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Benny Loves Killing
2012, 100m, drama, horror, thriller
Benny Loves Killing is the story of a student making a horror film which jeopardises her funding. She is on a mission to destroy herself as she lies to people, rejects them, steals from them, and worse.
Her only anchors in her life are her long-suffering friend and her Mother, but Benny is more interested in a quest to rebuild herself using stolen clothes and wigs.
Her nightmares may have something to tell her, but will Benny wake up before it’s too late?
10 questions with Benny Loves Killing director, Ben Woodiwiss at the half-way mark.
Monday, May 9th, 2016
1Hi Ben! Thanks for being a part of our 2016 Spring Festival. First, what was the initial seed that made you want to make Benny Loves Killing? I was in a place where I was trying to rethink the commonly held rules about how a film is made: how they're written, made, and put together. I made a trilogy of short films called Kvinnefrisen, and the focus they had on film archetypes, gender, and a community-led way of shooting really appealed to me. So I wanted to take what I'd learned and move into narrative fiction, but had a number of options as to what to make. Then I revisited one particular script I'd written long ago and looked at a way of rewriting it so that it fitted in with everything I'd learned making Kvinnefrisen; that script ended up being Benny Loves Killing. From that moment on everything seemed to unfold very organically. It might sound cliched, but the film really chose me more than I chose it.
2This film is a horror film but not in the traditional sense. What are your thoughts on the current state of horror films and what does horror mean to you? Just like the lead character in Benny Loves Killing, I do believe that horror is one of the most flexible genres. You can go somewhere new, and have a large amount of psychological and philosophical subtext without necessarily interfering with the narrative. However, the horror films which *don't* work for me are those which simply take a glee in using characters as meat to be dismembered. The ones I *do* like are the ones which create a complicated character and then burrow under that character's skin. I need characters to be real, living, breathing people, not just props. And people are extremely complicated, they're not black and white like film characters often are. They're nuanced. There's a lot of grey in who we are. So that's what I decided to do with Benny Loves Killing. That's the root of Benny's character in some ways, and why she is the way she is.
3You wrote this film as well. How long did it take to write the script and what is your writing process like? My writing process is pretty methodical. I'll start by writing out a series of ideas for scenes or beats. This is usually done in bullet points, which I'll then arrange in the best order. Following this I draw a series of different coloured charts to represent the entire film, looking at elements like 'failure', 'success', 'happy', 'sad', etc. I don't think it's just enough to write 90 pages, you also have to consider a script like a piece of music: if you've just spent the last 5-10 pages creating a sombre mood, then the pages following that have to do something different. Interwoven into all of that are subplot, and foreshadowing elements. And then at the very end you have dialogue. It's kind of like building a watch: the script as a whole is made up of different moving parts, but at the end of the day you don't want to draw too much attention to this. You want it to function as a whole. Start to finish the whole process of writing Benny Loves Killing probably took around a month. This included rewriting the script after casting the film and rehearsing. Rewriting a script with specific actors in mind after you've rehearsed with them is something I'd strongly recommend.
4I read somewhere that originally the lead character was going to be male. What made you decide to switch the main character's gender to female and what was it about Pauline Cousty that made you want to cast her as the lead? It was important to me that Benny was a *very* complicated character, but the script as a whole just wasn't working for me. Then I remembered an anecdote about, of all films, Back to School, the Rodney Dangerfield vehicle. The Producers just couldn't make the script work and got a consultant who changed everything with three words: 'make Rodney rich.' I went back to the script for Benny Loves Killing and tried to turn everything on its head with the same 'three word rewrite philosophy'. My conclusion? 'Make Benny female.' After that everything just became *so* much more interesting and nuanced. Benny became this driven, contradictory creation. Then when we went into casting I was fairly certain that we were never going to find the right person and that I'd have to settle for something less. But then Pauline came in to read for the part. As soon as she walked in the door I thought 'Jesus Christ, this is Benny!' I kept those feelings to myself and she started reading, and a genuine hush fell over the room. I could have wept. She was perfect. Pauline got the part in a way that no one else did, and I'm forever indebted to her for accepting the lead. She's an absolute towering talent.
