Five Questions With Kellie Ann Benz

David Cormican, founder of the CSSC discovered an interesting interview on Ink Canada’s Facebook Discussion Board. This is an interview with Kellie Ann Benz and it focuses on her love for Short Films. (Short is Better, right?). Dave McLeod asked her five questions, and these were the results.

Q1. Short film: a stepping stone to features/tv, another way for those in the industry to express themselves creatively with small financial commitment or a way for writers to transition to other roles (director/producer) in film? What’s your take on the genre?

I made my first short film in 1997. I thought I was so clever and smart to make my blasphemous comedy ‘The Second Coming’ – a comedy about a woman’s one night stand with Jesus Christ. I didn’t know anything about the short film world, only that I had this 10 page script that I didn’t want anyone to fuck with. So I directed it, even though I didn’t know when to call action or cut or even where to stand on the set (I had a great 1st AD Fred Graver who was kind, patient and supportive). The only ace I had was that I knew exactly what I wanted to see on the screen. So I made the film, I got it done and then I thought – now what? The first four months of submitting was horrible, every festival turned me down. Then I got invited to the Toronto Worldwide Short Film Festival and was so excited to FINALLY be in a festival that I flew to Toronto to attend.

Keep in mind that I really thought I was so clever to make such a biting comedy in only a scant 13 minutes. I expected my cleverness would be rewarded with studio offers, TV deals, blank cheques and of course, a parade of accolades. I mean, this much comedy in only 13 minutes! Clearly, I was a force to be reckoned with, right? A new wave of warp speed comedy!

Then I saw a Belgian film called The Bloody Olive. The Bloody Olive was beautifully shot, noir style, and had such a hilarious premise that I was completely put to shame. I mean put. to. shame! I just recently found out The Bloody Olive is on youtube, I googled it and there it was, my inspiration. Ten years later it still stands up as one of the BEST films I’ve ever seen.

Most importantly, it opened my world to what short films can do.

I LOVE the medium of short films. I love the singular storyline and the details with which you can dive into an A plot. Some of my most favorite films of all time are shorts. To me, the medium of short films is an art on its own. It’s a little piece of awesome that you so VERY rarely experience with feature films.

They can sometimes lead to bigger opportunities, but I have never made a short film with any ambition other than to tell a story I needed to tell. The very best short films I’ve ever seen are movies that were meant to be told in a short form. I have an immense amount of respect for this medium. The mastery of this medium can take a lifetime – and what a noble pursuit if you ask me.

Q2. What key experiences in your film career brought you to a place where you were able to make Awkward?

Awkward is a film that tells the story of people who have no filters on their language. I dabbled a little with online dating. As all of you who’ve done the same know, the online world is…shall we say…overt? The men online usually go directly to the deep, burning questions of soul to soul connection, like ‘what’s your cup size’ and ‘are you into anal?’

Charmed as I was and flattered by their ardent interest in me as a person, I wondered, what would happen if we talked to each other like that in person? Face to Face. What kind of world would we live in if a dinner party conversation had no filters. Instead of talking about home renovations, what if couples around a dinner table talked – in the same way – about anal sex they had with their next door neighbours?

Supposing this world, I sat down and wrote Awkward – completely unfiltered. My friend read it and recommended that I remove one comment that was unnecessarily unkind and once I did, voila – Awkward was born.

This was my first production after having my last Comedy Network series (Rockpoint PD) cancelled in 2001 – so I was a little rusty on the production side. I sent the script to my great friend Christopher Shyer to ask what he thought. He loved it, without question, and so I offered him the part of Gerald and he accepted instantly. From there I contacted Jennifer MacLean who starred in Rockpoint and is one of the most fearless actresses I’d ever worked with. She read it and loved it, but she was 7 months pregnant at the time. This unexpected details made her character’s words even funnier!! I said, perfect and asked her still to do it and she agreed. I had met Benjamin Arthur socially and just wanted to work with him on anything. I sent him the script and he said yes right away…same with Geoff Gustafson who was recommended by the actor I originally approached for the role. Everything sort of came together so fast and so effortlessly that I had no choice but to roll this ball all the way into production.

Q3. What was it about this project that made you say to yourself “I must make this film”?

