By James Van Maanen
When they made The Big Bad Swim [site] two years ago, director Ishai Setton was 25 and screenwriter Daniel Schechter was 23. That's a surprisingly young age for these two fellows to have produced such a mature work - an ensemble piece about a group of Connecticut locals taking an adult swim class - but there it is. Some male filmmakers struggle all their life to create even a single believable female character. Schechter and Setton, in their first full-length narrative movie, have already managed two: the charming and quirky Amy and Jordan, played beautifully by Paget Brewster and Jess Weixler.
Though a hit at festivals, US and international, the movie was passed by for theatrical distribution and last month snuck quietly into video release. It deserves so much better. Consequently, I tracked down the filmmakers for a little chat.
From where did the idea for The Big Bad Swim come?
Ishai Setton: There was a short film that we were working on - but then abandoned - about a swim class for adults.
Daniel Schechter: The only thing we liked about the short was its swim class setting. Hence the abandonment, and also the new film.
Why did you choose Connecticut as your locale?
IS: Dan's family has a house there. And so we moved up there to Old Lyme - that's where Lyme's disease started. The house in the movie that our lead character Noah lives in was actually our house at the time. It doubled as our production office and even a shooting location.
Speaking of using a family house and then having it double as a production office, what was the budget for the film?
Is that a lot for a first-time film?
IS: Depends on whom you ask. Some people think it's a lot, others say not.
Compared to the budget of something like Tarnation, it seems a lot of money, but really, it's the price of a one-bedroom apartment in Manhattan.
IS: Which would be nice to have, too.
Maybe someday you'll have the film and the apartment. Will The Big Bad Swim eventually recoup its investment?
IS: We think so. It's on DVD, and once you start with foreign and TV sales, it really is possible to recoup.
What did you get for that $350,000 - besides the cast, and quite a polished (but not slick) look to the film?
IS: We shot on super 16, which produces a great image and uses a smaller camera, so you are allowed more flexibility and can come in close when you need to. We wanted to give this a beautiful widescreen, cinematic look, and I think we accomplished that.
I wondered about camera placement. That scene in which Noah finally coaxes the cop into the water is so perfect in terms of distance from the actors - that almost tactile feeling of fear you get from the one man and the wonderful sense of calm and assurance coming from the other.
IS: Interestingly enough, Kevin, who plays the cop, really was afraid of the water. He told us he that hadn't been in it since he was eight years old. Also, Jeff Branson, who plays the swim instructor, while not exactly afraid of the water, was really uncomfortable in it. But as a major soap star on All My Children, he has a regular trainer, and so he worked for months in advance with this trainer, to help himself feel and act comfortable in his pool scenes.
Boy, he sure managed it well. I'd have believed it if you'd told me he'd been a lifeguard every summer.
IS: I'm sure he would love to hear that.
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