'V/H/S': Joe Swanberg on his anthology horror movie, making 7 films in a year, and boxing with a critic

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I have to confess I read this on Wikipedia, but is it true you directed 7 movies in 2011?
It’s true. Well, they came out in 2011. I made them all in 2010. I was having a Roger Corman moment. We found out my wife was pregnant in February and I felt like, after the baby was born, I could still edit from home but it would be a lot harder to shoot movies. So I had this moment where I was like, “Well, maybe I’ll just shoot a lot of stuff between now and the baby coming and then I’ll slowly edit those movies over the next couple of years.” In fact, I just shot and edited them all really quickly and then I had all these movies on my hands. It was a strange year. In January, I had a movie called Uncle Kent at Sundance and then two weeks later I had two movies in Berlin and then one of those movies was at SXSW and then another one opened theatrically at the end of April. It was a very schizophrenic couple of months. In a way, they all sort of got abandoned by me. They’re like my little orphans because I just didn’t have the time or energy to nurture any of them out in to the world. So I am not making that many movies anymore.

At the recent Fantastic Fest in Austin, Tx., you took part in one of the annual FF “debates,” during which you verbally sparred with and then actually boxed a critic named Devin Faraci (The subject of the debate was: “Mumblecore is cats— and is giving a bad name to independent films”). These events are usually tongue-in-cheek affairs but I understand this particular encounter turned into a more serious duel.
It was tongue-in-cheek for me. I fear it became less tongue-in-cheek for the other guy. It was great. Devin and I talked and joked beforehand and also we talked and joked afterwards.

I don’t want to press the point, but from the footage I saw there didn’t seem to be a lot of talking and joking when you got in the ring.
No. But I had never been to Fantastic Fest before. So I was like, “We’re actually supposed to box, right?” And Tim (League, president of the Alamo Drafthouse chain of cinemas) was like, “Yes, I keep wanting people to actually fight and no one ever does.” So, uh, when the bell sounded, I went in swinging.

Have you considered calling Uwe Boll and forming some kind of UFC directorial tag team?
That’s kind of a great idea. That may be a project in the future.

You recently directed a film called Drinking Buddies. I don’t want to say it sounds like a “step up” for you. But given the cast includes Anna Kendrick, Olivia Wilde, and Ron Livingston, it seems like something which could potentially get a much bigger audience than some of your previous movies.
I hope so. One thing that I’ve discovered over the years is that one of the ways that people see movies is through actors that they like and have seen in other movies.

I could have told you that.
But here’s the thing: When I fell in love with filmmaking and got into independent films, the movies that I was seeing didn’t have famous people in them. That didn’t used to be a prerequisite for getting people to see your independent film. In the time that I’ve been making movies, I’ve really seen that change as Hollywood actors have started doing more and more tiny budget movies. So it’s an adjustment I’ve been forced to consider.

But I took my time as well because I really wanted to build a body of work first so that when I did a movie like Drinking Buddies there was a precedent set for the way I worked and how that collaboration would go. So it ended up being a really amazing experience. It actually felt good doing a movie of that size and I’m kind of excited to do more of them.

Some readers may not have seen any of your films. What’s the best Joe Swanberg starter movie?
I would say Uncle Kent is probably the easiest one to see — because it’s on Netflix Instant — and a good place to jump in. Hannah Takes The Stairs continues to be one that people are watching and connecting with. Also, in the meantime, Greta Gerwig and Mark Duplass have become famous actors. I was saying that it’s easier to get people to see your movies if they have famous people in them. It’s also easier to get people to see your movies if your non-famous friends become famous in the interim.

You can check out the trailers for V/H/S, Hannah Takes The Stairs, and Uncle Kent below.

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