While the risk of any film being a success is a gamble, frequent movie partners Jake Johnson and Joe Swanberg’s common sensibility about moviemaking makes the duo feel comfortable that their latest — “Win It All” (launching Friday on Netflix) — achieves everything they hoped for.
As is often the case, Swanberg shot “Win It All” in Chicago, and in a recent phone chat he admitted he and Chicago native Johnson “are almost at the point of being able to finish each other’s sentences.”
In a separate call, Johnson echoed that sense of ease about working together, saying,”We often do finish each other’s sentences.”
While the two previously made “Digging for Fire” and “Drinking Buddies,” Swanberg noted that the process of writing, producing and filming “Win It All” was the closest collaboration the two men have had on a movie.
“I love working with Jake. It’s as fun now as the first day I met him,” said the Detroit native, who has long lived in Chicago. “Jake is an important collaborator to me. I’m hoping I’ll be making movies with him when we’re both old men.”
“We don’t always agree. But we respect each other’s point of view. So, we don’t fight over those disagreements. We end up listening to each other. I do believe our common Chicago connection also has something to do with it all too. We both are formed by something outside traditional industry mores.”
For this film, he and Johnson wanted to work from a more formally scripted screenplay, as opposed to the improv-centric approach they took with the two earlier films. According to Swanberg, the actor — who studied screenwriting at New York University — was key to getting “Win It All” done.
“Jake’s such a better writer than I am,” quipped Swanberg. “I can look at my computer and it can take me five hours just to come up with the name for a character!”
As Johnson sees it, there’s another reason why he and Swanberg make such good professional partners. “It comes out of Chicago and the way we see filmmaking and the art of it. But there’s more. It’s about how we treat each other and other people. In Hollywood, that’s often not the case. I’ve worked with different directors and other people who treat people — the crew, the actors and others involved — very differently and not with the kind of respect you find on sets in Chicago.
“For that reason, outside of Chicago, I often not want to open up to some of those more indifferent kinds of people. In Chicago, it’s all about life and family and friends and work. It’s the Chicago way. It’s like coming to work wearing an old jacket from high school.”
That comfort level was reinforced as Johnson noted “my character parks cars by Wrigley Field — actually a spot that is now gone,” due to the reconstruction of the area around the Friendly Confines. “The diner in the film was a diner where I went since high school. … The dive bar in the movie — it’s like the dive bars I grew up in.”
In the movie, Johnson’s perpetually losing gambler Eddie is charged with protecting a duffel bag of cash for an acquaintance who is about to go to prison. Thinking he has years of time on his side, he begins spending and gambling away the large amount of money in the bag.
When the convict is granted early release from prison due to good behavior, Eddie has to scramble to win back all the money he’s lost — before he has to face the guy the bag belongs to.
The idea, Swanberg explained, came from him “riffing off of a 1980s film called ‘Sticky Fingers,’ which is a comedy about two struggling musicians in New York who end up with a bag of money from their pot dealer. It was a very funny movie. So I texted Jake and asked, ‘What do you think about the idea of a character who ends up babysitting a duffel bag of cash for somebody else?’
“That was the jumping-off point.”
“Win It All” will play on the big screen at 7 p.m. Saturday at the Music Box Theatre, where Swanberg and Johnson will conduct a postshow Q&A.