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Video/Q&A: 'Drinking Buddies' director Joe Swanberg

(Lenny Gilmore / RedEye )
August 20, 2013|Matt Pais, @mattpais | RedEye movie critic

“Drinking Buddies” director Joe Swanberg has been making feature films professionally (8 years) for about twice as long as he has been brewing craft beer at home for fun. Yet to an extent, the Lincoln Square resident follows the same approach with both: pursuing personal explorations and being proud of the experiments, no matter what.

He made a peanut-butter wheat beer that turned out “not bad.” His early, minimalist films like “Kissing On the Mouth,” were bad. He made cherry ale that exploded all over his house. His new movie, “Drinking Buddies,” which opens Friday and was largely filmed at Revolution Brewing’s facility on Kedzie Avenue, is his best onscreen work to date, a semi-improvised exploration of workplace flirtation and the grander question of how/when to know that you’re in love with the right one. Chicago native Jake Johnson and Olivia Wilde play the flirty Revolution employees; Anna Kendrick and Ron Livingston are their respective significant others.

Over beer at Revolution Brewery on Milwaukee Avenue, Swanberg, 31, talked about the lack of innocence behind skinny-dipping, his personal connection to the “Drinking Buddies” plot and how the movie would be different were it filmed in a distillery.

Is there a fun story about hanging in Chicago with the cast that you haven’t told before?
Shooting in Chicago was great, but we were working. We were doing 12-hour days, and we were pretty exhausted. The three days that were the most memorable to me were actually the ones where we snuck away to Michigan and we were shooting on the beach. It was really lovely. In Chicago, at the end of the day everybody just wants to go home. Nobody lives very far away, so everybody jumps in their car and splits. In Michigan, we were around New Buffalo and when the day ended we would crack open beers and build a bonfire on the beach and go swimming. It was really nice.

And you went skinny-dipping, like in the movie?
No skinny-dipping. Well, maybe. I wasn’t skinny-dipping. I had to be professional.

I thought all directors did that?
[Laughs] Yeah, exactly.

If there’s one thing I know about Scorsese …
It’s that he loves skinny-dipping. Yeah, absolutely. I’ve heard that. No, it was so nice. It was right in the middle of the shoot, so it was a real nice chance to recharge our batteries and just hang out. And get to know each other a little bit. It’s hard; you work on a movie and you work with all these people. It’s such a transient lifestyle. It’s sort of like nomads. People move from project to project. Crew people get to know each other because they’ll see each other again and again on similar movies, but for me, the best I could hope is to work with those people again maybe in a year or something like that. Directors aren’t jumping from project to project in the same way. It was a chance for me to get to know some of those people better. I really valued that. It’s weird to spend 12 hours a day with somebody for a month and still not really know them at all.

Skinny-dipping comes into play in this movie because you’re dealing with this gray area of when you’re not crossing the line but also sort of crossing the line. Can skinny-dipping ever be innocent?
That is a very good question. I feel like the presence of old people could make skinny-dipping innocent. It needs to be de-sexualized in some way. Now I sound ageist. Not that old people aren’t sexual. Yeah, I feel like if it’s a bunch of people in their 20s skinny-dipping, there’s inherently some sort of sexual vibe going on. Unless you’ve grown up in a nudist colony and that’s just the way you swim.

But if you first find some old people in town and say, “We’re all going skinny-dipping, come with,” that’s not going to take all the sexuality out of it, is it?
No, maybe not. Maybe you’re right. You seem to have a clear-cut feeling that skinny-dipping is always sexual.

I wrote my thesis on skinny-dipping.
[Laughs] Yeah, OK. I’m going to go ahead and go on the record and say that people have probably skinny-dipped in totally asexual, very neutral territories. All of my skinny-dipping practice in real life, there was at least some aspect of a sexual kind going on.

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