Thursday, November 29, 2012

Joe Benarick on "The Ultimate Ultimate"

What was your filmmaking background before setting out to make The Ultimate Ultimate?

JOE: I started doing stuff in ’07, up in Philadelphia. I bought a little Panasonic 3-chip and thought I was on my way. I don’t think I started to get comfortable behind the camera until we did Days of Lightning a couple years ago, though. But I’m still not comfortable—I’m never comfortable with myself. Ask my wife why I turn off the lights before I undress. God, I need to hit the gym.

What was the genesis of the project and what was the writing process like?

JOE: Well, The Ultimate Ultimate is a stand-alone sequel to a movie we did and no one saw, called Days of Lightning. My buddy and producer Frankie Aguirre and I were working at this dump of a hotel in Miami, and I had the idea to shoot a little comedy set at work with the equipment I had. I didn’t really have equipment; it was just the Panasonic I bought years earlier, but whatever. It would do. I knocked out a script and we shot it over a few months. We got fired after the hotel discovered what we were doing, too. But that’s a story for another day. That’s a story for a dreary Sunday, maybe during an electrical storm.

Anyway, the movie turned out okay; we were pretty happy with it. The production values were shit, but the content was on-point. I felt like that’s when A Set of Works found its voice. It was such an experimental movie; we were just doing what we thought was funny—what we’d want to see in a comedy. There was a structure, but it was all about the humor.

And after DoL, I talked to Frankie, and it was like, “We could really make something special if we had better equipment,” so the idea for The Ultimate Ultimate was born. And I was all for it, and I think Frankie was too, I don’t know. He hides things from me. But we knew we wanted to stay in this world, so we knocked out a script for a “sequel,” but a detached one.

Can you talk about how you raised your budget and your financial plan for recouping your costs?

JOE: It’s a lot of bullshitting, man. That’s the truth. Like, if we need to use a hotel, it’s a matter of talking to the right people the right way. I’m good at that. And I throw them some money, of course.

I’d say we spent a little over five thousand on this. All the money I made at the hotel, I put towards this. We got really lucky that some talented people thought so highly of the script and jumped on-board, too. Same with the music: these awesome musicians—AluKard, D. Lector, our buddy Back to the Futrell—these dudes gave us the go-ahead to use their stuff, and I couldn’t be happier with the soundtrack. I love our soundtrack.

As far as recouping the costs, we’ll be pitching the movie to distributors in the coming months for DVD release. I think we have a great shot at securing something, especially with all the attention the movie’s garnered. There’s a big audience for The Ultimate Ultimate. Of course, we’ll have to spend more money on that. Press packets and stuff. It’s all an investment.

What camera did you use and what did you love and hate about it?

JOE: It was a Sony HXR-MC50U, with a couple shotgun mics. It’s a great camera; I was happy with it. I wish I had more time to practice with it—to learn it, prior to filming. We got it right before we started principal photography—like the same week. We learned as we went. That’s a problem when you’re working and it’s like, “Man, we should’ve used this feature last week during such and such scene,” but you keep moving. If it’s something small, you can reshoot it. I try not to harp on the small stuff too much, but I always do.

Did the movie change much in the editing process, and if so, how?

JOE: No. I have everything planned out prior to shooting, so if we do it right—if we do it the way I want to do it, the footage I’m editing unfurls exactly as it’s written in my notes. I make a ton of notes on my script before everything we shoot. “Unfurls”—what the hell is that, right? Sounds like something a snake does when it’s pissed.

The one thing I did in post that I hadn’t planned was color work. There’s so much color work going on in this, but people don’t notice. But I guess that’s good. You don’t want the editing stuff to jump off the screen. If you did it right, the audience doesn’t notice. The colors are always changing in the movie according to what’s happening on-screen. I hope, even if people don’t see it, they feel it, because that was the intent.

By the way, after we completed this, I was watching Punisher: War Zone, and in the bonus features they said they did the same thing. I like that movie. Maybe they’ll let me helm the third.

What was the smartest thing you did during production? The dumbest?

JOE: The smartest thing was going with our guts. Frankie and I have no qualms about bringing up ideas, or questioning others. If he has some idea, and he believes it’s good, even if I’m not feeling it, I’ll ride with it, because I trust his comedic judgment. We listen to each other’s input. As long as we’re making ourselves laugh, we know we’re doing well. I don’t mind shooting hours of extra stuff that might not even get used, just to have tons of options in post.

And the dumbest thing we did…I guess not being familiar with our equipment, like I said before. It all worked out, but that was definitely bush league. Flying by the seat of our pants, man.

And, finally, what did you learn from making the film that you have taken to other projects?

JOE: If you know that your product is good, then you’re in a good spot. When you make something, and afterwards, you’re going, “Damn, that’s great,” then you’re on the right track, because I think a lot of people know their stuff isn’t great, and they roll with it anyway. For the longest time, I thought just making stuff was good enough, and I was way off. You gotta make great stuff.

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