SXSWORLD February 2013


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Joe Swanberg: Drinking Buddies Director Returns to His SXSW Roots by Mike Sampson " Having my film accepted at SXSW is already beyond my wildest dreams, so where do I go from here?" This seems a reasonable thing for a first-time filmmaker to ask, especially one who was working full-time as a web designer while shooting weekends with a bunch of friends over the course of a year. And back in 2005, after his first film, Kissing on the Mouth, had its world premiere at SXSW, it probably seemed like a perfectly reasonable question for director Joe Swanberg to ask. So where did he go? For starters, he helped launch a film sub-genre. He has gone on to direct 14 movies. Swanberg has also returned to SXSW for a history-making run of five straight world premieres. Never one to rest on his laurels, this year Swanberg will be back at SXSW and is bringing his biggest and most ambitious film with him. ... ... These days, mumblecore is part of the pop culture zeitgeist, whether a punchline on The Simpsons or a segment on Good Morning America, but when Swanberg was premiering Kissing on the Mouth at SXSW in 2005, the term didn't even exist. "I met so many great people," Swanberg recalls of SXSW '05. "David Lowery, James M. Johnston, Bryan Poyser, Andrew Bujalski, The Duplass Brothers, Ti West, Spencer Parsons … We're all still great friends and these were all people I met in the first few days of the festival in 2005." He pauses for a moment. "It's impossible to convey how much my life changed that week." It wasn't just his life that changed. This was the week when "mumblecore" – a genre, a phenomenon, a movement – was born. As the story goes, a number of filmmakers (Swanberg included) were drinking at an Austin bar after a SXSW screening when Bujalski's Funny Ha Ha sound mixer used the term "mumblecore" to describe a number of films he had seen at the festival. It was used as a joke. The directors hated it. But by 2007, it had expanded past small cinephile circles and become a thing. Maybe even the thing. For a series of films without celebrities, "mumblecore" became the celebrity. "It was annoying and I hated it," Swanberg is now able to say with BEN RICHARDSON It's no longer 2005, but his latest film Drinking Buddies (a story that follows two work friends trying to balance becoming more than friends) certainly felt like it: "This felt like I was making my first movie," he said. This seems almost unimaginable from a seasoned director whose friends use adjectives like "hardened" to describe, but Swanberg had never made a film like Drinking Buddies before. More accustomed to working with crews of four to five friends, who would lie down on the couch and eat pizza if they didn't feel like shooting that day, suddenly Swanberg was working with a crew of 40-50 people and, at times, more than 200 extras. There was an art and a wardrobe department. There were people who wanted to know what film adds, "Joe wasn't shaken. He never showed any stress … He's an annoyingly talented filmmaker like that." Swanberg shrugs off the praise. "I just want it to be a positive experience for everyone involved." Drinking Buddies kind of silverware the characters would use. This was a level of questions and meetings and designing that Swanberg wasn't used to. While the shoot involved more planning, that same planning also freed him up to not have to worry about who was wearing what clothes or having to rush filming because the camera was running out of battery. "He enjoyed being able to focus on working closely with the actors," notes Director of Photography Ben Richardson (who came to Drinking Buddies after his work on the gorgeous Beasts of the Southern Wild). Another SXSW Alum, director Frank Ross (Audrey the Trainwreck), who is a frequent Swanberg collaborator and played a small role in the 32 SXSWORLD /FEBRUARY 2013 a laugh. "But looking back on it, I feel really lucky to have been a part of that." ... There was a moment early on in the shoot when Drinking Buddies star and frequent Swanberg collaborator Frank Ross turned to actress Anna Kendrick as Swanberg was about to roll cameras. "Do you have any idea what we're doing?" he asked her. "Um, I have no idea." And … action! Yes, though Drinking Buddies has a larger budget and bigger actors, the film – as is the Joe Swanberg Way - is still completely improvised.

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