A photographer shoots fake crime scenes in Joe Swanberg's meta-thriller '24 Exposures'
SFBG When you say you don't write, do you mean because your films are improvised?
JS Yeah, exactly. I do write, but it's just an outlining process. I'm working so collaboratively with the actors that it's not the sort of difficult screenplay process that a lot of filmmakers go through.
SFBG With this long filmography, is it weird for you to be suddenly known as "the director of Drinking Buddies"?
JS It's totally fine. I tend to like the newest film the best, just because it's the closest to where my head is at. Drinking Buddies would be the one that I would recommend to people, and talk about as well. And probably Happy Christmas will very quickly become the next center of conversations. I haven't watched a lot of those early ones in a long time, so I don't even know if I would like them anymore [laughs]. Hopefully, they're all leading toward something. Getting better. Let me put it this way: It's great that people are talking about Drinking Buddies and not some movie I made six years ago.
SFBG You mentioned that Happy Christmas is a personal movie, and obviously Drinking Buddies ties into your much-documented love of beer. So what inspired 24 Exposures?
JS I had been acting in genre movies a lot, especially with Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett. I was really interested in what motivated them to make those kinds of movies instead of romantic comedies or something [laughs]. Also, I think a lot of what 24 Exposures is about is the responsibility and ownership of that stuff. I wanted to investigate where the women fit in. Are they passive models who are being exploited, or are they willing participants? Are they co-authors of the art? Is it a little bit of all of those things? It's something that I've made other movies about, too. I'm genuinely interested in the collaborative process. Who ends up taking the credit, and who ends up feeling taken advantage of?
SFBG The film is very meta.
JS Definitely. I was reading Richard Brody's book on Jean-Luc Godard at the time, so meta was very much on my mind. I was interested in the way that Godard played around with genre movies, but very atypical genre movies. They were always much more like Godard movies than they were genre movies. It was fun to sort of dabble in that space. The other thing that was exciting to me was how my generation's sexuality was informed by late-night Cinemax and very cheesy, soft-focus, heavy-music kind of stuff. (I'm 32.) When all of us were in junior high, that was the most erotic thing we had access to. That aesthetic is such a joke now. It's so dated. So I wanted to investigate that as well.
SFBG Do you worry that someone will come across the film and not pick up on that subtext?
JS This is an interesting one for that question. Pretty much all of my movies have existed very squarely in the art-house audience, so I haven't really thought much beyond that sort of space. But that's changing these days, especially with Drinking Buddies, and, I'm assuming, with Happy Christmas too. So maybe 24 Exposures will be seen by considerably more people than some of those earlier ones. But I feel like the movie's sort of subverting the genre at every turn. It never fully gains momentum as a pure exploitation thriller. Every five minutes it reminds you that you're watching a movie, and puts in some sort of criticism or other unsexy thought into your head.