The idea. I get a bizillion ideas a week. Some come and disappear instantly. Some come and roll around in the noggin until they get filtered out by similar things I’ve seen. Then, every once and awhile, an idea arrives and sticks. I’ll try everything I can to shake it, to prove it powerless and it’ll just stick in there. It’s like a Decorator Crab, it’ll just collect more and more stuff, adding to it’s shell to make it bigger and bigger until I have no choice but to accept this idea as a new project.

It’s at that point that I sit down and write the script until I’m happy with it. Then I’ll show it to trusted friends and see what kind of response I get. At this point in my career, I don’t send stuff out to friends unless I’m pretty committed already.

I trust my instincts. They’ve never steered me wrong.

Q4. I just checked out The Shorts Report (http://theshortsreport.blogspot.com). It’s such a great resource for short filmmakers wanting to explore this medium. What made you want to start this blog?

I came back from France’s Clermont-Ferrand International Film Festival filled to the brim with the short film love-in that that festival is and I just needed to share it. In North America, we treat the short film like a quaint hobby or a stepping stone to a feature. But in other parts of the world, the short film is an industry!!

In Canada in 2008, more than 500 independent short films were made. We have a number of short film events that produce short films: NSI-Drama Prize, Crazy 8′s, CSC Short Films programs not to mention the many, many regional initiatives. The focus of most of those programs is on the production, what filmmakers do after it’s done is an afterthought. A short film’s life doesn’t even begin until it’s completed and only really starts when it has its film festival premiere. So the choices a filmmaker makes on where they submit and which distributor they sign with is critical. An excellent short film like Denis Villeneuve’s Next Floor or Michelle Porter’s Regarding Sarah, when strategically placed, can go on to win awards like Genies (Next Floor won this year, Regarding Sarah was nominated a few years back) and even Oscars. Naturally it starts with making a kick ass short film, but a well managed festival strategy can make all the difference for a short film.

I started the blog to raise the profile of what can be done with shorts – and to honour the accomplishments of the many, many, many short films made in Canada. The blog is always evolving. I want to find a sponsor for it so I can put it on its own site and really go to town with the resources available to filmmakers. I’ve only had it since April 1st and it’s already got more than 1,500 page views.


Q5. Now that you have the WGC award under your belt, what’s next for you? Will you continue making short films, do the festival circuit with Awkward or use this experience to springboard into new and exciting projects[?]

Awkward is in its 2nd year of festival life, which is usually the last year. Though because of its success, I think another year of festivals might be added to my plans. It’ll begin appearing in the UK soon as I’ve signed a broadcast license with Propeller TV UK, but that’s the only territory it’s sold to – so far!!

I have another short film idea that I can’t seem to shake. I suppose this means I’ll need to sit down and crack the back of that script pretty soon. I’m working on two feature scripts that I expect to see in production in the next 2 years. And since I’ve never given up on TV, I have two series projects I’m trying to find the time to work on.

In the meantime, I want to continue to build The Shorts Report into a resource for filmmakers.

Oh, and at some point this summer, I want to get a tan.

About David Cormican

DAVID CORMICAN is an award winning blogger (2010 Canadian Weblog Award winner – best literature & writing category), father, performer, producer and founder of the prestigious Canadian Short Screenplay Competition (CSSC), an organization he formed to showcase and promote emerging screenwriters through recognition and the production of their winning work. In 2010 Cormican was a nominee for the Regina Mayor’s Arts & Business Award for Innovation in the Arts and a recipient of the National Screen Institute’s Drama Prize. In addition to establishing the CSSC's Short Film Fund, he is also a partner with Minds Eye Entertainment where he is in charge of development for the production company’s feature film, television and branded content. Recent producing credits include THE TALL MAN (Jessica Biel) and FACES IN THE CROWD (Milla Jovavich, Julian McMahon) for Minds Eye and RUSTED PYRE (Brooke Palsson, Samantha Somer Wilson) and MINUS LARA (a Bravo!FACT funded short starring Romina D’Ugo) for the CSSC. He is a board member for Regina Downtown Business Improvement District, a counselor for ACTRA Saskatchewan and board member representing the arts portfolio for SaskCulture. He also sits on various committees for SaskFilm, SMPIA and the Canadian Media Producers Association.
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