Joe Swanberg: How to Shoot & Sell Six Feature Films in a Year!
If you want to be an indie filmmaker you should definitely study the work of the prolific film director Joe Swanberg. Who is Joe Swanberg you ask? I just recently not only discovered his work but also started to study his unique filmmaking process.
I heard that Joe Swanberg has made over 20 feature films in the past 10 years, six of which were made in 2011 alone (Yes — that’s six feature films in one year.) So, to say the man likes to work is an understatement. He’s the definition of INDIE FILM HUSTLE!
Despite the fact that some filmmakers who have spent decades working in Hollywood are renowned for their continuous output, Joe Swanberg happens to be one of the most productive filmmakers of his age which suggests that is he is crazy or really unique or a perfect blend of both.
In order to really understand Joe Swanberg, it is critical to know that he has given total of 11 feature films at the being 31 years of age and out of which seven were finished in 2010 and have earned millions and earned many accolades.
Why would a filmmaker ever want to produce such a high volume of work in such a short amount of time? According to Joe Swanberg,
“It was mostly about getting my work noticed.”
He said that
“If everyone is going to ignore you, then you have to start producing film after film and eventually someone is going to notice what you are doing, even if the films are total crap.”
On the 31st of August 1981, Joe Swanberg was born in Detroit, Michigan. He spent most of his growing up period in Alabama and Georgia. Swanberg graduated from the Naperville Central High School which was in the Chicago suburbs and earned his Bachelor’s degree from the Southern Illinois University at Carbondale as a film major.
Swanberg directed his first feature Kissing on the Mouth in 2005. The film featured real interviews with graduates fresh out of college and had a documentary-styled approach to conversations and graphic sex. It is valued as one of the original films of the Mumblecore movement.
Kissing on the Mouth was followed by LOL (2006). This was also an independent Mumblecore film that examined the impact technology had on social relations.
The plot revolved around three college graduates in Chicago named Chris, Tim and Alex. While making out with his girlfriend, Tim watches his laptop screen. Chris is carrying on relationships via cellphones and Alex’s fixation with chat rooms destroys a would-be direct relationship with a girl he interacts with at a party. This was the first time Swanberg had worked with actress Greta Gerwig. They both team up on the directing of the next two feature films Hannah Takes The Stairs (2007) and Nights and Weekends (2008).
Hannah Takes the Stairs, an ultimate anti-romantic comedy film is known as Swanberg’s best film to date and starred filmmakers Mark Duplass, Andrew Bujalski and Ry Rosso-Young it was also his first time with actor/animator Kent Osborne. An effort of the whole Mumblecore team, the gang was asked to give additional material on the sound and feel of the dialogue and how they thought it should be.
The final product turned out to be naturally goofy with a taste of cringe and the awkwardness of Greta Gerwig’s character defined her career from there inspiring her later role of Frances Halladay.
Greta Gerwig shared directing credit with Swanberg in Night and Weekends (2008). The story follows a long-distance relationship and its aftermath between two people who live in New York City and Chicago respectively.
The first half of the film depicts their relationship and the second half centers on the closure and the prospective continuation which happens to occur after a year of events of the first half.
Directed by Swanberg and produced by Noah Baumbach, Alexander the Last came in 2009 and was about a married actress and her sister. Swanberg spent the whole of 2009 on Silver Bullets which starred Swanberg, Kate Lyn Sheil, Amy Seimets and Ti West and had its world premiere at the Berlin Film Festival in 2011. According to Richard Brody of The New Yorker it was the 9th best film of the year 2011.
As an actor, he has had leading roles in several horror successes, most notably You’re Next, The Sacrament, and V/H/S. Through his production company, Forager Film Company, he has produced the work of other filmmakers, including Harrison Atkin, Alex Ross Perry, and Zach Clark.
He and his wife, Kris, also created the popular web series Young American Bodies which ran for four seasons on Nerve.com and IFC.com.
In the year 2010, Joe Swanberg finished seven features films Uncle Kent, Caitlin Plays Herself, The Zone, Art History, Silver Bullets, Privacy Setting, and Autoerotic.
Uncle Kent was written by Kent Osborne and was co-directed and co-written by Swanberg. It premiered at the Sundance Film Festival. It starred Kent Osborne, Josephine Decker, Jennifer Prediger, Swanberg and Kevin Bewersdof.
The film was about a 40-year old animator Kent, who meets a New York Journalist, Kate. Kent invites her to L.A for the weekend and Kate accepts but upon arriving she discloses that her heart belongs to someone else and Kent tries to make sense of this whole mess.
Art History and Silver Bullets premiered at the Berlinale. The rest of the 2010 films after being screened at film festivals premiered theatrically in 2011. Out of these feature films, four were included in the Joe Swanberg: Collected Films 2011 later which was a DVD boxed set.
Joe Swanberg directed and wrote Drinking Buddies which starred Olivia Wilde, Anna Kendrick, Ron Livingston, and Jake M. Johnson. By far his largest budget to date (about $500,000, most of his film range from $5,000 – $50,000). The film is about two co-workers Kate (Olivia Wilde) and Luke (Jake Johnson) who work at a craft brewery Revolution Brewing and spend all the time having fun and drinking.
