48TH THESSALONIKI FILM FESTIVAL
November 16-25 2007
JOE SWANBERG MASTERCLASS
Young American independent director Joe Swanberg’s masterclass titled “Do it yourself cinema!” took place on Thursday, November 22nd. Swanberg, who is attending the festival as director of Hanna takes the stairs, part of the Independence Days – Young Americans section, was accompanied in the masterclass by Ry Russo-Young, director of Orphans which participates in the International Competition section.
The two American directors were first asked about mumblecore, an original neologism which appeared in the art scene and the film press of independent American cinema. Swanberg claimed that there is no such movement. “We simply belong to a group of directors who make low-budget films using digital means and based mostly on improvisation. In 2005, we accidentally ran into each other at a Festival and realized that we have the same perception of cinema”. Russo-Young agreed with her colleague and added: “We are all children of the digital revolution. We are trying to make good films with low budgets. For example, Orphans was shot in a house by seven people altogether”.
Regarding the way he works, Swanberg revealed that he never uses a script. Most of the actors and the crew are his friends so there is usually no pressure. It’s like a documentary of his life. Russo-Young added: “I never went to any cinema school. I simply combined the various forms of art that I worked with, eventually leading me to cinema. I think that writing the script is the hardest part of making a film. You need incredible discipline. Personally, I prefer to give abstracts to the actors containing no dialogues. In, general I prefer genuine improvisation”.
Swanberg was then asked about his style: “My cinema can be characterized as lazy. In general, I’m a lazy, impatient and selfish person. I don’t like working with actors so I don’t collaborate with them. I don’t like to write so I don’t use scripts in my films. I am like a chemist who experiments in his lab, praying that no explosions happen. Generally, I am interested in the human character and not cinema movements. I try to reproduce reality and not to create a fake one. I don’t like to use cinema as a podium to express my beliefs from”. Swanberg also spoke about the online series Young American Bodies: “I wanted to work on a project that someone could watch over the internet. Something like a television series that would be transmitted exclusively via the internet. At the moment, there are 20 online episodes and as soon as I get back to America, I will film 12 more”.
Concerning actors, Swanberg was emphatic: “I don’t like professional actors. It’s probably a matter of being original. I want the actors to be themselves”.
Regarding new technologies, Swanson claimed that right now, the Internet is like the Wild West: “There are no rules like the ones in cinema which is 100 years old. The relationship with the internet is liberating. It makes me feel like I’m re-discovering cinema”.
The discussion turned towards scriptwriting. “Although I don’t use scripts, I always have a plot in my mind. I like to work with deadlines. Two months before I begin filming, I try to know as much as possible about the characters that I am going to be using. Every scene we complete, is part of the puzzle. The end result is built as I film it”, he said.
Finally, Swanberg was asked why he likes to act in the films he makes. “I honestly don’t know why. The only person I trust is myself. I’m such a control freak, that I want to be involved with everything. Regardless, cinema is a form of self-analysis. It’s an opportunity for me to place myself under the microscope and see my weaknesses...