Interview: ‘Digging for Fire’ Director Joe Swanberg at 2015 Chicago Critics Film Festival

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CHICAGO – He is the master of loose and natural dialogue in his many micro-budget films. Director Joe Swanberg has worked his way up the movie ladder through perseverance and staying true to his vision, despite the obstacles. His film, “Digging for Fire,” opened the Chicago Critics Film Festival on May 1, 2015.

“Digging for Fire” is about the dynamic of the marriage relationship, as it is challenged by the real life of children, money issues and couple status. The mystery involves Tim (Jake Johnson), when he finds a gun and bone fragments at at home he his wife Lee (Rosemarie DeWitt), and his son Jude are house sitting at…but the mystery means nothing next to their mutual indecision about the state of their marriage.

Digging for Fire
Scene from Director Joe Swanberg’s ‘Digging for Fire’
Photo credit: Chicago Critics Film Festival

Joe Swanberg first lit up the film map in 2005, and his method of creation was to just keep shooting movies. By 2011, he had produced an astounding 11 features, plus TV and short films. His first “mainstream” film was 2013’s “Drinking Buddies,” which was his first collaboration with Jake Johnson, his co-writer and lead actor in “Digging for Fire.” He also acts in films, and was prominently featured in last year’s “Happy Christmas,” which he also wrote and directed, and featured Anna Kendrick, Lena Dunham and his filmmaker wife, Kris Swanberg. spoke briefly to Joe Swanberg on the Red Carpet at the opening night of the Chicago Critics Film Festival (CCFF). The festival continues at the Music Box Theatre until May 7th (click for details below). This is your second film with Jake Johnson, and he co-wrote the film with you. How did both first connect, and how did that first connection naturally evolve into your partnership for this film?

Joe Swanberg: Well, at first I wasn’t sure, but I cast him in ‘Drinking Buddies.’ During the shooting of the film, we struck up the kind of rapport that naturally understood that we would continue to work together. Your films focus on many types of human relationships, and ‘Digging for Fire’ focuses on the marriage dynamic. What do you observe about our rapidly changing technology, in the sense on how it affects our one-on-one interactions?

Joe Swanberg
Director Joe Swanberg at the CCFF, May 1st, 2015
Photo credit: Patrick McDonald for

Swanberg: It’s tricky, and I struggle with it myself. I don’t have a good answer, other than expressing that in many ways we’re like drug addicts now, in our use of technology. It’s on us to understand how much of it we can handle in our lives. I’m interested in technology in the extent on how it helps or hinders how we talk to each other. You use Chicago in your films, but it’s not the Chicago that other filmmakers have exploited. What best communicates the Chicago character when you – for example – shoot scenes in one of the typical bungalow neighborhoods?

Swanberg: It’s like a particular feeling. It’s old school, working class feeling that I like. In general, I’m not into big establishing shots or landmarks for time and place. Wherever I’m shooting, I tend to be in apartments and living spaces. My latest, ‘Digging for Fire,’ is very much an Los Angeles movie. I shot it there, and tried to make use of the feeling that I get from L.A. At what point do you think your creativity best intersects with the style in which you shoot movies, and how did you discover that intersection?

Swanberg: A lot of it happened after film school, out of necessity. The style in which I make films was born out of having no money and limited access to everything. It was about figuring out how to make a movie with what I have right now. It was about bank accounts and where I was. What I’m doing today is just an evolved version of what I learned starting out. It’s basically about making movies as simply and cheaply as possible, and to have as much freedom regarding the subject matter as I can have.

The 2015 Chicago Critics Film Festival will take place May 1st - May 7th, at the Music Box Theatre, 3733 North Southport, Chicago. Click here for film schedules and information. Click here to purchase tickets and passes. senior staff writer Patrick McDonald

Writer, Editorial Coordinator

© 2015 Patrick McDonald,

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