Supposedly perfect for each but both happen to be in relationships Luke with Jill (Anna Kendrick) and Kate with Chris (Ron Livingston). Jill asks Luke about marriage and he promises to talk about it sometime soon basically evading it. Drinking Buddies was premiered at the 2013 South by Southwest Film Festival and was also screened at Maryland Film Festival the same year.
Produced by Alicia Van Couvering and Andrea Roa and was shot by Ben Richardson, cinematographer of Beasts of the Southern Wild. Shortly after the SXSW Premiere, it was acquired by Magnolia Pictures.
The following year brought Swanberg’s Happy Christmas which starred himself, Lena Dunham, Melanie Lynskey, and Anna Kendrick. The plot centers on Jenny (Kendrick) who is in her 20s and an irresponsible girl who has come to Chicago to live with her older brother Jeff (Swanberg) who is a young filmmaker living a happy married life with his novelist wife, Kelly (Lynskey) and a two-year-old son.
Jenny’s arrival upsets their quiet life as she and her friend Carson (Dunham) initiate development in Kelly’s life and career.
Digging for Fire was his next film as a director and was premiered at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival starring Jake Johnson. He is noted advocate of internet-based distribution for the independent films and he also made his 2011 feature Marriage Material available on his Vimeo page and that too for free. Check it out:
Swanberg uses improvisation extensively and his films usually focus on relationships, sex, technology and the process of filmmaking. He takes influence by Elaine May, Lars Von Trier, Marco Ferreri, Paul Mazursky and Eric Rohmer
Check out the trailer for the box set of those six feature films below:
Joe Swanberg’s keynote at this year’s SXSW Film Festival is a must-watch for any and all indie filmmakers. What I really loved about his speech is his frankness about the financial realities of being an indie filmmaker. I love this quote and it’s so true:
“The only way you’re ever going to make any money is if you invest in your own movies.”
Sometimes no money is better than some money
The above is one of the most interesting points from the keynote because almost every indie filmmaker I know would agree that it’s better to have some small budget than no cash at all. However, Joe Swanberg has a different take on it, as he puts it:
If you have “some money”, everybody is going to want some of that “some money.” If you have “no money”, everybody knows it — and then they’re just there to work. In a best case scenario — you sell a movie and then you’re able to pay people afterwards better than you could’ve paid them if you had “some money.”
This quote really sums up a lot of what I preach on Indie Film Hustle:
Well, I think that there is a notion that for artists to think about business is to corrupt the art process. As soon as you start considering market factors and numbers and all of that stuff, you’re not being a true artist, you’re not following your true vision. To some extent, maybe that’s true, but I think that by knowing the marketplace before I go into a movie, once I’m there, I’m completely free to do whatever I want because [there’s not that] giant question mark of whether there’s an audience for that thing.
Definitely put an hour and a half aside, sit down and soak it all in. He is truly spitting out gold in this keynote.
Joe Swanberg Keynote | SXSW Film 2016
Check out the trailers for Joe Swanberg’s new projects under his Netflix deal:
Win It All Trailer
Netflix Original Series EASY
Below are a bunch of BONUS videos and interviews if you want to go deep down the Joe Swanberg rabbit hole.
Joe Swanberg Interview – The Seventh Art
Summer Talks | Joe Swanberg, “Drinking Buddies”
Director Joe Swanberg discusses his new film “Drinking Buddies” starring Olivia Wilde, Jake Johnson, Anna Kendrick, and Ron Livingston in one of Film Society of Lincoln Center’s free Summer Talks.
10 Questions for Joe Swanberg
This is a short interview with Joe Swanberg that was shot during his visit to Indiana University Cinema.
DP/30: Uncle Kent, writer/director Joe Swanberg, star Kent Osborne
Joe Swanberg, Chicago, Beer and Movies
Joe Swanberg is RedEye’s ‘Pop Person of the Year‘ when it comes to movies. He directed ‘Drinking Buddies’ earlier this year and has so much going for him into 2014. He lives in Chicago and simply cannot get enough of the spots in this video.
DRINKING BUDDIES w/ Dir. Joe Swanberg
Director Joe Swanberg talks improvisation, craft beer, mumblegore and what his version of an action movie would look like.
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Title: Joe Swanberg Keynote | SXSW Film 2016
Speaker #1: I am thrilled to have him here to share with you; Joe Swanberg.
