Jake Johnson Improvised a Whole Dang Movie

By Liz Kozak | Aug 20, 2015

Jake Johnson and Joe Swanberg co-wrote their latest collaboration, Digging for Fire, which opens in theaters this weekend. But here's the thing-- there wasn't actually a...what's it called again? Oh, right. A script.

Johnson talked to me (hi, everybody!!) about improvising a whole movie, Dick Wolf, and bringing more of the movie making business to Chicago.

LK: So… you’ve said in interviews already that having a writing credit on Digging for Fire is kinda bizarre, because you went into this with just a story outline. How is improvising on film different than doing it on stage?

JJ: The difference is that on stage, you are building an entire show together scene by scene. It's about saying yes and adding. On film, you're only improving one scene and "no" is just as strong as "yes." Also, silence on film is more encouraged.

LK: Does improvising the dialogue make you critique your own performance more or less? Like, do you ever wake up in the middle of the night now, months after filming, and think, “damn, I shoulda said XYZ during that one scene”?

JJ: I try no to overthink and second-guess too much. I don't think it helps me. I like the freedom of improv and then I try and forget and move on.

LK: Digging for Fire is the corned beef in a Swanberg/Johnson Chicago sandwich. You guys made Drinking Buddies here and just shot Win it All over the summer. What’s special about shooting here that you can’t get in L.A.?

JJ: We realized we like shooting in Chicago more. We both have a Chicago connection. The movies we make, deep down, feel like Chicago movies. In Win it All we were able to cast more Chicago (and Second City actors), which is always good.

LK: It seems like much of the production work in Chicago is being created by loyal repeat customers. Do you think the Joe Swanbergs and Dick Wolfs (Chicago Fire, Chicago P.D. Chicago Med) could start a revolution?

JJ: I think it has already started.

LK: Is the plural of Dick Wolf “Dick Wolves”?

JJ: Dick's Wolf.

LK: What do you think artists, writers and filmmakers in Chicago can do to bring more productions to our great city?

JJ: Make stuff. I think the key for actors and filmmakers is to always make product. So the key is for people in Chicago to study, get on stage, and shoot movies. If you're broke, then shoot them on your phones. But the key is to make stuff.

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Jake Johnson and director Joe Swanberg will be in Chicago for a special Digging for Fire screening and Q&A at The Music Box Theatre (3733 N. Southport) this Saturday 8/22 at 7:00 and 9:30 pm. Get tickets to the event here.

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