Joe Swanberg keeps this journal in an effort to document the LOL making process and figure out where all his time and money went.


  • May 2005
  • June 2005
  • July 2005
  • August 2005
  • September 2005
  • October 2005
  • November 2005
  • December 2005
  • January 2006
  • February 2006
  • March 2006
  • April 2006
  • May 2006
  • June 2006
  • Saturday, July 30, 2005

    Bon Voyage

    We just finished shooting Chris' last scene. Tomorrow morning he leaves for Telluride to work for the Film Festival. It was a doozy of a final scene, but I'll save the details for later. This means that we have pretty much shot 1/3 of the film. This puts us on pace with another production that's just about 1/3 done as well. Go Bryan and Jake! I'm excited that The Cassidy Kids and LOL are both moving along and will hopefully be finished at around the same time.

    Last night was the party scene, and Chris did a great job getting a bunch of friendly people together for a fun night of shooting. We used his friend Emily's place for the location, and it looked great and I got all the footage I needed.

    Friday was my last day at the office, so from this point on I will be working from home. Here's hoping that facilitates the editing process, because I've certainly been slacking. This week, my main goal is to get all of Chris' stuff edited. It's totally doable, it's just a matter of doing it. Ugh, logging and capturing, my dreaded enemy, we meet again. C'mon footage, please be great!

    Friday, July 29, 2005

    Let It Roll

    We shot a crap-load of footage last night. We shot as much last night as we had total up until that point. I think we shot about 80 minutes of footage last night. Most of it was simple improv stuff and all of it had to do with Chris' character. We got most of his scenes done, and by the end of tonight we can pretty much close the book on his character.

    I think I'm going to take the next week to edit all of his stuff before I move forward and shoot with anyone else. I kind of want to know how many scenes I have with his character, and how many of the themes and ideas are covered, so that I don't double up with anyone else. I'm also really curious to find out how much screen time I have with his character, because it will give me a pretty good idea of how long the film will be, and how much I should shoot with everyone else. We're aiming for a fairly short running time, somewhere around 80 minutes, so hopefully Chris' scenes clock in at around 20-25 minutes.

    After I cut all his scenes, I'll also have a pretty good idea if the movie is watchable or not. If I have 20 minutes of edited footage, and a lot of it stinks, I'll know that something has to be fixed. I'm not too worried about it stinking, but I sure hope it's better than just OK. Eh, I'll just have to cut it and find out.

    We're shooting a sort of party/get-together scene tonight. I'm really happy because I'm not in the scene, and I can just work the camera all night and float around and get shots that I like. This is my favorite kind of shooting. I've never done a scene with this many characters before, so it'll be interesting. I'm mostly going to leave people to their own devices, and just drift around, not directing too much. Chris set the scene up, with most of his friends, so I'll let them hang out and do their thing.

    Wednesday, July 27, 2005

    Screen Test

    I don't really do any screen tests or rehearsals before I cast people for movies. I just kind of know them and spend time around them and figure that they would be good in a movie. But once people are cast, one thing I like to do is interview them on camera and talk about the themes of the movie. I sat down with Tipper last night to talk about cell phones, Instant Messenger, and other communication technologies. I wanted to get her take on these subjects before I develop that character anymore. It was also an excuse for me to see how comfortable she is on camera, and to see how she comes across.

    Later I got together with Chris Wells to plan out our schedule for Thursday and Friday. The goal is to get all of his remaining scenes shot in these two days, with Saturday as a fallback day in case we don't get something done. Then he leaves on Sunday. Yikes! But there's not much left to shoot with him, so I'm not too worried.

    I also cast the final role last night. It's a small part, but it is a speaking role and I had to find the right person. So now the cast is locked down. There is still room for additions, but all the roles that we initially thought up have been filled. There are a lot of new faces. It's exciting. Everyone will be good, but I'm sure a few of the people will shine and really jump off the screen. I can't wait to work with them all.

    Monday, July 25, 2005

    Ticking clock

    Chris leaves for Telluride at the end of this week. We have about 5 more days to get all of his scenes in the can. I'm not worried that we'll run out of time, but I just know that once he's gone, there will be some little thing that I wish I could get with him, and it will be frustrating not to be able to get it. But that's the way the bee bumbles. We were in this situation with Kevin when we made KOTM, where at a certain point he had to leave to NY to work on another film, and he wasn't going to be back for 2 months, and we had to hurry up and get his stuff shot. It worked out OK then, and I'm sure it will be fine now.