Speaker #2: Hey, what’s up guys? So I am going to talk about money which I think is a terrible subject right now and in general makes it really harder to be a film maker because nobody is talking to each other about it. But I think it’s useful. And also I am probably a pretty good example like, if I am standing here; any idiot could be up here. So maybe I’d talk to you about the movies I have made especially from a financial stand point and then I want to leave a lot of time for Q&A because I am just curious about the questions you have and hopefully really honest with the answers. I made my first feature in 2005 which was really a kind of different time and the first screening was here S*SW, the movie was called “Kissing on the Mouth” which I think out of print now, it’s impossible to find. When it was showed here S*SW it’s a really huge moment for me as a film maker and also this is really interesting moment for me at any point in general because I had Andrew Bujalski, Ry Russo-Young and Mark Duplass with major appreciation and I really left Austin with the feeling like something was going on and that it might be possible to release more movies and have people actually see them. And then that movie got rejected from every other festivals for 6 months and it was like “Oh, man maybe I was wrong or like those guys can do it but I can’t”. and my response to that was just to make another movie because I had such a good time here and I felt so strongly that whatever was going on, financially or carrier wise, the thing I wanted most was to be a part of that whatever the feeling was that I have like sharing my work, watching other people’s work and being connected to and be a part of that scene. So I started making my 2nd movie LOL in the midst of tons of festival rejections. I still live in Chicago as I was living in Chicago at that time and we just put our heads down and got back to work and then my first movie Kissing On The Mouth sort of kicked around for a while and then it got picked up by this DVD distributor called Heritage which is since gone out of business. You’ll notice a recurring theme of my first couple of movies which is that I worked with a lot of distributors which are now gone out of business. But that movie came out on DVD at a time DVD were a thing, maybe it’s like impossible to belief but the movie had some sex on it and was like had young people in scenes whatever in sale back in you could get a DVD of few movie like that. So this San Francisco Company “Harry take” put it out; Netflix was brand new at that time, there was no streaming aspect in Netflix. I remembered Netflix bought 600 copies of that [Indistinct 3:51] and that was enough to make that movie in DVD profitable. And so the first time I got a check in the email for a movie I have made and over the next 6 months, the movie accumulated a little bit more money; and it had only cost about $3000 to make, and I was like, “Alright, I am a working filmmaker great”. Then I made that movie LOL which also came here to South by South West. While I was here I met a producer named Johnny who asked me if I wanted to make another movie. So out of South by South West, I sat down with him during the festivals and preached him the idea for the movie that became Hannah Takes the Stairs. In the meantime LOL the movie that I was here with also got bought DVD rights by a brand new company. we were going to be the first movie they put out, they are called Ben Films, and they are also gone out of business but we got an MG. I am going to talk like some business talk, I don’t know if you guys know what MG is, but that’s a minimum guarantee. Essentially the distributor’s saying we think the movie going to make this much business, so we’ll guarantee it to you by writing you a check. It’s called an advance also and what is this is; this is a loan. They aren’t really paying you; they’re just paying you against future profits of your movie and they’re also collecting interest on that. So it’s a loan the same way a bank loan would be. So if you have a movie here that you’re trying to sell and you’re talking about advances and MGs; that’s just a loan. They are going to take that money back plus they are going to take interest on it. But anyway it’s nice to get a loan because typically you’re out of money. It’s just a quick way to take that money back. So they gave me an advance of $10,000 for my $5,000 movie which was just like at the time for me the most money I ever could dream of. Then the bottom dropped out on the DVD Market and so that company put a few more DVDs out before going out of business. And LOL as far as I know never made a penny; I mean I certainly never saw anything else. But Hannah Takes the Stairs coming of making two movies that were really low-budget; Hannah takes the stairs made for about $60,000 and it felt like the most luxurious big-budget; I felt like I was making Ben hurt or something like. “Oh, my god I’d do whatever I want with $6000”, what I did was got a bunch of actors together and rent an apartment in Chicago and we all lived together for month and made that movie. That movie also came in premiere to South by South West as did my next several features. In the meantime I was definitely being rejected by Sundance and live other festivals that I was submitting to. South by South West continued to be this champion of my work and it’s a nice home for my stuff. And Hannah Takes the Stairs sort of the first thing I made what I feel like people really saw it and took note of it. The thing I really continued to reinforce on you guys is the method like brilliant first feature that just like takes off and start your career is one way to go about it, then the other way to go about it is just like the so tenuous and make so much shit, that’s like people lose the resistance or will to fight against you and just start accepting that you’re going to be around and that they should watch your movies. Honestly I made this movie which is called Drinking Buddies which is my 15th feature, which most people think of the only movie I ever made; I’ll get to that barely so with my 3rd feature, we got bought by IFC which was really insane to me because they were real distributor not R.I.P labeled DVDs like Heritage and Ben Films. IFC films put on movies that I have seen before, they seemed real to me and they gave us an advance of $10000 which left us $50000 in the whole. We thought people are going to see our movies and they are going to release theatrical release for us which was like a big deal and honestly still this day it’s a big deal if any distributor’s going to put your movies in movie theatre. So we took that deal and as the bottom was dropping out on DVD market, VOD suddenly existed for the first time. Now streaming in VOD seems so common but at that time IFC had to sell that concept that you’d watch an independent film on, what I considered going on pay per view, which to me just like existed in hotel. So I was like, you know Hollywood movies like 7 months after they came out in movie theatres you can buy them pay per view. IFC really had this idea in vision that you could put any films up on peoples like [indistinct 9:33] platform that people would watch movies from home. And at