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'Drinking Buddies' Director Joe Swanberg Talks Filming, Brewing in Chicago

By Kelly Bauer | August 22, 2013 7:15am
 Director Joe Swanberg's newest movie, "Drinking Buddies," was filmed in Chicago.
Drinking Buddies
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CHICAGO — Joe Swanberg wants to film as many movies as he can in Chicago.

The Lincoln Square native is preparing for the Friday release of "Drinking Buddies," a new movie by Magnolia Pictures that is set in a Chicago brewery and stars Anna Kendrick, Ron Livingston and Jason Sudeikis.

In a recent interview, he opened up on filming in Chicago, finding inspiration in local breweries and setting up a home brewery in his basement.

Why did you want to focus on Chicago beer?

It’s some of my favorite. I travel a lot, and so everywhere I go, I drink the local beer, and I have to say we’re pretty spoiled in Chicago.

It was cool to shoot in the Empty Bottle, which is a place I’ve been to a lot. I’ve seen a lot of bands there and also just hung out there. They do farmers markets in the winter and all kinds of cool things. It was fun to get to shoot in that space. And then we went to Michigan for three days in the middle of the shoot, which was really amazing.

You were inspired by Half Acre Beer? Were there any other Chicago companies or sites that inspired you?

Yeah, definitely. I mean, my friend Andrew brews … and he was a big help in the movie.

We filmed at Revolution Brewery, which is also making one of my favorite beers in Chicago. We really had the Chicago beer scene covered pretty well.

I saw Jake Johnson's Red Door Animal Shelter shirt. Did you guys purposely include those nods to Chicago businesses?

That was … Amanda Ford, who did the wardrobe in the movie. I didn’t specifically pick that Red Door shirt or any of that. I’m not sure if she was doing it specifically, or if she just went thrift shopping.

The brewery shirts that they wear aren’t just from Chicago. … I know that we sort of had brewery stuff from around the country.

Do you have a favorite Chicago brewery?

I go to Revolution, where we shot. They have a restaurant; we shot at their brewery, but [they] have a restaurant.

It’s mostly beer that they’re making right there. You’re getting really fresh, local beer. They just also make super good food. It’s always really packed. There’s a nice feeling of community there.

It’s in the Logan Square neighborhood, and it’s just a great. … I’m always very happy there.

Do you plan on shooting more movies in Chicago?

Yeah, I mean I live there, so I’m going to shoot as many movies as possible at home just because it’s nice to sleep in my own bed at night. The next few things that I’m kind of thinking about, as many of them as possible are going to be in Chicago. It’s always complicated with film productions because there are budget things to think about, logistics to consider...

It’s a great place. We have some of the best food and beer in the country right now. We have a beach but also a Downtown, and I love the people in Chicago. I have great friends in the city, and it’s not dominated by the film industry the way that L.A. is. It’s nice to talk about things other than movies, which I think Chicago affords me in a way that L.A. wouldn’t.

Do you have any funny or interesting stories about living in Chicago?

I’ve actually had a really nice, easy time filming in Chicago. There’s never been any incidents. I’ve kind of gone from shooting super micro-budget movies for a few thousands dollars where we used to walk into a restaurant and ask if we can shoot for a few minutes and then running out … to doing something like “Drinking Buddies,” where we shot in the Empty Bottle for like six hours while they were closed. I’ve kind of done it both ways, and I have to say that I’ve encountered great people and a really helpful attitude.

Nothing jumps to mind in terms of craziness. A really cool thing is that my wife and I bought a house two years ago, and we bought the house from a 91-year-old woman who lived there since she was 5. Her grandparents built the house, so the house was built in 1899, and we’re only the second owners of the house. And there’s a tiki bar in the basement that they built in the '60s, and when we bought the house we insisted that they leave everything from the tiki bar exactly as it was. So we own this house now with this really cool '60s basement.

Can you tell me more about your home brewery?

I’ve been a home brewer for about five years now. It was a birthday present from my wife. She got me a home-brewing setup, and I started making my own stuff, so I’ve been pretty dedicated to that. It’s a nice hobby. It sort of fits into my traveling schedule because you’ll do something and the beer will have to sit there for a week and ferment, and then you transfer it, and you’ll have to sit it for another two weeks.

It is very much just for my friends. If you come over to my house right after I’ve [made it], you’re gonna leave with a six-pack. I wouldn’t dare give it to anybody outside of my immediate friends and family. I’m not claiming to be a good home brewer.

Do you have any advice for Chicago filmmakers?

It’s a great city to be working in. I would encourage anybody there to just make specific, personal movies. There’s a tendency for young filmmakers to want to cram all of their ideas into one movie and make calling cards that demonstrate their talents, but as it’s gotten easier … cheaper. The best thing a young filmmaker can do is make something very specific, make a movie only they can make.