    I've still been avoiding editing, but the other thing that happens at the end of this week is that the company I'm working for is closing down its Chicago office, and I will be working from home, so I will have time then to work on the film when there isn't "work" work to do.

    Friday, July 22, 2005

    Jock Hop

    Kevin gave me the first piece of finished music last night, and it's great. It's exactly what I hoped for. It's a Jock Jams style hip hop track that's going to be featured in a particular scene. Eventually I'll put "Jock Hop" up on this site, along with all of Kevin's music for the film, but until we shoot the scene featuring the song, I want to keep it private.

    Just a little shout out to my boy, Bryan Poyser, who has started production on his new film, The Cassidy Kids, which he is producing, and Jake Vaughan is directing. I'm sure it'll be great!

    Thursday, July 21, 2005

    Moving Right Along

    More was shot last night, which I think puts us at probably 5 or 6 minutes of useable movie screentime. I like to make wild guesses like this, since I don't have any script or any real idea of how the movie is coming along. Making a blind stab at the running time is a way for me to mentally figure out where we are. So if I guess we are at 5 minutes of usable screentime, I can say to myself, "OK, you have shot about 1/15 of the movie. Now just do what you have done 15 more times." This helps me keep going, and gives me a goal.

    We shot in my apartment last night, and I spent the previous two days cleaning it up so that it wouldn't be a shit hole when people came over. I also redecorated my room because we shot some stuff in there. I bought new sheets for the bed and a new dresser, because I wanted the room to look a certain way in the film. It was funny to spend money on things like sheets and a dresser because I bought the things for the movie, but I just own them, and now they have become my actual sheets and dresser. I guess it's weird to shoot in your own apartment anyway, because you just start living in the movie. Lots of people come over to my apartment and make comments about things that were in KOTM. "Hey, I recognize that from the movie."

    So last night we just did a quick little scene with Brigid and I on the couch and then with her in my room. I took a peek at the footage before I went to sleep last night and it looks fine. Kris came into the city from Evanston to shoot some of the shots, and we all went out for Costa Rican food afterward. It was a fun production night, though my house was so hot that Brigid joked about hardly beaing able to breathe. At least I think she was joking.

    Monday, July 18, 2005


    Logging footage has to be the absolute worst thing involved with the process of making a movie. You basically take the stuff you watch, look at it, decide what's best, and then capture that stuff into the computer. It's terrible. The only benefit to logging and capturing footage is that you get to look at the stuff again and eveluate it one more time, but the actual process of logging the time code and capturing it into your editing system is just brainless and soul sucking. I always dread it. Once it's in the computer, I love editing, but getting it there is like a 40 foot tall hurdle that I know I have to jump. As soon as I can consider the thought of having an intern without wanting to laugh at myself, I will get someone who can come over to my place, look at my timecode notes, and then sit down at the computer and capture everything. This is my dream.

    So, if you can't tell, I jumped the 40 foot hurdle this weekend and captured all the stuff we've shot so far. I captured the stuff with me, Chris, and Brigid in the car, and I captured the freshly shot "Airport Pick-Up" scene that we did Sunday morning. Chris and I drove out to Midway Airport and I pretended to be dropping him off for his flight, but really we shot a scene for the film, then he got back in the car and we left. I must admit that I was nervous about shooting at an airport without permission. The last thing I wanted was to be arrested as a suspected terrorist during the second shoot. That would have been a bad thing. But luckily we found a spot behind a bunch of shuttles and stuff where the security people couldn't see us, and we spent about 10 minutes there shooting what we needed. Then we split, and I breathed a big sigh of relief.

    Now I have to edit the stuff. For some reason, I'm super nervous about cutting. I've looked at the footage, and I think it's totally fine, but cutting it together will reveal if it's working or not, and part of me is terrified to find out. I'm confident it will be fine, but the chance that the edited footage will just sit there like dead weight is scary enough to have kept me at bay this long. Tonight I will bite the bullet and cut.

    Friday, July 15, 2005

    LOL TAPE 1

    We shot! And it was good. I'm really happy with the footage we got tonight. I just went back and looked at a few spots on the tape to make sure sound and picture were there. Now I can go to sleep without any lingering thoughts that maybe the tape was bad, or the mics weren't plugged in or anything like that. Kris stopped by the shoot tonight, which was nice. She was in town for the night, and she sat on Chris' stoop and read her book while we shot on the street.

    It felt really good to write, "LOL TAPE 1" on the tape case tonight. It made everything feel official. It has to start somewhere.