that time they were only releasing five titles at a time and so this movie Hannah Takes the Stairs were adopted by people who were curious about that because this was one of the five choices they had on movies to watch on VOD. So we did pretty well; we did a lot of business, I think a lot of people hated that movie but they were like “It’s one of the 5 options that I have”, this one sounds alright. So it started a relationship with IFC films that I thank you for my neck started doing because I was credit cards with like any money I could scrounge together have something if I had a job I want to make my first two of you want to take those traveling on the festival circuit with a feature film do I keep the day job and serve half engage with this process of traveling festivals and being a filmmaker or do I quit the day job and fully engage with that process and just use to be broke or worse I just got to do that and so starting with Hannah takes the stairs I just didn’t have another job other than filmmaker for the job and I have to like figure out how to keep making money and one of the ways to so after the good relationship with I have seen the release of Hannah takes the stairs I made this other movie called nights and weekends and what I did was before it showed anywhere I just took it and I was like and he watched it and they said yeah and so for $15,000 I think $5,000 take another picture figure out and so then I made another movie somewhere that I was making was always just being financed by the sale of the movie right before it the idea of the other side of the first the idea they were even remember my dad calling me from a hotel in San Francisco tiniest movie ever famous actors in it but you really just have to I said in addition to those five specific movies and then there was also this Festival the IFC Center put together by rainbow and I changed into a different movies are now but at the time everybody hated that word and so they were trying to not call it done it’s just on this Festival if you can’t already tell I happens to start being a filmmaker at a time I just like the way of us that’s like not I didn’t do anything smart or better I just really honestly was in the right place at the right time for a lot of the stuff it made a big difference in this Festival in New York City is obnoxious as it is likely to happen to your teeth places not that many people saw those movies but the New York Times Sunday New York Times article you know there’s no press is bad press or no so you say so you have been told by people like congratulations on the great review of review that is awful that is just like calling my movies ever tweaking perception of Imperial allow me to like sneak to your people Alexander the last 8 years Halo 5 I mean that place was like really fast and I don’t know that too fast but I was especially for speed up because I was living off of the movies I really was quickly not having any other source of income I was doing his web series with my wife call the young American bodies 12 episodes shows brief period of time for people phone banana quickly realized I also side dishes with Series 2 news.com sex and dating sites even nervous Occupied stuff you could like meet people to have sex with her and so I was making a show with my wife and I think we did the first season of a $500 an episode Gravely asked for $1,000 an episode probably just like in Chicago independently decided that they like young American bodies and they would do it jointly with her and then they have more money and so I don’t like maybe $2,000 X Advent season for American body is acutely aware of the fact that people watching this show on the internet and ask for money now I know but you know if I know if we have been talking to each other Krishna episode and so you know the more we share information of the Arts and so you know this Webster it was kind of like keeping the bills paid little bit my wife Chris who is also from Baker City High School the time salary can I see I mean honestly like if you look at a marriage is like a Business Partnership in addition to all the other kinds of Partnerships it is something nice and help you out survive for a couple years like that and then the web series was like being movie Alexander the last that I made and so is also the first time that there was like some kind of industry recognition that I existed and no producing a movie and so I mean not only that I just learned so much from that guy and grow as a filmmaker a ton but name attached to that project something just so you know now we have 2000 have a version of independent film where he exists but the way that I was going was still like a really small that Days of Our Lives the next Frontier was earth like and the thing that I had realized cuz you know I mean living off of these movies I was forced to pay attention to the business aspects of them and one thing that I’ve noticed like nights and weekends for instance was it when we showed the movie at South by Southwest it generated a lot of attention but by the time we try to put that movie out 6 months later seven months later nobody cared I mean there’s already heard about it and I just attention spans were straight and that’s the way people are paying attention to Small Change Mountain High sandwich Co conversation that she had with IFC I like different ways to work with the festival and different ways to release movies and I was like we just go ahead and release American independence made the movie available if she answers already been thinking along those lines and so we sold them Alexander the last and we sold it to them in advance it when the movie premiered here at South by Southwest Festival it was available and daily Interlake putting forward another news review tomorrow and that they had advertising dollars to again push the model which then which meant that my movie got pushed along with the model there was like a real desire to establish VOD as legitimate one thing the IFC film was like taking a big step forward in terms of legitimizing a VOD release that guy’s a super good filmmaker and an Oscar nominee and stuff like he wouldn’t be involved with some piece of crap right now and was just going to let him on my brain and I have Sprint so everybody was excited about that and then we were going to try to sleep Festival day and date release with them and they all remember this exercise she was with the New York Times which only reviews movies that are playing for week in New York City and it was another not only another step in life my own career kind of like piggybacking off of this new technology and existing in the midst of a lot of change going on but also another step forward in life I’m looking at anything other than really at the time it was so hot necessarily and you know it’s the dream of theatrical history died for all of us thousand they’re sort of like inching our way towards Valentino alkalizing on the amount of attention we were going to get out of South by Southwest it also meant that the movie was making its money right away in the first three months we didn’t have to wait Gypsy my $3,000 I mean we put that out and then I then world’s poorest is like keep seeing you even though it was happening