We wouldn’t want to say exactly how many movies prolific indie filmmaker Joe Swanberg has directed because he might have finished another one in the time it’s taken to write this sentence. But we can say that his new film, the brewery-oriented comedy Drinking Buddies is his most high-profile to date thanks to a cast which boasts Olivia Wilde, Jake Johnson, Anna Kendrick, Ron Livingston, Jason Sudeikis, and Swanberg’s fellow auteur, Ti West. Drinking Buddies arrives in theatres August 23 — the same day cinemagoers will be able to see both Swanberg and West in the horror-comedy You’re Next — and is currently available to watch on VOD.
Below, the Chicago-based Swanberg explains why he felt like Michael Bay while he was making the movie and talks about the paltry three other films he has awaiting release.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How did you hit on the idea to set a film in large part at a brewery?
JOE SWANBERG: Well, as a birthday present about four years ago my wife got me a brewing set-up for our apartment…
I’m going to stop you right there and say it sounds like you’ve got a pretty awesome wife.
I know, right? Yeah, it’s pretty amazing. And it was the perfect hobby outside of movies. It was a great thing for me to take on in my spare time and so forth. So of course once I started making beer, I started drinking a lot more beer — not just my stuff, but other people’s stuff too. I feel like I’ve been on a crash beer odyssey for the last couple of years and it led very naturally to wanting to do a movie set in that world.
Were you at any point tempted to call the movie Crash Beer Odyssey?
I thought of many titles and I’m sure I have many more beer movies in me.
It looked like it was shot in a real brewery.
It was. They were actually brewing while we were shooting there. Thankfully, they were very cool about it and let us in to the process. It was a really nice big space so we could mostly stay out of their way. I had a lot of ideas in the outline where Jake would be brewing and doing that stuff and I was nervous that we would be pushed out of that. But they were really cool about it and they actually taught Jake a lot about brewing. Anything you see him doing in the movie — if he’s pouring hops into a kettle or scrubbing down equipment or cleaning kegs — he’s throwing those hops into real beer that was going to be bottled and put out into the world. So they really let him into the process in a real way. It wasn’t just for show.
So if this whole acting thing falls apart for him then he’s got another career to fall back on.
Yes. Exactly! He at least has a reference on his resume.
While watching the movie I kept on thinking that I either knew real who behaved like the characters or sometimes that I had acted like them.
Yeah. Well, I certainly have acted like all of them act in the movie.
You’ve had sex with Ron Livingston?
[Laughs] Yes. But that was years ago and we’ve both got over it. No, Jake and Anna’s characters are very much based on my wife and I about six years ago, when we were sort of deciding to get married. Also, I tried to cast actors who have a life outside of the movies and had a lot to draw from. I ended up with great people who were willing to share their stories and also to share their, you know, at times ugly behavior with me.
This is a relatively low-budget movie. But compared to some of your previous films, like Uncle Kent…
It’s like Ben Hur!
Did you suddenly feel like Michael Bay?
I did a little bit. I have to say, it’s all very luxurious to me. Like, everything I asked for, I got, which was a very new experience. It was great. We had plenty of time, we had plenty of resources. The 15 different jobs I used to have to do on a $10,000 movie had 15 different people to do them. The size of the thing liberated me to just be a director, to just focus on working with the actors, which was a real pleasure every day.
What was it like working with Ron Livingston?
Amazing. He’s super smart and also he’s bringing such a different perspective. He’s ten years older than everyone and has done a lot more work so I got to witness him be really helpful to Jake. Because Jake was coming off of the first season of New Girl and he was sort of new to television and that whole thing and Ron had done a couple of shows. Jake’s told me in the meantime that things Ron said to him while we were making the movies were really helpful to him. Yeah, I’ve stayed in touch with Ron — he’s somebody I hope to make a lot of movies with.
I heard Jason Sudeikis put on a Joe Swanberg film festival for Olivia Wilde to convince her to be in it.
Yeah. You know, I didn’t know that. Olivia kept that to herself until the movie had already premiered and then she decided to reveal that really it was Sudeikis I had to thank for her involvement. But, yeah, it’s pretty cool. I think he and Andrew Bujalski (Swanberg’s fellow so-called “mumblecore” director) had talked and he was aware of this whole world of movies that we were doing. It’s pretty cool that he egged her on to try something like this.
Presumably it wasn’t a complete Joe Swanberg film festival, otherwise she’d still be watching it.
[Laughs] Yeah, every time that they thought they were finished they’d check iTunes and there would be a new one up there!
So I’m guessing in true Joe Swanberg style you’ve shot 17 more films since you wrapped Drinking Buddies.
No, I have been very good. I’ve checked myself and I have only shot one movie since we finished Drinking Buddies. But there’s a few that are still trickling out into the world. I was so active earlier that there are two other movies that are going to come out after Drinking Buddies.
Could you run through them all?
Absolutely. So a film called All the Light in the Sky (with Jane Adams) is going to come out this Fall and there’s a film called 24 Exposures and who knows what will happen with that — maybe it will come out next year — and then a new film that I’m still editing called Happy Christmas that I did with Anna Kendrick and Lena Dunham and Melanie Lynskey. I’ll start sending that to festivals early next year and then hopefully it will come out next Fall.
What’s Happy Christmas about?
Melanie Lynskey and I play a young couple with a kid and Anna Kendrick plays my little sister who has broken up with her boyfriend and decided she needs a fresh start on things and so she moves into our basement to live with us while she looks for a job and an apartment. Lena plays Anna’s friend from college who already lives in Chicago and they sort of reconnect when Anna gets to town.
24 Exposures is another collaboration with You’re Next director Adam Wingard?
That’s right. And (You’re Next) writer Simon Barrett. I did A Horrible Way to Die with them and then You’re Next with them and we were having much too much fun working together we delved back into this weird genre world.
It’s sort of like a ‘90s, Cinemax-Showtime, soft-core, erotic thriller type movie. I was like, What if we took this [genre] that everybody has made fun of and we actually took it seriously again? It’s like an episode of Red Shoe Diaries or something. Adam plays an erotic photographer. Simon plays a private detective who sort of gets involved in his life when one of Adam’s models ends up dead.
You can read more about Drinking Buddies in the current issue of Entertainment Weekly and you can check out the film’s trailer below.