Note: This interview took place over e-mail in the autumn of 2011. I saw Silver Bullets at the BFI London Film Festival. Joe Swanberg had filmed an intro to accompany the screening and mentioned that if anybody had any questions about the film, to e-mail him. So I did just that. The interview appeared in a now-defunct website.
In Silver Bullets, director Joe Swanberg takes inspiration from Chekov’s acclaimed play, The Seagull, his own dissatification with filmmaking and the recent suicide of David Foster Wallace.
Swanberg is attached to the mumblecore scene and this is a very indie, lo-fi production about four characters caught up in jealousies and mind games. Starring Amy Seimetz, horror filmmaker Ti West, Swanberg himself, Larry Fessenden in a cameo part and Kate Lyn Shiel, Silver Bullets is an exploration of filmmaking and the role of the director which is surprisingly effective and never once laps into quirk, which so many US indie pictures feel the need to fall into these days to stand out.
Claire is an actress cast in a new horror movie by a director named Ben (played by Ti West), her boyfriend Ethan, Swanberg’s character, is jealous and makes fun of her because it’s a dumb genre picture and not really art. He seems worried, too, that Claire might be seduced by her director – which she is in the most awkward, geeky fashion imaginable and which provides the film’s best scene.
Another fantastic element is the fantastic score by Orange Mighty Trio. It well be one of the coolest movie accompaniments for a long time, flooding Silver Bullets in ambience and mood. Swanberg’s experimental approach delivers a funny and yet bitter tale of artists who cannot, at times, tell apart from reality.
Where did the idea come from for Silver Bullets?
Swanberg: The idea emerged from the ashes of a different film that fell apart after the first day of shooting. We started shooting and slowly figured the film out over several months. After that, it was still another 2 years before it was finished. It took a long time to get a handle on it.
Did you see parallels with Chekhov’s The Seagull during the writing or was it always the intention?
The Seagull became a reference point pretty early on during the shoot. Jane Adams recommended the play to me and lent me her copy.
Your character in the film seems fed up with movie-making and the industry and says a really poignant thing that he only makes films now to get close to interesting people… is that how you felt yourself?
Everything I say in the film is how I felt while we were shooting. I still relate to some of it. I’m less depressed now and more excited about filmmaking. Getting close to people is still a big reason why filmmaking appeals to me, but I’m also interested in connecting with an audience, people I don’t know.
The score was absolutely fantastic. How did that come about?
I was a fan of Orange Mighty Trio and started using their music as a temp score while they worked on additional music. They’re really great to work with and I hope to continue that relationship. You can also hear their music in my wife’s films. The first is called “It was Great, but I was Ready To Come Home” and the second film is in post-production now. I’m not sure if she’s picked a final title for it.
I thought Ti West’s involvement as the director of the horror flick was quite inspired. The seduction scene with the werewolf mask was brilliant. Was that improvised or written in the script?
Everything was improvised. Any attempts I made to outline the film were futile, so I gave up at some point and stuck to my usual working method of improvising everything. We shot that scene in the basement of Ti’s parent’s house in Delaware and the story he tells about the mask is true.
Are you good friends with the likes of Ti West and Larry Fessenden. They’re both doing some great indie horror flicks at present.
Ti is one of my best friends. We both had our first films at SXSW in 2005 and we met then. We’ve worked together on a bunch of projects, but Silver Bullets is sort of the first evidence of that. Larry Fessenden is one of the coolest, most inspiring filmmakers working right now. I met him through Ti.
Would you ever go and make a genre picture yourself?
I directed a short film recently for a project that Bloody Disgusting is making. It’s a straight genre short called “The Sick Thing that Happened to Emily When She Was Younger,” written by Simon Barrett. It’s the first time I’ve worked from a script and the first time that I’ve gone all the way in a genre direction. It was a lot of fun and I hope to continue doing that.
Amy Seimetz is a fantastic actress.
Amy is amazing and I’ve been lucky to work with her a lot. I knew I wanted her to act in the film, but she also became a producer and was a huge help in bringing everything together. She’s the kind of filmmaker who knows how to do everything and I really needed someone like that. I would probably still be shooting if Amy hadn’t helped as much as she did.
You seem to have embraced the internet and alternative ways to get your movies and projects seen internationally.
We live in a world hugely influenced by the Internet. It seems crazy to me to ignore it as a means of distribution. I still love seeing movies in movie theaters, but I also want people to see my work and the Internet makes the work available to everyone.
What are you working on next?
I’m working with a distributor called Factory 25 to put four of my films out on DVD. This is a super special limited release that I hope people sign up for. I have a few new films that I’m finishing up and sending to festivals. Hopefully they’ll pop up early next year.
Does it help having a community of filmmakers involved and supporting each others work and helping each other out on productions?
Having a community of filmmakers to work with is a big help. It’s hard to do things alone, especially in the film world. Even if you make the films alone, it’s good to know that there are people who will help with feedback. It’s just important to find the right community where everyone is helpful. I’ve seen some groups of filmmakers where everyone is at each other’s throats and there is a lot of insecurity and that’s obviously not helpful.