Wednesday night, I met up with DIY filmmaker Sujewa Ekanayake (Date Number One), who came in from DC, and documentary filmmaker Liz Nord (Jericho’s Echo: Punk Rock in the Holy Land) where we saw the premier of Joe Swanberg’s new film Hannah Takes the Stairs at the IFC Center in New York. The film has a week-long run there, and is part of the series, The New Talkies: Generation DIY, or as some people have been terming it, Mumblecore. This weekend, I’ll post my notes from indieWIRE’s “An Evening with Generation DIY” (Swanberg, Gerwig, Katz and Hillis) @ Apple Store SoHo.
Prior to the screening, Joe mentioned that he and Kevin Bewersdorf were the only crew and that they shot Hannah on HD with a Panasonic HVX-200 camera over a period of one month. It was entirely improvised.
After the screening, the audience asked questions to Joe and cast.
Q: Were the relationships between the characters planned out in advance?
JS: We used a guideline. We edited the scenes each day after shooting them, and the cast watched it and talked about it and where it would go next.
Q: How did you get your cast?
JS: I met Mark Duplass and Andrew Bujalski in 2005 at SXSW where my first film Kissing on the Mouth premiered. Andrew was skeptical he’d be able to work on Hannah, but he freed up 10 days to do it. His film, Mutual Appreciation, came out about the same time we started shooting.
Q: Why didn’t you act in Hannah?
JS: I was nervous because this was the first time I had a real budget with someone else’s money. I wanted to focus on being behind the camera.
Q: Did you plan the dialogue in advance?
JS: For example, the scene where Hannah and Matt are playing with the magnets, we woke up that day, had breakfast, and talked about what conversations they’d have such as politics. Shot the scene in one take. Nothing was really planned out. At that point in the movie, we had very little idea what the movie would be. Shot the movie out of order, going back and forth and filling in the gaps. There was about 24 hours total footage shot for the 83-minute film.
GG: I had an idea of what I wanted to do for example in another scene with me (Hannah), Rocco (Ry Russo-Young) and Matt drinking beer, I had the idea of pushing Rocco toward Matt to get jealous. Ry got upset and wondered what I was doing.
Q: Did the original vision for the story change during production?
GG- The original idea was about three relationships happening simultaneously, but we decided to tell the story in a linear fashion. There was no way to know what was going to happen. My character changed based on how her relationships changed. Three different guys fulfilled different aspects on what she was looking for.
Q: When did you realize shooting was over?
JS- We expected to shoot more, but this was the first time I edited while shooting, so everything stayed on schedule.
GG- There was a list of what we needed in the house, ie. Bread, milk, script.
Q: Why is the film titled Hannah Takes the Stairs?
JS- On a practical level, I pitched the movie as a drawing on photoshop with three guys and a girl, and artistically, it’s about being driven and ambitious.