Indy Film Fest Q&A: Joe Swanberg of Drinking Buddies

The Chicago-based director shares his thoughts about the future of filmmaking and his movie—which will open the 10th-anniversary festival tonight at the IMA.

Chicago-based filmmaker Joe Swanberg will be in the audience for his film Drinking Buddies at the Indianapolis Museum of Art and the afterparty at Sun King Brewing Company. The movie will kick off the 10th Indy Film Fest tonight, and centers on best friends, played by Olivia Wilde and Jake Johnson, who work at a brewery and are coupled with two others. How they may find out why they aren’t more than friends is the matter of hand. Swanberg, whose parents live in Indianapolis, is excited to attend the festival for the first time. Here, he shares his perspectives about the film and the future of his craft.

IM: What was your inspiration for Drinking Buddies?

JS: We tried to make a movie that was a romantic comedy that wasn’t stale like I think a lot of romantic comedies are these days. I happen to be a big fan of that genre, but the kinds of movies I’m interested in making are more realistic and less expected than what’s out there. There’s a super-easy formula to follow, and we tried not to follow that formula.

IM: Do you have any patterns or themes that connect all of your movies?

JS: I’ve always focused on relationships and broadly on communication—or lack of communication. It’s something that’s continually interesting to me and always changing. Ideally, my movies are growing up with me, so my characters get a little older and wiser, and what they’re dealing with is also changing. My first couple movies were about people just out of college with artistic ambitions and having jobs. Now they’re about having kids and getting married. Probably 10 years from now, my characters will be middle-aged and trying to save money to send kids to college. But they’re always dealing with the stuff of life.

IM: The film is set in Chicago—how much of it was filmed there?

JS: We shot the majority of it in the city. The brewery scenes were shot at Revolution Brewery, right in the city. As a writer and director who lives here, I’m able to be specific in terms of locations because I know the city. The world of the movie is realistic in terms of the neighborhoods they characters would live in, what restaurants they’d go to, where they’d hang out. If a Chicagoan watches this, it would feel specific and real.

IM: How do you think indie filmmaking has changed in the last 10 years? Where do you see it going?

JS: The basic tools you need to make movies are getting smaller, cheaper, and more accessible. Compared to cameras that I shot my first couple movies on, for the same price cameras are vastly superior in terms of quality. The computers and hard drives also keep getting cheaper. But as a result, more movies being made. The challenge in the ‘80s was to raise the capital to pay for the film stock and to get it made, and not as many [independent] films were being released each year. It’s more of a challenge now to get into film festivals. Even regional film festivals are more competitive.

IM: What advice do you have for aspiring filmmakers?

JS: In a hyper-competitive industry where everyone is making movies, the way to stand out is to make stuff that is your personal vision. The only arena where nobody can compete with you is by telling your story and being true to yourself or telling a story in a way that only you can tell it. You shouldn’t be trying to make a calling-card movie with slickness or genericness. Be prolific and productive and be very specific and true to yourself. There’s always going to be a time later to sell out.

IM: Anything else you’d like to add?

JS: I’m just really looking forward to the screening and having a beer at Sun King.


Movie: Indianapolis Museum of Art, 4000 Michigan Rd.,7 p.m., Thursday, July 18; Party: Sun King Brewing Company, 135 N. College Ave. Tickets: $25, includes film and admission to after party. The film will be released on Itunes July 25 and in theaters August 23.

Photos courtesy Magnolia Pictures