to come on board?
JS: The process was the same as it’s always been. I called and talked to everybody. There wasn’t a script. Actors are typically given a script to read and know from that if it’s a project they want to do or not. We had conversations about relationships and life and I told them some of the ideas I was interested in exploring. Some of them had seen my movies before, but it wasn’t like they were all super huge fans or anything. I think it was a chance for them to do something different than they’re used to doing.
VD: You said that a lot of the film was improvised. What was the filming process like?
JS: It’s pretty structured improvisation. I want to make sure if something happens on set there’s room to allow all that stuff for the story. There’s an outline, but I’m not 100 percent set on sticking to that outline. I won’t give the actors any dialogue, so the first take is like the writing take. At the end of the take I will say, “I really like this line you said.” Over the course of a couple of takes we’ll hone in on something. I’m my own editor, so a lot of what’s happening on set, I can see it and know what I’m going to use in the editing room. We don’t have to overshoot. If we do it in two takes and I really like it we can move on to the next scene.
VD: You’re known as a very DIY filmmaker, often directing, acting in, shooting, and editing your films yourself. This time you had a much larger crew, and brought on Ben Richardson as your cinematographer, who shot “Beasts of the Southern Wild.” How was working with a full crew different from your usual way of doing things?
JS: It ended up being awesome. I was worried that having that many people around (and having a) bigger infrastructure would crush the spirit of the earlier movies and it would be hard to be loose and open in that kind of environment. But for me it took the pressure off. It was great to show up on set everyday and focus on being director. It was especially nice to hand all those jobs off to people who were better at it than me.
VD: You’re also a home brewer. How did you get interested in craft brewing?
JS: I was making so many movies and spending my time thinking about movies, I really felt like I needed some kind of hobby outside of that. I got a home brewing kit as a birthday present from my wife. It’s very different from filmmaking. You make a movie, you finish it, then you have to put it out into the world, then people review it. I feel very judged when I finish a movie. What’s great about brewing is it’s a hobby, not a job. I give it to my friends and people enjoy it. No one’s writing reviews about it.
VD: You’re planning on attending the screening Saturday night. What are you looking forward to about coming to Colorado?
JS: Definitely the beer drinking. I’m going to be there for such a short amount of time, but I want to try as much of the craft beer as possible that I can’t get back in Chicago. Craft beer is one of those things that still regional in a really nice way. It’s made traveling really fun, because a lot of the country is the same now. Anywhere in the world it’s all the same things, like Starbucks and McDonald’s. Craft beer it one thing I’m really excited about when I get to a new town, and it’s usually something I can’t find back home.
VD: Do you have a favorite Colorado craft beer?
JS: I like Avery’s stuff, and I like Dale’s Pale Ale.