to me my solution to that was just to me and so I entered this period of productivity and I know that sounds crazy but it wasn’t that crazy Birmingham Alabama diverse any came up to me and was like hey man my movies playing in the festival is in school and I feel weird and then you know like maybe 2 years later I was back in Birmingham what’s up I’m just leaving him and making movies review just the motion sensors at night was just weird nike.com Chicago Birmingham in action I’m making about date rape is like what is this project send it to you as I find it I’ll look at it and I was like there’s no way I’m doing this movie and I got the DVD in the mail and they were good I mean honestly within 30 seconds I was already writing him back on this thing is amazing I was like how long do I need to come to music cuter it turned out really good and I just watched that and I was like oh my God series and we shot him and we probably did the movie in 6 days I just like it was not as fast as I can but I did my best I did a movie for $15,000 and sold for $75,000 the first time I ever actually made some money off of the movie some like seven movies in the right now I just finally for the first time hard and depressing and a long long road towards feel like you treat any money that was the first time when I ever actually made some money of selling a movie. So keep in mind I’m like 7 movies in my career and just finally made money for the first time. it’s worth noting I mean it can be really hard and practicing and a long road towards feeling like you exist in the industries feeling like you making any money but hang in there it can be happen like it really can and like I said it would be seven more movies before made dreamy but it which most people come up to me and you know like cool man I liked your first movie, did you made anything else. I was working for ten years before I made that movie. Those guys was released how did we don’t know you exist. But nobody knows this exist. So or do ironic exist it in this pocket you know what I mean also up to man where did I make those year. I made this movie called uncle can’t, which also IFC put out and that was the first time some else programmed my movies which is like movie number sixth. And I made a movie called Uncle Kent that’s more than seven but I am cheating a little bit because I think I had made those movies in a kind of like 14 month’s window. But the thing that was realized it wasn’t ever going to make much money of any of these movies so I just have to make a lot of movies because one of them was not support me but may be seven of them could support me and also because I was so high on this idea that you could make work that fast. Because I made this improvised movies and a lot of the script of those movies are attempting to capture moments of people’s lives and this kind of like specificity that I fault was really enriched by this speedy process you know it’s like a month is a long time to keep somebody in their head you know in sort of like keep the performer self-conscious and committed to the role. Lot of things happened in a month, people’s live change. People get into interested in to another projects. If we could keep condenses window down to like five or six days. We really could just like leave the movie and a away there was finding was getting like really interesting performances out of the actors and for me as a film maker really keep in me on my toes and keeping me like really sharp and focused. And I was editing these videos shooting these things. And so you know typically the way those like five to six days movies all the like seven features and me that we are all done in last in the week I think. the way those we are going which we shoot five or six hours in a day and I was go edit for the rest of the night. Because I was can react of the blow we shoot. And so I needed to see what was there to know whether we had to reshoot some stuff to next day to know whether the story was making senses and so there can’t be written live along with the shooting. Well none of those movies made any money and did not get any kind of distribution and again the world was changing and so I had turned off like gotten into the system where I was making those movies and selling into IFC kind of living off to them and then finally IFC was like listen we are not doing, we are not putting out small movies like that anymore. I was like oh, shit that was not of my plan, like I was just going to work for you guys for the rest of my lives and they short of like we structured they moved into putting out bigger movies and so I was left with all this stuff. You know movies that I really love but that were really small and we are just like not really come out so I started putting some the stuff on the internet. I did DVD package with factory 25 of bunches of those movies so I can put them together and release some kind of boxes and you know just kind of like took stuck of the fact that I was going to have to figure something else out of I wanted to keep making movies with that thing I have been doing for like seven years of that point just was over. So I got an agent which was something that I had been really resisting doing for a long time when hand takes to stairs came out I got calls and emails from bunch of different agents and I was like you guys I got it mail now I’m just like in Chicago making movies with my friends I don’t need an agent for that no thank you. And then only one guy of that short of initial bunch kept email on me and calling me this guy David couple is my agent now every like six month in a year he write me or call me it was like just how is it going, have you changed your mind? Having an agent, are you interested in that? I was just always like nice from you David. I’m still now not interested well around year 2011 I had a kid. That year that I made those seven movies also my wife was pregnant and which probably has some fucked up complicated thing to do while I was making somebody’s movie but I don’t what it means yet so I would tell you guys if knew I’m sure in fact is in there somehow. But I had a kid now and I have seen which not going to buy anymore my little movies and so I in a LA and three of those movies several bullets art history in the zone sort of like existed together as a bit of triology and then AFI festival in LA was showing all three of them together. So this is a really good time with all of those LA times right up and despite of the bleak carrier prospects at that moment; I looked kind of good because I looked like I have these three movies out that people are paying attention to. In fact they were not. But anyway I set down for breakfast with David couple and I was like LA times nice. And he was like what do you want to do? I was like David I just need to make money man like I already had figured out how make many of own personal projects I won’t need help to doing that. Get me jobs, I don’t care with that I literally just need my wife and I bought a house too which was like really kind of irresponsible now if I ever going to do it, now I wanted to do it. So from the cell of ‘uncle can’t I think it’s like the only time I ever have 20 thousand dollars in a bank account. I was