“I’m probably a pretty good example of like, if I’m standing here, any idiot could be up here.”
Producer/Writer/Director Joe Swanberg (Drinking Buddies)
2016 SXSW Keynote talk
How do you direct seven feature films in one year? One film at a time.
That’s how Joe Swanberg did it. Well, technically it took him 14 months to do it—but still impressive, right? Especially since I once heard back in the pre-digital filmmaking days that less than 1% of film school grads ever make one feature film—ever.
In the above video from his 2016 SXSW Keynote speech he unpacked how he was able to do it and here are some concepts that stood out to me:
- He wasn’t able to do it because he had a lot of money. (His least expensive feature was made for $3,000.) “Sometimes having no money is better than having some money.” Give actors/crew a piece of the film so if it makes money they make more money than a day rate.
- He didn’t do it because he lived in Los Angeles. Midwestern guy.
- He went to film school at Southern Illinois University Carbondale and then moved to Chicago.
- He met filmmaker Adam Wingard at a film festival and Wingard invited him to Birmingham, Alabama where he was then based to act in one of his films. Wingard showed him how he shot feature films in four days. Yes, four—as in 4— days. In short, do a lot of editing in camera and only do one or two takes.
- Swanberg tried to make his next film in four days but failed–it took him six days.
- Sometimes he has no script and sometimes he has a full 80 page script.
- Swanberg edits his films as well and does so while shooting.
- His work landed him a CAA agent (David Kopple) which led to making the $750,000 film Drinking Buddies starring Oliva Wilde, Jake Johnson, Anna Kendrick and Ron Livingston. He didn’t really feel like a filmmaker until Drinking Buddies—his 15th feature.
- That same year he also directed Happy Christmas which featured Kendrick and Lena Dunham. It was shot for $120,000 with a five person crew.
- Make your film even if you don’t show it to anyone. (Great learning experience. Your next one will be better.) If you enter it in film festivals and only get a low distribution offer, consider holding on to the rights because in five or ten years when you are better known, those film are going to bring in money. You can always put them on Vimeo pay and take them off anytime you want.
Recommend books on low-bedget filmmaking:
How I Made a Hundred Movies in Hollywood and Never Lost a Dime by Roger Corman (Who once made a feature in 2 days.)
Rebel Without a Crew by Robert Rodriguez
Edward Burns’ ‘Newlyweds’ (Part 1)—Shot in 10 (non-consecutive) days
The 10 Film Commandments of Edward Burns
‘Don’t try and compete with Hollywood.’— Ed Burns
‘Who cares if it’s garbage?’—Edward Burns