    The energy was there tonight and from the few takes we did I will be able to cut a nice scene. Everything's off to a nice start. We are all getting along and working well together. The performances are fine, with enough space left open to improv that I'm getting some really nice moments to work with. I can always feel those moments when they happen. It's a magical thing to be looking at the LCD screen and listening through the headphones and to suddenly realize that you are totally enchanted by what's happening in front of you. Suddenly it's not just you and your friends pretending with a camera. You know you are capturing something that's worthy of being in a movie. Something that's going to transcend the screen. Because right there in the moment you forgot that you were making a movie and you were busy enjoying one in real time. That doesn't happen a lot, but if it can happen once or twice per scene, I feel like I'm doing OK. The goal for me, as always, is to set everything up in a such a way that it can happen as often as possible.

    I'm going to work tomorrow morning, and I'll try and come home early and cut something. I'm dying to dig into the footage, and I know that the only way I can finish this film by the end of August is to cut it just as fast as I'm shooting it. I can't get lazy and let the footage pile up. I need to be tenacious, so that the last day is shooting is pretty close to the last day of editing the rough cut, and then I can spend some time fine tuning everything. Right now it's not a chore at all. I am super excited to hack it apart and see what I can come up with. I know that in a month, the idea of spending another whole day in my apartment staring at the computer will start to get really old, but for now I can't think of anything I'd rather do.

    Wednesday, July 13, 2005

    Or Not To Shoot...

    We just weren't feeling it, so instead of shooting, Chris, Brigid, and I got dinner, talked about the film, and rescheduled the shoot for Thursday. After dinner, Chris and I did some tests using the new wireless microphone, which just arrived today, and got excited about the potential uses.

    I love making movies this way. I love being able to cancel the shoot and have dinner with friends when we aren't up to it. I can't imagine having to forge ahead and shoot anyway because we have to "make the day" or anything like that. It's much better this way. The stuff we will get on Thursday will be a lot better than what we would have gotten tonight, and we got to have dinner and enjoy each other's company. So yeah, it was a successful night, though no footage was shot. The camera tests with the microphone were quite helpful though.

    Monday, July 11, 2005

    Getting to know you...

    We shoot on Tuesday, and then it's officially on. It's been unofficially on for a few weeks, but come Tuesday night, it's ON!

    I'm really excited about shooting, because production is a great time to get to know people. As I've said in earlier posts, I cast my films with people who I like, and production is always a great bonding experience, where we get to learn things about each other that you don't really get know when you're just casual friends with someone. There's something about collaborating on a project that allows you to talk with someone in a different way, ask deeper questions about art and life, and generally spend quality time with them. KOTM was a major bonding experience, and even though I don't see Kate and Kevin that much, we still have a deeper connection than we ever would have because we made a film together and went through that process. I'm looking forward to having that experience with a new set of people.

    I'm trying not to place too much importance on Tuesday's shoot, but I'm aware that in some sense it will set the tone for the film, because it features an interaction between three of the major characters. The chemistry will be there or it won't. If it's there, and the scene turns out bad, it's fine, and we can just reshoot it. But if the chemistry isn't there, we have bigger issues to face. It's nothing that can't be overcome, but it'll be a much bigger challenge than anything else. A lot of the early footage we shot for KOTM didn't make it into the movie. It was all fine, but we were still feeling our way, and once we found it, that stuff just didn't fit anymore. It might be the same situation with LOL, but we won't know until we hit our stride whether the early stuff is right or not. It's all part of the process, and I'm never afraid to throw stuff away, or reshoot scenes. A lot of time the second shoot is a ton better.

    Sunday, July 10, 2005

    Faceless relief

    Joe and I had a long discussion about the music last night and I'm much more confident about my role (and the music's role) in the movie. I get to be an invisible composer, working mainly as a filler of source music. When Joe told me I didn't have to be the Vangelisly John Williams soundtracker I was very relived. When I make soundtrack music I want to be in charge of the images myself - and since Joe is the director in this case I would have no control over what is seen. But as a source composer I feel much more comfortable ornamenting the locations of the action rather than being relied upon to fill the more subliminal and poetic hole that a soundtrack would require. Now I can go work on this little dirty jock jam song without worring about how it fits into the scope of the movie. I'm excited to have a reason to make these little faceless nuggets for Joe to drop into his tank.