like that’s not a down payment on a house to never going to buy a house. And so we took that money buy house and very quickly we run out of money. Are you here Alex? What’s up man? Right around this time Alex and I meet on the first of certain in 2007. Set taxes on gorge like great. But if he could hit this trash hole spending a certain amount of money then you can get this money back and essentially his company was a little bit shy to the trash hole so if we could spend that amount of money to hit the trash hole which eventually come back in the tax repay and the movie will be for free basically. And it sounds great to. I not only was into like whole graft of like stealing money from the David gorger taxes kind of thing. But also it has another chance to go make quickly movie. And so I went down to Alana how long we shoot down those movies, for ten days or some like that. Yeah, really quick again and also you know I had a kid this point I don’t want to be away from home for all that long. So we just did it really fast and cheap and that was the last movie of mine that I have see bought. That was sort of very talent of that window, that movie is called ‘24s explosion’ and then actually Adam win guard was stars at that movie. And we still like really like had in the mean time from being just like weird Birmingham he kind afraid of had become my cinematographer basically and then he made next which was the other kind of like momentous shift how I was looking about looking and going about movie so I you know, Adam winggurd was and still this the poorest film maker just in terms of money that I ever had known in my life. I mean I think that guy lived of his six dollars in month and then you know like after a few years knowing working with him I found myself I acted in the movie next. I founded myself in the next which you know I think was like seven hundred and fifty thousand dollar movie and that amount of money seen insane to me like one of my friends could make could get that amount of money to make a movie. And the biggest thing that I learnt from Adam was I just watched him work is ass off. I mean that dude I had never seen him so focused and so on his game and it was just so inspiring to be on set with him as a guy who would like you know lived on my couch in Chicago for three months and just was like never had any money to suddenly be making this real movies. And so came away from that and I sort of like I came away from the idea with the; I had see thing was over and I had this conversation David couple and I said just how me make money. And David says what I think you could do your movies but on a slightly bigger scale and we could go about that. I was just like I don’t want to do that David just how I make money man. I like I already know do I make my movies I don’t want to make my movies more than 50 thousand dollars that about as much all ever need just like give me a job directing TV or something man. Help me make dome money. And he was really in to it about warning into like support and champions my carrier and he is a CIA which is the aged. This is a scary real aggency.and he was like who is the actors you are working with how I can help if you are here to have a research to do. And I was like really getting in the home bring at that time and the beer at that time I had the idea there would be fun to make a movie with in the like Chicago. Bear scene and so over the course of several months just started meeting with actors and CIA kind of like by default became the you know finance, their finance department set about attempting to raise money to make this movie which became ‘drinking bodies’
And so you know we put that together from like the spring to the summer 2012 but the thing about drinking bodies I have trying to make drinking bodies is that are not right script for my movies and if I’m like putting the movie on my credit card who cares. I’m just like paying for myself. But trying to raise six hundred and fifty thousand dollars for a movie with no script is impossible. People looked in just like that we fucking crazy and they were like chose me who had make 14 movies you got to trusted you know what you are doing in people I’m like I don’t trust that, I’m not going to give that guy half a million dollars and so I had to like figure out how did do something. I need to make some money and drinking bodies was looking that was not going to happen. So my producer really she had been covering just like talking to literally every person in the world who may be had some money to finance and in the film they all are saying them and Jade Johnson who was going to be in the movie and a TV show new girl and he had to go back to new girl by august 1st and so we had this window from July 7th to August 1st when we had to shoot drinking bodies what I want to do it and I kept you know in the mean time from the thing I was most afraid of like I can’t through all my eggs to basket because at the end I’m not getting the money, I’m fucked man. I have to pay my team; I have to make some money. I can’t just like sit around hoping drinking bodies happen. So I was like started to develop this other movie and Mathews group of Chicago finance here’s this guy who produced in charge in hoped dreams so on my all times favorite movies and a neighbor of his Adie Linker and I was like alright guys I may or may not make this movie called drinking bodies this summer. If I don’t I want make something else could we surround together between you guys and your neighbors you know hundred thousand dollars are something like that to do this like back up plan movie. And they were like yeah and so I called Elisha and I was like alright I don’t think I mean now looking for drinking bodies is not happening I think I’m just going to go do this other movie because I have to make some money. And she was like please just hang in man I have talked to everybody I still think there is a way to make drinking bodies in the summer. I was like I don’t know I can risk it. Because if we missed this window I also may not to make the backup plan movie and now I would have nothing and she was like this is how it goes to work in this level it’s just never going to be easy what need to do committee to this and you know she kind of like talked to me that all right fine. We would try to make drinking bodies and you know I just kept giving this days they were like my outdates. I was like if we don’t have the money well I may first we come around and Elisha was like give me two more weeks, I know I can find the money. I was like alright fine you have two more weeks but if the two weeks past there will be no way of doing. I’m going to do this other thing and the two week were past of course there was no money and finally one group of finance here’s this guys called burn layer still working and making great movies step forward with half of the money, once half of the money was there this is short of how it works that slightly bigger level. Once somebody has said out to give you money suddenly everybody else is like yeah we will give money too. It’s like nobody wants to give the first person and which is terrific. Now you want to give us money? What about three weeks ago? And they were like aw, aw!