5This is also your first feature film. How did you know you were ready to try making a feature and what prepared you? The thing that really told me I was ready was the shooting ratio for Kvinnefrisen. Although each part of that film was shot separately, they were all one-day shoots. And the finished film was a little shy of 20 minutes: approximately 7 minutes of screen time a day. So with my basic understanding of mathematics, I decided that if we shot for 14 days we could make a feature, and still have the time to explore scenes without being in a rush. Hand on heart, that plan really worked much better than you might have thought. As to what prepared me, I think there's a rich tapestry of different life elements that gave me the confidence to do this, but key to this - in my opinion - is an ability to listen to people, explain things to people, and give people their own confidence. I have my own ideas as to where all this came from, but for me it's a really crucial set of tools for filmmaking. On my shoots there's no shouting, or anger, or panic. Everything is calm, and respectful, and everyone on set is included in the process.
6Many of these takes hold for much longer than the norm or the current way of editing. Why did you choose to make a film with less editing and longer takes? There are two basic ways of covering scenes: one is through assemblage, where you edit shots together, and the other is through long takes, where you explore time and/or movement. I crawled into a deep philosophical hole regarding the latter and the conclusion I reached was that they were the best tool to use. Long takes allow the actors to immerse themselves in what they're doing, they really respond well to this. On top of this I very much wanted to explore aesthetics, and using long takes makes an audience question what they're seeing. Usually, a shot is about communicating a specific piece of information. As soon as the audience gets what that is, you cut and move on to the next shot. But what if you don't? What if you hold that shot? Suddenly people start examining what they're seeing. They understand that what's happening is now no longer about communicating a small piece of information, it's about something else. At this stage people start reading your film deeper, and that's exactly what I wanted. I wanted people to watch this film and start questioning everything. And they do! Some of the insights people have mentioned to me after screenings are so amazing for me to hear.
7What was the biggest challenge shooting this film? There are so many. You have to hold a very large number of things in your head at once, you have to answer every question people ask you, you have to make people believe in their own abilities, you have to be *physically* prepared for the challenge too: days are long, and by the end of each day your entire body is aching. But the biggest challenge was probably the very, very, very large number of people saying 'you can't do this.' People simply did not believe we could make a feature film in 14 days for next to no money, because that's not how films are made. And this whole 'that's not how things are done' thing is a real obstacle, not just to filmmaking, but to life. You have to be ready for this. It can start to act like a poison, and start infecting your own beliefs about what you're able to do. But my advice is simple: let these people say their piece, and then forget them, and move on. Believe in yourself and take risks accordingly. On your deathbed I promise you that you're not going to be thankful that you always played it safe. Fortunately, the entire cast and crew of the film were not like this.
8I like how many of the characters seem like they are from other countries. Why did you decide to go that route? This just seemed very natural to me. I grew up in a part of London which is very multi-cultural. As a kid I'd go to the store to get milk and I'd hear Arabic, Russian, Italian, French, Spanish, etc in the five minutes it took. Basically every language other than English. To me this is what the world is like, and I wanted Benny Loves Killing to reflect this. Although the film was shot in the UK I never wanted it to be a 'British' film. I wanted it to be an international film, something of the globe, not tied to any one particular country. There's nothing in the film that tells you where it's taking place, and I guess that's just a big part of who I am.
9This film is also a film about a person's desire to make a film. What attracted you to the meta aspect of this kind of story? I simply couldn't go into making a feature film - something I'd spent my entire life thinking about - without it having meta aspects. I didn't want to make something that simply unfolded as a story, I wanted to question the medium itself. I don't just love film, I'm obsessed by it. I think it says a great deal about who we are as people, and I wanted to get into examining that. So I gave the film three different texts: there's the text of the story itself, and then there's a subtext, and then there's a metatext. People are free to watch the film in any way they choose, but personally when I'm watching pretty much anything I'm looking at these three different layers.
10What's next? We've just released our latest short film, Look at Me Now, which is the perfect short film to watch before Benny Loves Killing. And we're now looking at a number of other script options. Look at Me Now featured another tour de force performance, this time from actress Delia Remy, and I'd very much like to put Delia and Pauline Cousty on the screen together. So now it's just a case of working on making these next scripts a reality. They all have female leads - naturally - and are all informed by the films we've made before, but also go somewhere new. As soon as we get the chance we'll go with the next feature. So... fingers crossed, I guess.
About the Interviewer: Ben Hicks
Ben Hicks is a writer/director and co-founder of Fandependent Films. Ben is currently working on making Fandependent Films awesome and is finishing up his first feature film entitled Kids Go Free to Fun Fun Time. The film is about the evolution of a couple's relationship, and was shot in three different countries over the course of a decade.
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