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“V/H/S” co-director Joe Swanberg talks horror, beer and independent filmmaking


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IFC: One of the things I noticed about the anthology and I’m sure was sort of a goal was that it took familiar horror conceits and subverts them. I’m curious what your inspiration was as someone who hasn’t done much other horror work beyond, say, “Silver Bullets.”

JS: And even “Silver Bullets” was very sort of abstractly related to horror, but definitely the closest thing I’ve done up until this point. Inspiration-wise, definitely YouTube videos, and imagery-wise, we just kind of tried to make it as realistic-feeling and looking as possible. And, honestly, the biggest influences for me right now in terms of that stuff are like Ti West and Adam and Simon, sort of like interesting filmmakers who I consider them to be filmmakers first and horror filmmakers second, you know? You could talk to Ti and Adam as much about boring art films as you could about horror films, and they know about all of it.

What these guys have been doing within horror is super interesting and, because they’re friends of mine and collaborators of mine, I’ve sort of gotten a window into their thought process and sort of why they work in the horror genre and what they feel like they can accomplish through that. And additionally, just in my own career, I’ve been making a lot of movies lately and I was fearing that they were all sort of starting to hit the same audience over and over and over, and that there wasn’t a lot of new ground being covered. That’s like my biggest fear as a filmmaker is to just sort of get comfortable within a certain zone and then kind of keep doing the same thing.

So this movie came along right at a time where I was really excited to kind of challenge myself and try something new, so I really went in rather than, for instance, subverting the genre by doing a mumblecore version of horror, “V/H/S” seemed like a really good opportunity to do horror horror, and to really surprise people. And so I took it really seriously, the opportunity to like really make something scary and not make something that was like more realistic than less scary.

IFC: You still stuck a little bit of the relationship stuff you love in there, so that was fun.

JS: Yeah, I can’t help it. [laughs]

IFC: Are there any other genres that you are interested in trying soon?

JS: Definitely. It’s all interesting to me at this point. I had a real sort of revelation experience working on this movie called “You’re Next” that I acted in that Adam Wingard directed. It was really cool to be on the set of my friend’s movie and to see him sort of like taking on a really big task of making an action thriller and sort of having to visualize and shoot these really elaborate action setups with multiple cameras and stunts and all these kinds of things and I realized as a director I really want to have that skill set.

Even if I never make an action movie, I would still love to know how to shoot an action sequence. How to effectively cover a chase scene, or something like that. So I’m kind of open to all of it right now. I would be happy to dive into more genre stuff and just keep learning as a filmmaker and as a director how to get better at certain things. And I feel like all of that carries over even to relationship movies. Knowing how to shoot an action sequence certainly would help me also know how to shoot a dinner table conversation in a more interesting way.

IFC: You’ve been a big part of the independent filmmaking and mumblecore community, and that’s a community that’s changed a lot in the past decade. What elements of the process do you think are the most important to preserve?

JS: For me, the independent films that inspired me and that I fell in love with were tackling stories that were too small or bizarre or whatever for Hollywood to tell. That was kind of like, in the ’70s and ’80s, that was where American independent filmmaking fit into the picture was like everybody wanted to make studio movies but certain stories weren’t going to be told by studios, so if you wanted to tell that story you had to figure out a way to do it yourself.

That’s changed a lot. So now I feel like a lot of independent films are just Hollywood movies told on a smaller budget, and oftentimes with the same actors that are in the Hollywood movies. So I’ve been really still interested in attempting to use independent films to tell stories that just don’t make sense on a bigger scale. Like I only need $20,000 to tell this story, for instance. I don’t need to try to go out and raise $2 million and get big-name actors. It’s been a really fertile sort of practice stage for me to be active as a filmmaker, and I believe the only way to get better at something is to keep doing it and practicing as much as possible.

