Chicago Film Festival: Joe Swanberg’s Closing Keynote Session

Joe Swanberg behind the scenes of Easy's first season. Photo credit: Scott Garfield/Netflix

Chicago filmmaker Joe Swanberg sat one-one-one with Anthony Kaufman of the Chicago International Film Festival as Industry Days headed towards a close.

Swanberg had stepped in to replace Marc Evans, the President of the Motion Picture Group at Paramount Pictures., after it was announced that Evans would be stepping down by the end of the year.

On producing a series for Netflix, Swanberg said that he missed the test screenings that came with releasing new films.  Those screenings provided audience feedback, which is something that doesn’t come with producing content for Netflix.

Drinking Buddies marked the first time that anyone in the industry noticed the independent filmmaker even though Swanberg had been making films since 2003.  The 2013 film starred Olivia Wilde, Jake Johnson, Anna Kendrick, and Ron Livingston.  Actors wanted to work for Swanberg after the release of Drinking Buddies.

The director had initially signed on to direct films with New Line Cinema and Lionsgate before ultimately deciding to leave the projects.  He didn’t want to make a bad film and that’s the direction those two were going in.

For aspiring filmmakers in Chicago, Swanberg’s advice is to stay in town.  A writer or director can stay in Chicago and still have a viable career so Swanberg recommends staying in town.  For actors, the ones who move to LA usually wait until they make enough money in order to get back to Chicago.  Swanberg has a nice and normal life in Chicago as opposed to when he’s in LA.  People take his meetings, etc. in Chicago while repeatedly canceling in LA.

Swanberg discussed Easy, the anthology series airing on Netflix.  He doesn’t write traditional scripts.  He’ll write 4-5 page treatments, or scriptments as he called them.  These episodes usually take 4-5 days to produce.  Of the two episodes that premiered following the keynote, one of them was completely improvised.

Swanberg has two projects in the works with Jake Johnson.

When it comes to casting actors for his film, Swanberg would prefer someone who can do the job before bringing on a trained actor or improviser.  When he casts actors, it’s to play versions of themselves.  He tells improvisers not to be funny.

Joe Swanberg closed out with this piece of advice for aspiring filmmakers: “I encourage all of you to never do a project for money.”

The Chicago International Film Festival runs through October 26, 2017.

Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.

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