Behind the Scenes: Swingers (1996)

Swingers (grantland)

A storyboard from Jon Favreau’s sketchbook for Swingers, via Grantland’s “Oral History” of the 1996 indie favorite.

Swingers typified the spirit of the 1990s independent film boom, a brief time when directors with little to no experience, no name casts and no filming permits could get their feature snapped up for national distribution after a bidding war for its rights.

Shot for roughly $250,000, Swingers (1996) was a pre-millennial bromance about a group of out-of-work Los Angeles actors that Miramax ultimately bought for $5 million even after the film was rejected by Sundance. The budget was so tight that Swingers was shot largely on short ends from big studio pictures (short ends are the leftover unused bits of film at the end of a roll) with a camera so loud director Doug Liman wrapped it up in his coat and bedspread to muffle the ruckus. Grantland recently published an oral history of the film full of similar nuggets about low-budget penny pinching. Check it out here. Below is a quote from the story from Liman about that noisy camera and working with those short ends, which routinely provided only one minute worth of footage per camera load.

The problem with shooting on short ends…is that it takes four minutes to reload a conventional camera. I thought to myself: We’ll never get through the movie if we shoot a minute, spend four minutes reloading, shoot a minute, spend four minutes reloading. You’ll never get any kind of rhythm going. So I decided I would shoot the movie with this documentary 35-millimeter film camera that was not designed to shoot dialogue because it sounds like a sewing machine (but was faster to load)…To absorb the sound, I would take my down jacket and put it over the camera and then take the two arms and tie them together underneath the lens. And then my comforter would just get wrapped around the whole thing once. (Writer and star Jon Favreau) would describe it like he was acting in front of a big, fluffy snowball. – Swingers director Doug Liman

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