Feel scary then. Now these other guys trust you may be we will trust you and so at the last dropped moment we got the financing for drinking bodies and went make that movie. That was just entirely carrier changing, life changing and what was most interesting about is I didn’t do anything different then what I had been doing on all of the other movies. It’s just there was famous people in it and this is like a weird thing about humanity are like the way when you see famous people doing something its look better to you and you just liked and trusted more. And there was a gay keeper quality to famous people especially like what’s crazy about drinking bodies is like looking back on it now. You would be now who the fuck wouldn’t want to finance the movie. But when we finally did it, and the movie came out it was really interesting to observe the changed response to my work and like who I was and I was like finally, I had tried a long time man and then it’s like really interesting thing happened were then everybody wanted to give money because I had made a movie that seen made money and what I chose to do instead was taking that plan B movie that I have been developing incase drinking bodies not happen and just go make that next. and my everybody was like what are you doing because they were like you just made half million dollars movie with these great actors that’s going to come out and sure everybody going to like it, don’t make another movie. We can get some money and like whatever you want like see people watch drinking body. And I was just yeah I liked to work, I already have this Chicago guys who want to give me money to make another movie and I just want to do that. And against every bodies advice we shoot drinking bodies in July and in December I was back at a movies that became happy Christmas and you know its like really interesting. Enna candrick is just a fucking best actor ever. She is so good and working with her drinking bodies I was just blown away and I was like I just want work with her for the rest of my life, she is so good. So I just texted her, do you want to come back to Chicago try this again and you know it’s like really interesting because Enna is super famous now. And even at the time I would say happiness is money too and so the thing I would say to you guys in terms of like taking jobs or in your efforts to make money you have two factor in your time you also you also have to factor in your happiness I think a lot of people forget that .It’s not worth the money to take a city job on something that you hate and what you do occasionally is poison the well for themselves because they take some money on some job that they don’t like or don’t want to do they’ll hate it I mean anytime I found myself in the position of making money off of something that I don’t like I fight with my wife lot more I’m just like snippy with my kid like I’m just in general agitated and upset and at the end of the day I look back and it wasn’t worth the money .I shouldn’t just done nothing rather than do that thing which I hate it and think of that you can figure out how to navigate that where you’re only working on staff you love It’s actually a better way towards the goals of making worth the people see and the goals of making money because what happens is nobody likes a bad movie and honestly I don’t know any scenery almost I’ve seen a filmmaker hate the thing they’re making and have that movie turn out good and so you may think that you’re like taking a paycheck or making some money but in fact I think you’re making the next person who wants to invest in your work or work with you less likely to do it .Making a bad movie that you don’t like scares away potential investors on the next project its scares away actors on the next project and it just makes it that much harder for you in the long run .So I would encourage you to just really see if you can navigate a career in which you’re just always doing things you love and I think if you can do that you will have a really successful career .Thanks for listening to me and I want to like answer questions ,so ask me anything and I’ll try to be as honest as I can.
Oh I think you got to go to that microphone.
You can just cut in line, you can go for it, and we all know you asked the first question.
Questioner #1: when you kind of had a much more substantial than drinking buddies had that kind of effect to your nuts and bolts started working with the fact that was everything.
Speaker #1: Yeah, it was really kind of annoying to me.
I wanted to move a lot faster than we were able to move. So I spent the first week just wrapping my head around that but you know eventually I relaxed into I just like always helps to be working with people you trust and I really trusted my cinematographer and if we needed time to light stuff with my sound guys needed time to bring something up. My initial response was to be frustrated and I liked weed too I was like alright, do what u need to do and you know the hustle and bustle actually like what I discovered was that’s really good time to just hang out with the actors. You know it’s something easy to forget one of the nice things about the early small movies, I was doing is it was really communal feeling and everybody was just like ideas being constantly generated and I think what happens on a bigger movie is you should have seen and then everybody just kind of like goes back to their trailers to each other and nobody’s talking to each other and they come back out and shoot another scene. I think a director is always been really important for me to just like make sure in between setups were still hanging out that I am not letting people just like go often disappear into their more, they were like living in generating new material.
Let’s go over there and then over there.
Questioner #2: ok, I’m … hi, I’m actually from Chicago as well I said digging for fire at the music box and I just was really like the actors in that film and who you have been working with have service like natural improvisation just literally built into them and is that something that like you started working with those people because of their improvisational background or did you like shooting some sort of adapt to the people you’re working with?
