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SXSW Interview: “It Was Great, But I Was Ready to Come Home” Director Kris Swanberg

SXSW Interview: "It Was Great, But I Was Ready to Come Home" Director Kris Swanberg

Editor’s Note: This is one of a series of interviews, conducted via email, with directors whose films are screening at the 2009 SXSW Film Festival.

“It Was Great, But I Was Ready to Come Home”
Director: Kris Swanberg. Writer: Kris Swanberg, Jade Healy, David Lowery, Ben Kasulke
A woman tries to get over her recent breakup by backpacking in Costa Rica with her best friend, and through traveling together, the two women realize they may be on separate trips. Cast: Kris Swanberg, Jade Healy [Courtesy of SXSW]

“It Was Great, But I Was Ready to Come Home” will screen in the Narrative Features Competition.

Please introduce yourself…

My name is Kris Swanberg. I’m 28 years old. My dad was in the Navy so I moved around a lot when I was a kid. I ended up going to film school at Southern Illinois University where I met my husband Joe. We moved to Chicago after graduation and made our first feature “Kissing on the Mouth” together. Since then I have made several projects for the web and a short documentary called “Bathwater.” In 2006 I accidentally got a job teaching film and video to inner city high school kids for two years. After I got laid off last year I started my own ice cream business in Chicago and am also in graduate school for education. Making “It Was Great, But I Was Ready to Come Home” was my first experience directing a feature.

What were the circumstances that lead you to become a filmmaker?

I have always been interested in people, especially those different than myself. When I was in high school I wanted to be an anthropologist and when we moved to Memphis, TN during my Junior year of high school I became involved with the television program there. I decided I would go to college and learn to make documentaries, which I did.

Now that I am older I still prefer documentaries to narratives, but what I really love are narratives that have the intimacy and realism of documentaries while still being fiction.

How or what prompted the idea for your film and how did it evolve?

I traveled to Costa Rica 3 years ago to try and learn Spanish and to try and gain some feeling of independence in my life. While telling a friend about that experience I thought it might be a good idea for a movie to show two girls traveling there together. I had been interested in exploring the uniqueness of female friendship for a while and thought that this would be a good backdrop. There is also something incredibly intimate about traveling with someone abroad that I thought would lend itself to the story.

I tried for about a year to find the right people to make the film with and finally asked Jade Healy to join the project in July of 2008. Ben Kasulke was already signed on and David Lowery quickly followed. Things moved very quickly and we went to Costa Rica in December and spent three weeks in production.

Please elaborate a bit on your approach to making your film.

Besides a few phone conversations before our trip, we didn’t have much prep time together as a crew. I had a very broad idea of what kind of film I wanted to make, but we had very few specifics down. Perhaps from my background in documentaries I was hoping to find the story there. I also had a great deal of confidence in my crew and wanted to make the process as collaborative as possible.

I discovered while in Costa Rica what I wanted the film to look and feel like. I wanted to tell a story visually and without much exposition or dialogue. I did not figure this out until midway through production, but now I think I’ve found my sort of filmmaking style.

What were some of the biggest challenges you faced in developing the project?

My biggest challenge was definitely learning how to be a director. I had a very difficult time expressing what I wanted a certain shot to look like or even what I wanted to take place in a scene. I was sometimes surprised that Ben had shot something different from what I had in mind and then even more surprised to realize that I had not given him any direction as to what I wanted in the first place.

How do you define success as a filmmaker, and what are your personal goals as a filmmaker?

I think success is when you are ultimately pleased with what you have made. My personal goals are to keep making films as ideas come to me and to keep making them with people that I enjoy working with.

What are your future projects?

I am developing a project with my best friend Kate Johnston (formally Kate Winterich from “Kissing on the Mouth”). She just had a baby and I want to make a narrative film about motherhood. We are going to shoot it in a cabin in Montana over four different seasons. We plan to start late this Summer.

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