Convenience stores, video rental joints, amusement parks, and soul-crushing offices have all been immortalized in film, but our dearly beloved breweries (and the men and women behind them) have yet to have their turn in the limelight. On August 30th, that changes, as Drinking Buddies hits E Street Cinema. Briefly: Luke (Jake Johnson) and Kate (Olivia Wilde) work together at a brewery. There’s serious sexual tension, but both Chris is with Jill (Anna Kendrick) and Kate with Chris (Ron Livingston). But back to the beer. I had the chance to chat with director Joe Swanberg about the affinities between beer and film, the aesthetic virtues of the brewery, and the bounties of the Midwest.
In interest of full disclosure, I opened our conversation with the fact that I was a beer writer and woefully illiterate in the cinematic arts. Swanberg took it in stride. A homebrewer and self-professed “beer geek”, he was on-board for a beverage-focused discussion. Thank God.
The film is set in Chicago and it’s immediately evident that Swanberg is familiar with the terrain. Not only do the apartments and bars accurately reflect the lifestyle of the city’s younger denizens, but the beers that show up are exactly what the city’s beer nerds would be drinking. Half Acre, Founders, and New Glarus all pop up, as do a few out-of-towners like Allagash. Swanberg says, “This is what we actually drink”.
And then there’s the brewery where Luke and Kate work. Rather than invent a craft brewery for the occasion, Swanberg name-checked Revolution Brewing, where all of the workplace action took place. It’s a nice touch, giving cred to the people who let the cast and crew occupy large sections of the brewery. But don’t think the shooting slowed down the brewers: while the cameras rolled, brewers went about their business. In fact, when you see Luke milling grain and cleaning kegs, he’s doing actual work that Revolution needed done. Those grains went on to be mashed, those kegs filled.
Before filming began, Swanberg made sure that the actors were well-acquainted with craft brewing’s processes and lingo. An old school buddy, Andrew Mason, currently brews at Three Floyds, so Swanberg took some of the actors on a field trip to learn the ropes, taste some beers, and get the pronunciation of “wort” right (we should all be so lucky). The legwork pays off, as the film gets the little details right. Luke is shown cleaning a lot, wearily removing his boots at the end of a hard shift; Kate spends the majority of her time on the phone, haggling with customers angling for cut-rate kegs for their next event; brewery staff regularly pull pints from the tasting room taps over lunch. It all rings true.
But why set the story in a brewery in the first place? There’s no end to the jobs that cool young people hold. Part of the decision was aesthetic: “Breweries are beautiful”, says Swanberg. But it really came down to philosophy. Craft brewing is now “part of [the] general consciousness”, a recognizable product that carries with it a “political aspect”. It attracts the “kind of young people I’m excited about” who “care about what they make and take in”.
Swanberg sees a lot of parallels between craft beer and indie filmmaking. “We’re up against some of the same challenges: going up against the big dogs,” he says. Distribution is a huge issue, with the big players keeping the smaller producers from freely disseminating their work. That’s why Swanberg has pursued alternate means of screening his films; in fact, you can now watch Drinking Buddies online if you can’t wait for the E Street debut. In the end, Swanberg argues, better, more thoughtful products will win out if only the public has access to them.
Editor's note: And if you need further reason to go see the movie, just remember that they are Silver Sponsors of our dearly beloved DC Beer Week.