Speaker: It adapts, yeah, on digging for fire especially I did not know a lot of those people, I just knew that I didn’t know them personally and so it was really a big question mark with who would be most into that. Style or not, you know I knew Jake and I knew Rosemary a little bit cause she’s married to Ron Livingston who I work with on drinking buddies and you know and I can [indistinct 1:04:53] and some other people who I’d worked with before in that movie but a lot of those people were new to me and we were just like really figuring it out. And you know my… my you like approach to improve like I saw Mike Birbiglia’s movie last night was really about improve I don’t think that I do that kind of improve in my movies, I’m sort of like using improvisation as a story telling like medium and really what I’m encouraging people to do via the improve is just not act, right? So it’s like if I give you the lines ahead of time you’re going to figure out a performance and I don’t want you to do that I want… I want you to be forced to just exist in the moment they were filming and I’m casting you because I want you to be you, I like you, I like how you talk, I like that kinds of jokes you make, do those in my movie don’t let go, create a character that’s something else and so… so in a way it’s like the lack of script is just, just like forced… forced presence ideally and so it’s like much more about that and so I talked to actors lot of times through like I don’t know I don’t improvise like I don’t know how to do that, and I’m like it’s not about that like we’re sitting here having a conversation if you can do this with me you can be one of my movies. That’s all I am asking you to do.
Questioner #2: Thank you.
Speaker #1: yeah.
Questioner #3: First I want say thanks to be so honest, it’s really refreshing.
Speaker #1: yeah, my pleasure man! I mean it’s honestly the easiest thing in the world to be. I’m glad you like it.
Questioner #3: yeah, it’s really nice especially in [indistinct 1:06:31] because we love it. Can you talk for a second about what? I mean you said that clearly there is no secret you’ve got some sort of material what your treatment looks like 30 pages a hundred [indistinct 1:06:41]. What it is?
Speaker #1: Yeah, different every time honestly like a I’ve done movies with nothing written. And I have done movies with a full on an 80-something page script basically. It just depends. You know I’m writing more now than I used to but I’m also working with actors who schedules a more complicated than they used to be, I’m honestly personally really desiring to do another movie like Hannah takes the stairs where I’m just like living with people for a month. But you know it’s hard with somebody actors who I have now fallen in love working with like Jake Johnson Anna Kendrick people like that it’s hard to get those guys for a month I mean they are really busy, they also have their own personal lives and I’m still doing release small movies and so. So one thing for me to want to have fun with them in line with them for a month and make this like tiny movie where we all sleep on couches but for them it’s like yeah I don’t know man. I just worked for nine month on TV show; I want to go with my family. And so. you know it’s really forced me into this rhythm of having to work faster in work more in a like sorts of structure scheduled way which buy necessity requires more writing. And so I would say that like the consistent thing with all of those outline is a sense of just like talking about there often in like paragraph form and then not really in like, you know script dialogue form though I also I have also written like sample dialogue sometimes just to give people an idea of how I think it goes. But it’s for me action and an increasingly it’s for the people I’m working with like to schedule budget you know costume design it really just like if the information is only in my head nobody else can do anything so the outline just becomes a kind of rudimental away from you just like take some of it from here and put it here so that other people can do their jobs.
Questioner #4: I really inspired and I really curious to know what afford a feature film should looks like and so how do you start the day like where do you begin I know you touched on it in lot of different ways but how do you prepare for that?
Speaker #1: I don’t do a lot of preparation I mean what it looks like is that actually like not that complicated because once you have said about the goal of shooting a lot of stuff in a day use got to move and so you know you are doing one take usually and you if something goes horribly wrong a second take or you are like all right we are not using that take
So some times its easier to say and let them deal with the headache of putting your movie out, I would just say that like in those circumstances fight for good terms and fight for sure term windows you are getting your movie back before too long and also make sure that’s is in your contract that if they got their business right for good back to you not for sale to somebody else, and then you like pretty well covered deck, it’s better to have a movie out I’ve been sitting around you know so you never want to make something with just like doesn’t exist in the world. but yeah it’s like you know these days I mean honestly with a lot of my movies what I would have done if it existed was just put them up on LOL you know paper view whatever and just like see what happens. And nice about that is the moment you want to pull it off of there you can do you know if the situation were to change you always could just do whatever you wanted with them.
Questioner 4: thanks a lot.
Speaker #1: Yeah, alright I guess that’s all the time thanks guys.
By Alex Ferrari |
By Alex Ferrari |
WATCH A FREE 3 PART LOW-BUDGET FILM PRODUCING VIDEO SERIES
Taught by veteran award-winning film producer and author Suzanne Lyons. The filmmaker behind over a dozen profitable low-budget feature films.
© IFH INDUSTRIES, INC.
WATCH A FREE 3 PART LOW-BUDGET FILM PRODUCING VIDEO SERIES
Taught by veteran award-winning film producer and author Suzanne Lyons. The filmmaker behind over a dozen profitable low-budget feature films.