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Joe Swanberg doesn’t stop.

Joe Swanberg doesn’t stop. (photo)

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I had a good half-hour talk with Joe Swanberg at SXSW, two days after the world premiere of his latest film “Alexander the Last” and a few days before my laptop hard drive failed, taking with it my audio files and transcripts. I’m slowly getting everything back, and while this interview isn’t so timely anymore, I didn’t want to let it go, either, since we covered a lot of interesting ground about how the way Joe shoots films is changing, and how he’d like to be, as impossible as it might seem, even more prolific. So here’s a selection, with those points in mind:

With “Alexander the Last,” as far as I can remember, it’s the first time you’re working with people who are already established foremost as professional actors — Jess Weixler, Jane Adams. Did that change how you went about making the film at all?

Definitely. A year ago, we first started to talk about whether the way that we worked changed because of the people, or because I was naturally in a mood to change anyway, or whether those two things happened simultaneously. I feel like the second half of “Nights and Weekends” was the beginning of some sort of shift towards a more deliberate type of filmmaking.

So much of this has to do with the fact that the early work that I was doing, I don’t think is necessary anymore. When I was making “Kissing on the Mouth” and “LOL,” YouTube didn’t exist. This sort of intimacy that I was after in my work — I was filling a hole that I felt like the mainstream media was not operating in. And then the whole world changed in a couple of years, and now I feel like we can find this kind of intimacy anywhere. It’s better on YouTube than anything that I could do — more immediate and more narcissistic, and it’s a more accurate gauge of the culture than something that takes six months to make. I have to change as a filmmaker because if I don’t, if I continue to make work like that, then all I’m doing is making a worse version of things that we have access to now.

But in terms of how you’re shooting these films, I’m assuming, at this point, you’re not having everyone still stay in the same apartment together and crash on the floor–

Yes. [Jess Weixler interjects: “Oh, yes we were. [laughs] Amy [Seimetz] and I shared a bed and that’s one of the ways we bonded as sisters.”]

04012009_alexanderthelast.jpgDo you see your films growing in scale to the point where that’s not going to be feasible?

I can only make this prediction for about one year into the future at this point, but that one year into the future sees some projects getting smaller, if possible, and being even more focused and weird and experimental. I have no desire for the projects to become bigger and I have no ideas that would require them to become bigger, at least for the next year. I think that the ways that I’ll change as a filmmaker won’t be budgetary, necessarily. I think they’ll be within the framework of small projects on this scale.

I have a much tighter financial situation with my new project than I even have with the other ones. The last couple of movies have been super, super cheap, and if you can imagine this new one costing, like, one tenth of the cost of those other movies–

I can’t, really, from what I understand about your budgets.

[Laughs] It’s tiny. It’s tiny and it’s essentially all the money I have. I get checks from other work, and those immediately go right into this project. Being back in that place where I have no financial reserve, it’s putting me back in an exciting creative place where I have to think of another way to do things because there aren’t [other] options, like, “Alright, it’s gonna cost more than I thought, so I can’t do that. What do I do now?” I like it. It’s healthy for me as a filmmaker and as a person, to have those limitations.

You don’t have any drive to do a studio project? Do you get offers?

The offers that I get are, essentially, coming from people who like what I do and who would like me to do that, just for more money. “Let’s take what you do, but let’s put bigger name actors in it.” It’s just unappealing to me. I can already do what I do with the people I want to work with.

There’s no temptation to have those extra resources?

If I had them, I would invariably end up frustrating people, because I would be using them in completely the wrong ways. If I had a studio and a green screen, the ways in which I would use that would be so aggravating and time-wasting — it’d be fun for me to shoot an entire movie on a soundstage with green screen and then put in backgrounds that look totally naturalistic. That would be exciting to me, but then that’s a stupid waste of money.

04012009_alexanderthelast2.jpgWhen you have someone like Jane Adams, who’s worked as an actress in some fairly large scale projects, is there ever a sense of hesitation in saying, oh, “we’re like to shoot in your apartment”?

With Jane, specifically, it’s like “Aw, we’re done already?” But I’m just eye-to-eye with somebody like Jane, you know? We don’t even have to talk about it. It’s like, “Of course we’re shooting in your apartment, ’cause you’re playing the character and that’s where you live.” I have this suspicion that there are a lot of people like Jane, working in the industry and doing these really big projects, who’d rather be shooting in their own apartment on a tiny little movie. I’ll find those people, slowly, I’ll find them. I didn’t assume Jess would want to work that way. When we started talking, it was about a much bigger project, this thing with the script and the budget. I had to make that nervous call: “I don’t know if this movie’s gonna happen, Jess. Would you be interested in making a movie with not a budget and not a script, really small, where we might shoot in your apartment?”

Do you ever feel the urge to slow down the pace? It’s been a film a year since you started…

No, I’m going too slow. [Weixler: “He is ridiculous.”]

I will try and make a lot of movies this year.

How many is a lot?

Four, maybe. I feel like I could be working faster. Here’s what money could do for me, actually: there are a lot of jobs that don’t require my immediate attention, but that I have to do because there’re so few people working on the projects. If I had money, I would have one person in pre-production on this movie that I want to do in July and August, let’s say, scouting apartment locations in Chicago, looking at actors and starting to talk about wardrobes. Simultaneously, I could be paying another person to be working on the movie I want to do after that, so I could move into these things, shoot them during the period that I need to, then quickly move out and the next project would be ready to go for me to jump into. I’d be editing as we are shooting, the same way we did on “Alexander.”

04012009_alexanderthelast3.jpgIsn’t it good to have downtime, though? In the system you’re describing, you’d be shooting, then shooting another movie and editing that last one — there’s no break.

But most of the world has no break, you know what I mean? Most people wake up and go to work every day.