On the bigger scale where it takes several years between projects, those directors are busy all the time but they’re not necessarily busy on set directing actors, and that’s the kind of thing I’m trying to be good at. The last three or four years for me have just been about making as much work as possible and really just trying to be active in that community as a director, as an actor, as an editor or whatever else it is. As I’m getting old — I have a son now, I have a family and a house — there are practical concerns that are starting to come in that will probably necessitate a change from doing just $20,000 movies.

IFC: I was going to say, it’s interesting you’re saying that about the big stars because “Drinking Buddies” has Anna Kendrick, Olivia Wilde, Jake M. Johnson and Ron Livingston. Those are really big names right now.

JS: Yeah, absolutely. “Drinking Buddies,” I would almost call it my first film. It’s like a reset for me of taking all the things that I’ve learned and all the work that I’ve made over the past seven or eight years and now trying to apply that skill set to a movie that is a conventional movie. It’s still low budget and it’s still improvised and sort of taking the process that I’ve developed and applying it to a bigger movie. But it’s not “Silver Bullets” or it’s not “Art History,” these very sort of intensely rigorous art films that are very obviously going to appeal to a very small art house audience. Like, “Drinking Buddies” is a movie that’s meant to appeal to everybody, and it’s been fun to see if I can take the same way of working and apply that to a movie that’s aimed at everybody, including the art house audience.

IFC: Can you talk a bit about what “Drinking Buddies” is about?

JS: Sure. Olivia Wilde and Jake Johnson play friends who work at a brewery in Chicago and Anna Kendrick plays Jake’s girlfriend and Ron Livingston plays Olivia’s boyfriend. I won’t say much: it’s a relationship movie about couples. It’s about craft beer and love. [laughs]

IFC: What more does a movie need?

JS: That’s what I’m talking about! It was a blast for me to be able to shoot a movie in a brewery. I’m a home brewer and a real beer geek, so it was really just a dream come true for me to make that movie.

What do you think of Swanberg’s thoughts on independent filmmaking? Do you plan to see “V/H/S”? Tell us in the comments section below or on Facebook and Twitter.


Rev Up

Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.


Give Back

Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

It’s the final countdown to Christmas and thanks to IFC’s movie marathon all Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, you can revel in classic ’80s films AND find inspiration for your last-minute gifts. Here are our recommendations, if you need a head start:

Musical Instrument

Great analog entertainment substitute when you refuse to give your kid the Nintendo Switch they’ve been drooling over.

Breakfast In Bed

Any significant other or child would appreciate these Uncle Buck-approved flapjacks. Just make sure you’re not stuck on clean up duty.

Cocktail Supplies

You’ll need them to get through the holidays.

Dance Lessons

So you can learn to shake-shake-shake (unless you know ghosts willing to lend a hand).

Comfy Clothes

With all the holiday meals, there may be some…embigenning.

Get even more great inspiration all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC, and remember…


A-O Rewind

Celebrating Portlandia One Sketch at a Time

The final season of Portlandia approaches.

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GIFs via Giphy

Most people measure time in minutes, hours, days, years…At IFC, we measure it in sketches. And nothing takes us way (waaaaaay) back like Portlandia sketches. Yes, there’s a Portlandia milepost from every season that changed the way we think, behave, and pickle things. In honor of Portlandia’s 8th and final season, Subaru presents a few of our favorites.


Put A Bird On It

Portlandia enters the pop-culture lexicon and inspires us to put birds on literally everything.

Colin the Chicken

Who’s your chicken, really? Behold the emerging locavore trend captured perfectly to the nth degree.

Dream Of The ’90s

This treatise on Portland made it clear that “the dream” was alive and well.

No You Go

We Americans spend most of our lives in cars. Fortunately, there’s a Portlandia sketch for every automotive situation.

A-O River!

We learned all our outdoor survival skills from Kath and Dave.

One More Episode

The true birth of binge watching, pre-Netflix. And what you’ll do once Season 8 premieres.

Catch up on Portlandia’s best moments before the 8th season premieres January 18th on IFC.