Anyone who had only seen prolific director Joe Swanberg’s two films of last year – the Olivia Wilde-starring Drinking Buddies and the Jane Adams-topped All the Light in the Sky – might conclude he is a sensitive and PC-friendly chronicler of low-key social interactions. On the other hand, anyone who had only seen the filmmaker’s new movie 24 Exposures could come away with the impression that he is an auteur of a rather different, and kinkier, stripe.
The movie stars You’re Next director Adam Wingard as a libidinous fetish photographer who specializes in talking shots of women pretending to be murdered corpses and Wingard’s regular screenwriter Simon Barrett as a depressed cop investigating the death of one of his models. The film, which also stars Sophia Takal, Caroline White, and Helen Rogers, opens in select cinemas this Friday and will also be available on VOD.
Below, the Chicago-based Swanberg talks about the film, working with non-actors as his leads, and why he’d love to play Adam Sandler’s dickish brother – but probably never will.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: 24 Exposures isn’t necessarily the film one would expect from the maker of Drinking Buddies and All the Light in the Sky.
JOE SWANBERG: [Laughs] That’s nice to hear. I’m happy to mix it up.
How did the film come about?
I had been working a lot with Adam and Simon, acting in stuff that they were making. I was spending a lot of time with them and thinking about their creative collaboration. They’re very different people and sort of a creative odd couple. A lot of the beginning of thinking about the movie was just thinking about how these two guys came to work together and telling that story in a weird, fun kind of way. And having spent some time acting in horror films over the last few years, I was curious about the genre, the idea of artistically choosing to work in the horror realm. I often notice that there’s a lot of frustration from horror filmmakers because, when they’ve made a successful horror film, they feel trapped in that genre world. I wanted 24 Exposures to ask questions about exploitation versus fine art and genre versus non-genre, for lack of a better term.
Those barriers seem to be breaking down a little bit. Wingard and Barrett’s new movie The Guest isn’t a horror film and the guys who made Stake Land and the U.S. version of We Are What We Are are coming out with a thriller based on a Joe Lansdale book.
Yeah, absolutely. It’s about time. I actually think there is not only a much bigger escape hatch from horror into sort of straight filmmaking than there used to be, but I think that a lot of really great filmmakers feel free to dip their toes into horror waters as well, without fear of becoming known as a horror filmmaker. It’s as good as it ever has been in terms of that stuff and I also think that as our economy continues to suck, and the film industry is sort of desperate for safe bets, it’s become a lot more appealing for studios and for A-list actors to jump on board these horror projects. There’s a little bit of an annoying cowardly angle to that. But at the same time, genre audiences are going to get better films because of it.
I loved Wingard and Barrett’s films You’re Next and A Horrible Way to Die – both of which you starred in – but they are not known as actors. Did you have any concerns about putting a whole film on their somewhat inexperienced thespian shoulders?
I was excited about it. I’ve been working with directors as actors for as long as I’ve been making movies. It was a really fun chance to keep that tradition alive. Adam and I did a film together called Autoerotic, which he acted in, and I found his performance to be really hilarious. And I suspected that Simon would do something great and interesting with the role. Then I surrounded them with actresses who I had worked with before and who I knew were great. A lot of directing is playing chemist and putting these people in situations with each other and seeing what happens.
Is it true Barrett actually has some experience as a private investigator?
It’s absolutely true. He is licensed and spent some period of time with that as his line of work. Believe me, had a lot of questions about. Simon’s an interesting, interesting guy. He was a private eye for a period of time, he’s some sort of high-level black-belt in martial arts. [Laughs] He’s a pretty fascinating dude. Every time I hang out with him I learn something new.
Am I right in thinking Wingard actually lived with you for a spell?
That was mostly when we were making Autoerotic. He came up to Chicago and there was a two month period where we were just working on a lot of different projects together so he slept on the couch.
Is he a good house guest? Does he do the washing up and stuff?
He owned hardly anything and was very self-contained. So in that sense the was a good house guest. But any friend – no matter how great they are – two months is about the outer edge of having somebody occupy your living room as their bedroom.
You see, this is the reality show I want to see. F— the Kardashians. Let’s get At Home With Swanberg and Wingard on the air.
There you go.
You often cast yourself in your films and have a cameo as a literary agent at the end of 24 Exposures. I was wondering whether you think early in the production process, “Oh, I’ll take that part,” or is it more, “We’ve got no money left to pay anyone else – I’d better do it myself.”
It depends on the project. Like, I’m in Drinking Buddies not because I wanted to play that role but because at some point that became the easiest course of action. With 24 Exposures, it was a bit of a different situation. I had recently been talking to agents and thinking about getting an agent and so playing one in the movie was a nice bit of therapy.
Your performance as the dickish brother in You’re Next may well be my favorite of last year. Has Hollywood been calling for you to play, say, Adam Sandler’s dickish brother?
Unfortunately, no. I would jump at it. To do anything with Adam Sandler would be amazing. There is certainly some interest in the indie side of things in terms of me acting. I still don’t think Hollywood knows what to make of me. There’s this whole side of the acting world which is mostly auditioning and I have no formal acting training. [Laughs] So even if I was up for a part in a big movie, I would have to go in and actually read for that part, at which point they would realize that I don’t have the chops.
You’ve got Happy Christmas (which stars Swanberg, Anna Kendrick, Melanie Lynskey, Mark Webber, and Lena Dunham) at Sundance. Do you know what you will do next directing-wise?
I don’t. I’ve been hesitant to pick that next project until Happy Christmas gets out there. I found with Drinking Buddies it ended up being useful for the movie that it had my full attention for a period of time. So I’m going to try to afford that luxury to 24 Exposures and Happy Christmas and then try to do something in the spring or summer.
But you’re the man who once made 7 films in a year!
I know. I’m really slowing down, man. They’re not even going to be able to use the word “prolific” soon. My main qualifier will no longer be accurate.
You can check out the somewhat risqué and disturbing trailer for 24 Exposures below.