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Kissing On The Mouth: We Only *Talked* With Joe Swanberg

By Jocelyn Geboy in Arts & Entertainment on Dec 19, 2005 4:37PM

Local filmmaker and director Joe Swanberg went to this year’s Chicago International Film Festival with a film called Kissing on the Mouth. Chicagoist won’t deny that our prurient interests were piqued by the reviews we read promising an indie film that showed real-life sex, while our voyeuristic tendencies were also aroused by the idea of watching a film that centered around regular people being in real relationships.

After we watched the film, we had plenty of questions for Joe about the process of making the film and what he and his cast/crewmates experienced while undertaking such an intimate experience. (Joe and the cast were also the only crew.) 2005_12 kotm_joedirecting.jpg

Chicagoist: Did you show the sex in the first scene just to get it out of the way -- to prepare people for what was coming and to minimally desensitize them for the rest of the sex scenes?
No, I showed it in the first scene so that we could see these characters have sex before we knew anything about them. As the film goes on, you start to judge the characters and make decisions about them, but I wanted one chance to just show two humans having sex, before all the drama comes into the picture. If you go back and watch it again, you realize that all this emotion is there, but the first time you see it, you have no idea, because you don't know what their relationship is. They could be married. They might be on their first date. One of them could be the boyfriend or girlfriend of the other's best friend. You just have no idea. So it was nice to show sex as
just an act between two people, and then later show it as the complicated mess it can become in these on-again/off-again relationships.

Chicagoist: What if, any, direction did you give for the sex scenes?
Not too much. Everyone knew what sex was like, so we just went ahead and shot it how we thought it looked in our lives.

Read more about Kissing on the Mouth after the jump.....

Were they all done in one take?
I wish. I generally shoot a take a few times, all the way through, from different angles and at different distances, giving me plenty of options to edit with.

Same re: the shaving/trimming shots take, right?
Well, you only get one shot with shaving, but I still repositioned Kate a few times and did it from different angles. We just had to decide a bit more beforehand how we wanted to capture it.

Chicagoist: How close did you have to be to the actors to film the sex scenes?
It depended. It ranged from 15 feet away up to a few inches away. But Kate and Kevin weren't actually having sex, just pretending, so I didn't feel like I was invading on anything too intimate.

Do you want me to leave out that they weren’t really having sex? I had no idea.
No, you can totally print that they weren't having sex. We aren't trying to hide the fact. The goal was to make it real enough that it didn't take you out of the film or make you think it was fake. I think that's the goal of every film, so I'm glad we were able to achieve that.

Chicagoist: There doesn’t seem to be any real ‘coming’ or god forbid “money” shots (save for the masturbation scene). I guess what I mean is, we don’t see the actors actually having orgasms per se. Was that intentional?
Well, outside of porn and masturbation, I think it's rare that you would see a guy come. As far as I know, most relationships don't involve a guy pulling out and coming on the girls face. So as far as that's concerned, that is why you never see the Chris Bucket character orgasm in that way. Also, I wasn't really interested in the orgasm. I was interested in the body language and the other things that were happening during the sex scenes. Having my actors fake orgasms would have possibly veered into the realm of the bad kind of unintentional comedy, and I wanted to avoid that.

Chicagoist: There’s a lot of shots of grooming. Discuss.
These are the elements of everyone's day to day life that we wanted to focus on. We worry a lot about what other people think of us. We spend a lot of time looking in mirrors. This stuff is rarely shown in films, though it probably takes up more of our day than we realize. We wanted to turn the camera on all the stuff that most films exclude, because they think it's boring. To me, that stuff is fascinating. I'm glad the film allows us to watch a girl stand there naked and analyze herself in a mirror. I'm glad we get to watch a guy brush his teeth. I like that stuff, so I was happy to include it.

Chicagoist: There’s many many close up shots .. nearly all the time. It’s hard to get a sense of where anyone really is.
Yeah, I really wanted to eliminate establishing shots. I wanted everything really tight and intimate. I also think video looks nicer when you're shooting with the shallowest depth of field possible, and in our tight locations, that meant zooming in. It'll look just right on the video iPod. As screens get smaller, the meaning of frequency of close ups will change.

Chicagoist: A side note – I have that ‘nyet’ poster .. the Russian guy declining a drink. What’s the story with that?
I don't drink or do any drugs, so I thought the 'nyet' propaganda poster was pretty funny, with the dude turning down the drink, but obviously for totally different nationalistic reasons.

Chicagoist: The shot where the woman puts deodorant on the crotch .. We’ve never thought to do that!
Kate [Winterich], the actress in the film, read an article about how it helps stop ingrown hairs when you shave your pubic hair, so we thought we should put it in the film. I like that it makes people wonder what she's doing, unless you're someone that does that, then you know exactly what she's doing.

(We thought she was doing it to make herself smell good!)

Chicagoist: The film was interesting in that this really seemed to be Ellen’s(the main woman character’s) story to me more than anything. How do you feel about that .. why did you write it like that? Do you feel like you have a good hold on the female perspective?
It is Ellen's story. And no, I don't have a good hold on the female perspective. I probably have a terrible hold. I have no idea. I didn't write any of the girls’ stuff. I let them write it themselves. I hate seeing movies where the girl's dialogue was obviously written by a man. I wanted to avoid that. So my descriptions of scenes with the girls read something like, "Ellen and Laura sit on bed and talk about things girls would talk about."

Chicagoist: So did all four of you write this?

Chicagoist: Is this basically autobiographical?
Not so much. Most things in the film were taken from someone's life that we knew, but not necessarily our own. It's not really lined up so that the things that happen to Patrick happened to me. All the ideas went into a mix, and then they just got assigned to whichever character it made more sense to have the situation happen to. So I would say that a lot of it is based on reality, but not necessarily our reality.

The interviews interspersed throughout the movie. Where and how did you find these people -- did you personally know them? How many people did you interview and how long did you interview them?
The four interview subjects are friends of mine from high school. Kris [Williams] and I made a list of 9 questions that we asked everybody. We boiled it down to the things that we thought were the specific BIG questions for people our age. Each interview lasted for 30 minutes or more, so there's quite a lot of good interesting stuff that didn't make it into the film.

Chicagoist: How can people get see this film?
People can buy a DVD directly from me if they want. Tell them to email if they want to order one. Or go to the website.

Chicagoist: Do you have any other projects in the works?
I'm finishing up a new film. It's called LOL and it's about relationships and technology. It should be showing at festivals next year.