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indieWIRE INTERVIEW | “Hannah Takes the Stairs” Director Joe Swanberg

indieWIRE INTERVIEW | "Hannah Takes the Stairs" Director Joe Swanberg

Director Joe Swanberg‘s “Hannah Takes the Stairs” centers on Hannah a recent college graduate interning at a Chicago production company who develops a crush on two writers who work with her. Drifting away from her unemployed boyfriend, Matt and Paul manage to keep her entertained during the day. But will she develop a relationship with one of them, and how might that affect the balance between the trio? “Hannah Takes the Stairs” is Swanberg’s third feature directorial effort following “Kissing on the Mouth” and “LOL.” IFC First Take opens the film on Wednesday, August 22 in limited release.

Please introduce yourelf…

I am 25 years old. I was recently married to Kris Williams, who I have been in a relationship with for almost eight years and have collaborated on many film projects with. I live in Chicago, IL and spend most of my time on the Internet, where everything is happening.

What initially attracted you to filmmaking, and how has that interest evolved?

I have always liked telling stories and entertaining people. I was first drawn to filmmaking because it gave me the opportunity to do both of those things. I still like those aspects of it, but now I’m more interested in telling other people’s stories than my own. I prefer to surround myself with amazing people and let them do most of the inventing. I find that I enjoy the role of documentarian.

Please talk about how the idea for “Hannah Takes the Stairs” came about.

I’m interested in time travel, and the very first incarnation of “Hannah Takes the Stairs” developed out of a conversation along those lines. Of course it changed a lot over time. The idea of a young woman involved in several relationships was always there, but it wasn’t until I had my cast in place that we really figured the thing out. The final film is so far from the initial idea that they’re not even worth comparing. That’s how it tends to go for me. I start out trying to make one thing and I end up making something else. It’s been like that every time. I’m happy to say that I always like the final thing much more than the thing I started out trying to make.

“Hannah Takes The Stairs” director Joe Swanberg at SXSW this week. Photo by Eugene Hernandez/indieWIRE

Please elaborate a bit on your approach to making the film, including your influences as well as your overall goals.

My approach to each film is different. With “Hannah,” I just wanted to have a collaborative experience where everyone was engaged with the making of the film. I rented an apartment that we all lived in and we formed a makeshift family for a month in Chicago. I do my best not to reference other films and filmmakers in my work, but I am certainly influenced by a lot of talented people. Ricky Gervais and Larry David were referenced a lot during the making of the film. I think the major influences on each film are the people who I am collaborating with. They bring their own energy and shape the film a lot, much more than any outside piece of work. My goal with all of the projects has been to communicate with the viewer.

How did the financing and casting for the film come together?

I was extremely fortunate to meet Anish Savjani at SXSW and his company, Film Science, which provided the financing for the film. The casting was a really fun process of trying to match different personalities and create a perfect storm of chemistry. Casting is always my favorite part of the filmmaking process, and for my film, the most important. It’s the only area of filmmaking where I feel that I have a particular gift. I don’t think my skills as a writer or director are much to write home about, but I feel really confident as a casting director. I am very proud of all the performances in my films, and all the credit belongs to the actors. I just feel lucky they all said yes.

What other genres or stories would like to explore as a filmmaker? What is your next project?

My next feature is called “Nights and Weekends,” and I made it with Greta Gerwig late last year. We are in the process of editing it right now. We had a great experience making “Hannah,” and decided that we shouldn’t let it end there. We play a long distance couple in the film, and it was photographed by Matthias Grunsky, who shot all of Andrew Bujalski‘s films. Anish Savjani and Dia Sokol produced it, along with Greta and I.

I’m also doing a new web-series called “Butterknife,” starring Ronnie Bronstein, who made “Frowland.” He plays a private eye, and his wife, Mary, will play his wife in the show.

Kris Williams and I did a second season of “Young American Bodies” this Spring, and we’re putting together season three right now.

Are there other aspects of filmmaking that you would still like to explore?

Absolutely. Too many to list. If I ever run out of filmmaking aspects worth exploring then I’ll be a sad guy.

What are your interests outside of film?

Tipper Newton and I have a rock-and-roll band called “The Ice Cream Floats,” and that’s my biggest interest outside of film. I play guitar, she plays keyboards, and we both sing. You can hear our music in “Hannah Takes the Stairs” and “Quiet City.” Visit our MySpace page if you want to hear some of our killer tracks.

I’m also really interested in dark chocolate and the eating of it.

What general advice would you give to emerging filmmakers?

Make movies you want to see. Don’t try and impress people or cater to the market. Surround yourself with people who you trust and enjoy. Make the filmmaking process as fun as possible. Let the film guide you. Don’t try and force it to be what you want it to be. Allow it to be what it wants to be.

Please share an achievement from your career so far that you are most proud of…

I can’t think of anything in particular. I’m proud of every film I have made, but I think I can do much better, so I’m aiming for that.

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