    Friday, July 08, 2005

    Gung Ho

    More meetings today, and two new cast members added to the team. We now have all the main roles filled, and we're looking for some additional smaller roles. I'm really excited about the cast! For me it's the most important element. Eventually I will spend a lot of time shaping the film through the editing, but having the right people to begin with is the key. No amount of fancy editing will make up for the wrong cast. That's why I'm glad we have the right cast!

    I feel hesitation from the first time actors, but I think it's a natural phase. I feel the same hesitation that Kevin Pittman had, when he agreed to do KOTM, but wasn't quite sure what he was getting himself into. But Kevin got over it once we started shooting, and everyone else will too. One of my main jobs as director is to help people feel comfortable on camera. I cast everyone because I like who they are, and I know they will be great, and I just have to get them to feel comfortable enough to be their great selves on camera.

    I am gung ho. I am ready to make this movie. Chris told me that he is gung ho as well. So we will be gung ho, and if I am successful, the people who are hesitant now will also be gung ho soon. And that's where we want to be. All gung ho together.

    It's fun to be living and working in a city that isn't overexposed. There are so many fresh locations, and people aren't burnt out on the idea of movies. Restaurants and stores are helpful, not suspicious or annoyed. People are nice about stopping on the street so that they don't walk through your frame. Permits aren't necessary if you're just running around with a video camera. It's great!

    I bought a wireless microphone tonight. In addition to being gung ho, I'm also poor. This was not a cheap purchase. I will put it to good use. I needed to get it tonight so that we can have it for the shoots next week. I also need to buy crickets for my frogs. Frogs do not care that you are a busy making a movie.

    Wednesday, July 06, 2005

    Phone Tag

    I heard Kevin's voice for the first time tonight since he left for Berlin in January. Well, for the first time in non-song form. He's back in the area, and we're going to get together sometime this week to start talking about the music and everything else we have to talk about.

    A new cast member has been confirmed, and I'm meeting with people almost every night this week to talk about the film and see if they want to be involved. I'm starting to get really excited about making this thing. With each day it gets less abstract and more concrete. Next week we are shooting at least two scenes before Chris has to get his hair cut for the movie. It's suddenly very real to me. We are going to get together and shoot things that will eventually become this movie. If we do a bad job, we will make a bad movie. Crazy. We must focus and do a good job.

    I've started spending money for the movie. I bought 30 DVCAM tapes last night, and they should arrive on Friday. I'm hoping 30 tapes is enough for the while film. I used 27 for KOTM, but this project already feels bigger, like we might shoot more. I'm going to try and limit everything though, since I know I'm editing. I'll try and be a master conservationist while we're shooting.

    I'm also going to buy a wireless lavalier microphone this week. It will be a great convenience during certain scenes to be free of the cable running to the camera and the boom pole and all that other stuff. I'm excited about being able to shoot people from across the street and still get their audio. I'm excited about putting people in one car, and filming from a different car, and still getting great sound. I'm excited about all the different ways a wireless mic will free up the camera without creating a lot of post-production headaches. Yay wireless!

    Friday, July 01, 2005


    I'm currently at a really fun point in the process of making a movie. Fun for me at least. I have characters in my head, vague ideas, and now I get to find real people who will shape and influence these characters and turn them into a film. It's great. All the time I'm looking for friends and aquaintances and strangers who might have some quality that would make them perfect to be in this movie. I specifically don't develop any of my characters too much until I know the person who will play them, because I want that person to bring a lot of him/herself to the character, and to feel a sense of ownership. Once I know the actor, then I can get to know the character better.

    "I don't know if I can act," is the first thing everyone tells me when I ask them if they want to be in a film.

    Everyone can act. Some are good and some are bad. But I'm not looking for acting. I'm don't want to pretend. I'm looking for people who have a quality in their day to day life that I can bring to the character. Something I can shape and distort in the right way to fit the loose ideas I have in my head. It might be a certain vocal quality, or some physical characteristic, or even something as simple as the way someone dresses that tells me they would be great in a film.

    "Don't worry," I tell them.

    It's strange asking someone that you don't know very well if they want to be in a movie. There's a moment of tension, where the fear of rejection is running high. If they say yes, then it's great, but if they say no, or even if they say maybe, it's easy to feel a bit of a sting. But it's exciting, the prospect of someone who isn't an actor getting in front of the camera and giving an amazing performance. I love this part of the process. I'm going to be sad when I have all the roles cast, and I no longer have an excuse to take a closer look at people and wonder if they would be great in a certain role. And that's why it will be exciting again when this film is finished and I get to start on another.