Right, but it’s also not necessarily a creative endeavor.

But, why do creative endeavors need extra space and rest? I want to have a workman-like attitude towards this stuff. The way that a person would wake up every day to build a building, I want to work. Even if it’s a creative endeavor. So, I don’t think there’s a benefit to rest in that way, except when you’d feel like you need it, and I’d recognize when I reached that point.

But you’re not there yet?

No, I think could do more.

Have any of your movies brought back much of a return?

Here’s what great: when you make a movie for $2,000, it’s very easy to make your money back. My first two movies, which were made for about that, are definitely profitable at this point. They’ve made, like, $6,000 back. As they get a bit more expensive, then it’s harder to make that money back. With “Alexander the Last,” our deal with IFC Films essentially breaks us even now; but when we sell the movie to international territories, that becomes profit, and when we get those checks, everybody gets checks. It’ll be a tiny, tiny amount of money — if we sell the movie to the UK, we’re all going to get checks for maybe $300, if we’re lucky. But if we sell it to enough countries, that becomes a few thousand dollars, and if we make enough movies, that starts to maybe look like a living, you know?


Hacked In

Funny or Die Is Taking Over

FOD TV comes to IFC every Saturday night.

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We’ve been fans of Funny or Die since we first met The Landlord. That enduring love makes it more than logical, then, that IFC is totally cool with FOD hijacking the airwaves every Saturday night. Yes, that’s happening.

The appropriately titled FOD TV looks like something pulled from public access television in the nineties. Like lo-fi broken-antenna reception and warped VHS tapes. Equal parts WTF and UHF.

Get ready for characters including The Shirtless Painter, Long-Haired Businessmen, and Pigeon Man. They’re aptly named, but for a better sense of what’s in store, here’s a taste of ASMR with Kelly Whispers:

Watch FOD TV every Saturday night during IFC’s regularly scheduled movies.


Wicked Good

See More Evil

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is on Hulu.

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GIFs via Giphy

Okay, so you missed the entire first season of Stan Against Evil. There’s no shame in that, per se. But here’s the thing: Season 2 is just around the corner and you don’t want to lag behind. After all, Season 1 had some critical character development, not to mention countless plot twists, and a breathless finale cliffhanger that’s been begging for resolution since last fall. It also had this:


The good news is that you can catch up right now on Hulu. Phew. But if you aren’t streaming yet, here’s a basic primer…

Willards Mill Is Evil

Stan spent his whole career as sheriff oblivious to the fact that his town has a nasty curse. Mostly because his recently-deceased wife was secretly killing demons and keeping Stan alive.

Demons Really Want To Kill Stan

The curse on Willards Mill stipulates that damned souls must hunt and kill each and every town sheriff, or “constable.” Oh, and these demons are shockingly creative.


They Also Want To Kill Evie

Why? Because Evie’s a sheriff too, and the curse on Willard’s Mill doesn’t have a “one at a time” clause. Bummer, Evie.

Stan and Evie Must Work Together

Beating the curse will take two, baby, but that’s easier said than done because Stan doesn’t always seem to give a damn. Damn!


Beware of Goats

It goes without saying for anyone who’s seen the show: If you know that ancient evil wants to kill you, be wary of anything that has cloven feet.


Season 2 Is Lurking

Scary new things are slouching towards Willards Mill. An impending darkness descending on Stan, Evie and their cohort – eviler evil, more demony demons, and whatnot. And if Stan wants to survive, he’ll have to get even Stanlier.

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is now streaming right now on Hulu.



Reminders that the ’90s were a thing

"The Place We Live" is available for a Jessie Spano-level binge on Comedy Crib.

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GIFs via Giphy

Unless you stopped paying attention to the world at large in 1989, you are of course aware that the ’90s are having their pop cultural second coming. Nobody is more acutely aware of this than Dara Katz and Betsy Kenney, two comedians who met doing improv comedy and have just made their Comedy Crib debut with the hilarious ’90s TV throwback series, The Place We Live.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Dara: It’s everything you loved–or loved to hate—from Melrose Place and 90210 but condensed to five minutes, funny (on purpose) and totally absurd.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Betsy: “Hey Todd, why don’t you have a sip of water. Also, I think you’ll love The Place We Live because everyone has issues…just like you, Todd.”


IFC: When you were living through the ’90s, did you think it was television’s golden age or the pop culture apocalypse?

Betsy: I wasn’t sure I knew what it was, I just knew I loved it!

Dara: Same. Was just happy that my parents let me watch. But looking back, the ’90s honored The Teen. And for that, it’s the golden age of pop culture. 

IFC: Which ’90s shows did you mine for the series, and why?

Betsy: Melrose and 90210 for the most part. If you watch an episode of either of those shows you’ll see they’re a comedic gold mine. In one single episode, they cover serious crimes, drug problems, sex and working in a law firm and/or gallery, all while being young, hot and skinny.

Dara: And almost any series we were watching in the ’90s, Full House, Saved By the Bell, My So Called Life has very similar themes, archetypes and really stupid-intense drama. We took from a lot of places. 


IFC: How would you describe each of the show’s characters in terms of their ’90s TV stereotype?

Dara: Autumn (Sunita Mani) is the femme fatale. Robin (Dara Katz) is the book worm (because she wears glasses). Candace (Betsy Kenney) is Corey’s twin and gives great advice and has really great hair. Corey (Casey Jost) is the boy next door/popular guy. Candace and Corey’s parents decided to live in a car so the gang can live in their house. 
Lee (Jonathan Braylock) is the jock.

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Dara: Because everyone’s feeling major ’90s nostalgia right now, and this is that, on steroids while also being a totally new, silly thing.

Delight in the whole season of The Place We Live right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. It’ll take you back in all the right ways.