The Musician And The Filmmaker
Chris Swanson and Rick Alverson have worked together since 1997 with Swanson’s music label Jagjaguwar releasing some 11 albums by Alverson’s two bands Drunk and Spokane.
It was this existing relationship that encouraged the two to join forces to release Alverson’s feature-length film The Builder. Their weekly conversations would always begin with music, Swanson said, but they would inevitably drift off into talking about films. “And when I found out he was making his own film, I was definitely intrigued because I knew that Rick had a vision for it.”
“Having friendships and an existing relationship with a company flies over the head of any other proposition I could imagine,” Alverson adds. That, and he values the complete aesthetic and artistic freedom Jagjaguwar gives its artists, something he says is unparalleled by the more orthodox, industry-based investors.
Filming On The Cheap
Back in the early 1990’s, when Alverson attended NYU for film school, the investment and the risk required to make a film made it an untenable proposition. But today, with the expansion of digital video, he said he was able to make The Builder for $11,000-$13,000, not including gear.
Scenes were shot documentary-style in Alverson’s house, and the structure that is built by the character of the builder was constructed on lead actor Colm O’Leary’s brother’s land in the Catkills. “Colm and I were carpenters by trade,” Alverson said, “so we were able to incorporate that into the film. It was just a marriage of convenience and luck.”
Additionally, O’Leary and all the other actors in the film were nonprofessionals.
Musical Model For Film Distribution
Swanson is as much a fan of the film as he is the producer. Its hyper-realism, he says, is not something one sees in films too often these days. “I know that there are people out there who are dying to see a film that Rick is capable of making but they are under-serviced,” he says.
Serving as the film’s distributor, Jagjaguwar had to learn how to take their successful model for promoting music and translate it to film. They began with the assumption that fans of Jagjaguwar’s artists are interested in various forms of media and expression. “If we can let everyone that’s paying attention to us know that we are a part of this film that we really believe in it,” he says, “then we think we’ll be able to tape into that audience.”
They have also had get into the minds of movie fans. With a lot of records, says Swanson, if they are not heard within the first 6-9 months of being released, they might never be heard. Film lovers, on the other hand, will see a movie they love and then seek out the body of work. And since Alverson will be making films for the next 20 years, says Swanson, he does not see this venture as a race to the quick.
“If we can present this film in a dignified fashion and try to develop a vocabulary for how to talk about Rick Alverson and the films he’s making, we’ll be okay.”