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In Their Own Words | “The Swell Season” Co-Directors Share a Scene From Their “Once” Doc

In Their Own Words | "The Swell Season" Co-Directors Share a Scene From Their "Once" Doc

Fans of “Once” will no doubt be curious to check out “The Swell Season,” a documentary that offers a candid behind-the-scenes look at the real-life couple behind the film’s Oscar-winning music. Below co-directors Nick August-Perna, Chris Dapkins and Carlo Mirabella-Davis share an exclusive scene from their documentary, which is currently playing in Los Angeles and opens today in New York at Cinema Village and the reRun Gastropub Theater.

The world fell in love with Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová when their songwriting collaboration in the film “Once” culminated in a jubilant Oscar win. But behind the scenes, where Glen and Markéta’s on-screen romance became reality, a grueling two-year world tour threatened to fracture their fated bond. This music-filled documentary is an intimate look at the exhilaration and turmoil created by both love and fame. “The Swell Season” patiently observes the small gestures, the stolen moments of quiet backstage intimacy, the raw post-show folk ballads sung in dark, smoky dressing rooms. Glen and Markéta wake up in strange towns, wander through cities posing for snapshots. We watch as they navigate this strange new realm of public exposure with only each other to depend on. [Synopsis: Seventh Art Releasing]

At this point in the film, they are on tour and playing to sold-out audiences around the world following upon the success of the film “Once.” Backstage, Glen leads Marketa through the mechanics of a new song hours before they are set to perform. We had established with them a certain level of comfort with the large camera, boom and portable lights, but it still felt tricky. We wanted to capture this intimate rehearsal without scaring it away or distorting it beyond recognition with our presence. As we entered the room, Chris went past them and started filming the river out the window. By the time we came around and focused on their exchange by the piano, they were completely disinterested in the camera. This approach of shooting the setting as much as the scene helped us capture the fragile moments that are the heart of the film.

“Once,” a fiction film, also has a scene with Glen and Marketa sitting close at a piano in an empty music store, working out a melody. The potency of that scene arose from their relationship behind the fiction peeking through, the fact that in reality their bond formed years earlier huddled around a piano in Marketa’s family home. Looked at this way, the scene has many layers. It’s at the same time an observational portrait of their pre-show practice, a sequel or moody flip side to “Once,” and finally a portal into the first spark of their collaboration, a fire they struggle to preserve throughout “The Swell Season.”

The interviews with Glen and Marketa were shot after we had assembled a rough cut and had shown it to them both. We felt we needed to get closer, both psychologically and physically, and they wanted an opportunity to emphasize some of the positive aspects of the tour. As our film’s narrative only gradually revealed itself to us over the course of three years, we used the last stage of interviews as the final stroke, to hone in on the story we tell here.

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