In anticipation of the release of Joe Swanberg’s Hannah Takes the Stairs, South by Southwest Producer Matt Dentler interviewed the film’s major contributors then asked several film bloggers (myself included) if they would be interested in posting one of the interviews online. I warmly reviewed Hannah back in March, immediately after its premiere at SXSW, so I happily agreed.
I find it impressive to see a festival director support the work he programs well beyond the festival itself. Dentler’s vision has made SXSW one of the finest film festivals in America and his support of truly independent fare has helped make it so.
On the eve of the theatrical debut of Joe Swanberg’s SXSW 2007 hit, “Hannah Takes the Stairs,” I wanted to check in with each of the film’s principal collaborators. The film has been documented as a successful collaboration between acclaimed film artists from around the nation, each one offering their own trademark influence on the final film. “Hannah Takes the Stairs” will open at the IFC Center in New York, on August 22, as well as be available on IFC VOD the same day. As part of an ongoing series you can find throughout the film blogosphere, here is an interview with “Hannah” composer and frequent Swanberg collaborator Kevin Bewersdorf:
Dentler: How did you first get connected to “Hannah Takes the Stairs?”
Bewersdorf: Joe and I had just been touring the festival circuit with our film “LOL” (set to come out on DVD August 28). During the festivals Joe kept talking about wanting to shoot a new movie in the summer, and I guess we both just sort of assumed I would be working on it. A month later I was somehow sleeping on the floor of an apartment in Chicago and hanging out with a bunch of great people. Like all the projects I’ve made with Joe, “Hannah” just sort of fell in to place.
Dentler: What do you remember most about the shoot in Chicago?
Bewersdorf: The whole thing was a gift from God. Every moment was happy. I do want to bring up one particular incident however: the moment that the Bujalski vs. Rohal feud began. This mock-feud has been mock-annoying everyone for a while now, and it is time for me to mock-bring-it-out-into-the-open. One day, when we were sitting around at the office location, Bujalski told Rohal that he looked like an actor that he couldn’t place of the name of. Everyone tried to guess the name of the actor as Andrew listed his filmography. Finally, Kent correctly guessed that the actor was Vincent Schiavelli (“One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” “Amadeus”). Rohal was extremely insulted. We consulted a picture of Schiavelli on imdb, and he looked like an gaunt and droopy troll, may he rest in peace. To counter the attack, Todd claimed that Andrew had a particularity to his countenance which made him appear as though he had Down’s Syndrome. Andrew was outrageously insulted. For the rest of the shoot the two maintained a mock rivalry over the incident. The rivalry has continued in public statements made by Rohal on various blogs (such as the “Bujalski Sex Tape” jab on Matt Dentler’s blog) although to this day Bujalski denies that the feud exists. I want to bring this out in the open so these two can finally make up, and put the feud behind them.
Dentler: How did the production process differ from your own other projects, or projects you’ve acted in before or since?
Bewersdorf: I’ve primarily worked with Joe in the past, so for me it was totally natural. None of the projects I’ve worked on since have been as stress-free as “Hannah.” There was no producer present in Chicago, so that removed any notion of authority or hierarchy in the production. There was extremely minimal equipment, basically no lights or gear, no schedule, no script, and no typical movie pageantry (Joe rarely says “action,” for example). It was just like hanging out, we were a perfectly balanced family unit from the start. Working on an indy film is almost always hell. Everyone is concerned with their own agenda, or worried about making their own reel look good, or restricted by an impossible schedule, or moaning about money problems. But, if everyone is willing to just let the movie happen, to enjoy the accidents and rock with the waves (while making sure to keep anyone with bad vibes away from the production) it can be so much fun. Usually people are a too concerned with their own success to have a good time.
Dentler: What are your thoughts on the issues of sex and relationships that come to the forefront of the film?
Bewersdorf: Many girls I’ve spoken with have despised the Hannah character. Usually it’s either because they resent that they are so much like her, frequently leaving trails of destroyed guys in their wakes, or because they have been pissed off by girls like Hannah in the past. Girls like Hannah are so awful and unhealthy to be around, and I’ve encountered them often. But I’ve never been able to hold their sporadic heartbreaking actions against them — they are young and confused and don’t know what they want, which everyone knows the feeling of.
Dentler: Ever been in a love triangle?
Bewersdorf: Yes. I was unknowingly involved a love triangle for months. The last side of the triangle wasn’t apparent until much later though, when someone else revealed their feelings. At that point it sort of dissolved in to a “love obtuse angle.” “Hannah” doesn’t technically involve a full love triangle though, unless the character Matt is secretly in love with the character Paul (Ed. Note: they’re co-workers and best friends, so it counts).
Dentler: Did you ever work with “the stairs?” Any thoughts on why they didn’t make the cut?
Bewersdorf: There was one scene with the stairs, a nude scene, but Kent was worried that his balls looked too fat so Joe cut that out.