Thursday, June 30, 2016

Bennie Woodell on "Love Meet Hope"

What was your filmmaking background before making Love Meet Hope?

BENNIE: When I started filmmaking, my dream was always to make films in Hong Kong. John Woo's The Killer and Won Kar-Wai's Chungking Express were the two films that made me want to become a filmmaker, and upon seeing Chungking Express in 2000, I didn't watch anything but Hong Kong films for the next five years.

I loved how the films from Hong Kong were genre hybrids; they weren't just action movies, they had romance, comedy, and sometimes horror all rolled into one, much like Love Meet Hope actually.

Then in 2006 I graduated from Columbia College in Chicago with my Bachelors in Film/Video with a concentration in Directing, and I, kind of, veered off the Hong Kong path a little bit. I wrote and directed a horror film, The Chauffeur, which was your run of the mill B slasher movie. After that I wanted to get back to action movies, but I enjoyed the horror world so much that I decided to combine the two for Fast Zombies With Guns, which to this day is the little film that could. It wound up having a nationwide release in Family Videos across the country, and I keep seeing it being repackaged in compilation DVD box sets from my distributor, Chemical Burn.

After Fast Zombies With Guns, I wanted to revisit a short film I had made in school and turn it into a feature film, and The Long December was born, it was renamed Death Angel December: Vengeance Kill by the distributor, which was very much a dark thriller/noir and is really the first feature film I've done that you can see the beginnings of my voice as a writer director utilizing anti-heroes, heavy voice over narration, and dark imagery.

After The Long December, I decided to go back to my Hong Kong roots and did The Sad Cafe, which was my ode to Hong Kong cinema. In 2011 it won Best Dramatic Feature at the Action On Film Festival.

Then I came out to Los Angeles and decided I wanted to make a personal film in an arthouse style, such as Wong Kar-Wai and Terrence Malick, as the epitaph to my 20's, and made Je T'aime, Au Revoir. I shot that on 16mm and fell back in love with film. We shot 16mm in college but then I got wrapped up in digital filmmaking and forgot about the joy you feel when the film is moving in the camera, but now celluloid is constantly calling to me. You can't beat how beautiful the images are, which I think really helped set Je T'aim, Au Revoir apart. Plus, it still follows in my narrative style that I had been developing.

And that brings us to Love Meet Hope, which is almost the complete opposite of everything I had done up until this point, and I'm so incredibly happy and lucky to have had the opportunity to do something that's so far removed from what I've become used to doing. I have my own visual style, and it was a wonderful challenge to keep some essence of that style, while making something that was much more light-hearted and made to be enjoyed by anyone, any age.

I'm so proud of this film and what we achieved with it, and I can't wait to see where it goes. I know it's going to be a film that people will watch and feel hope in their own lives.


How did you get connected to the script and what was your process for getting it ready to shoot the?

BENNIE: Well, it was originally intended to be a web series about two characters, Hope and Morgan, and each episode was a different story of how these two characters met. It was going to have multiple directors and such, and I was brought on to direct an action story for the series and before we shot it, it was decided to be turned into a feature and the whole script was then written.

When I thought about everything that was going on in the script, I realized what I mentioned above, that this film was truly a genre hybrid, much like everything I loved about Hong Kong cinema, which is how I connected immediately to it all.

The film has elements from every genre, minus horror, and each story segment I was actually given the creative freedom to direct however I felt suited the story. So I got to do a Hong Kong action segment, I got to make a sword and sandal film, an 80's light-hearted mermaid film, I got to make comedy, a musical, and other styles within, all with a through story of a really well crafted romance. So I was really able to flex my creative muscles and I loved every minute of it. 


How did you attract Ed Asner to the movie?

BENNIE: Honestly, I don't know the story on how we got Ed in the film. One day I was told we got him signed on, which was amazing in my mind as he was the person when we were in preproduction whose name kept popping up as the perfect Mr. James. The Universe listened and came through. 


What was the rest of the casting process like and did you adjust the script at all to fit the cast?

BENNIE: I don't think we adjusted the script at all, we had the characters written and found the right people to play those parts. We're in Los Angeles, there's so much talent out here that if you look, you can find who you're looking for.

But we held auditions and the producers and I discussed who we thought would be best, and that's how it was done. There were a few choices that were so hard to make though because we had some great auditions, but having good solid choices is the best thing we could have asked for, in my opinion. 


Can you talk about how your team raised the budget and the distribution plan for recouping costs?

BENNIE: We did a Kickstarter campaign that was successful, and as far a distribution plan, I really don't know much about that, the producers are handling the distribution of the film. 


What type of camera did you use and what did you love (and hate) about it?

BENNIE: We shot Love Meet Hope on the RED Scarlet and it definitely was a great camera to use. The image was a beautiful 4K, but I have to wonder how much of that was the camera and how much of that was the due to the dynamic duo of Andy Cao our Director of Photography, and Jay Ruggieri, our Gaffer, and his wonderful lighting team.

You can have the exact camera used on The Avengers, but if you don't have someone who knows what they're doing lighting-wise, you might as well use your iPhone, it'll be just as good.

What did I not like about it? I wish I had something really negative to say, but I really don't because we have a wonderful looking movie. Do I wish we could have shot on film? Sure, but that wasn't in the cards so we went with the RED and I'm happy with how it turned out. 


Did the movie change much in the editing, and if so, why did you make the changes?

BENNIE: Absolutely it changed, I'd like to know one movie that doesn't change in the edit!

The biggest change was the initial cut was right around the two hour mark, and we decided we wanted to cut it down to about 90 minutes. The script was 117 pages, so if you know things about scripts and film, our runtime was right about where it should have been, so we ended up having to cut out portions of the film itself for no other major reason than time. And we spent a lot of time sitting there and having at length discussions over what we felt should be cut because we all had different ideas.

It was hard to do, but when I look at the film now and what it was during the initial cut, we definitely made the right decisions. 


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

BENNIE: The smartest thing we did during production was having the right people come on board and being part of the cast and crew. If you have professional people who really know what they're doing, it makes things run so smooth and everyone has a great time, and everyone stays excited about the project, and everyone wants to come back the next day because you're not working, you're spending with great friends making something magical together.

I can't stress it enough, find the people who you mesh with on set perfectly, know what they're doing, who have a positive attitude (that's the most important thing to me), and who want to be there, and you'll have a successful shoot. 

The dumbest thing we did? We shot on a boat. If there's any wisdom I can bestow upon anyone, if you have a script set on a boat, stop reading this right now and go rewrite it to be somewhere on dry land.

Unless you have a ginormous budget, there are so many problems that come up, whether you plan for them or not, and it's going to be such a headache. Sure, the sequence on the boat looks awesome, but that doesn't mean I'm going to be excited to get back on a boat and shoot again.

One problem we had was we were driving and an anchor's chain or something was on the bottom of the lake and it somehow got tangled up in our motor, we were stuck in the middle of Lake Arrowhead and had to get towed in by the police, which was during the time I needed the sunset shot. And then the next day, while we should have been shooting, we were trying to fix the motor.

That's something I never would have thought of or expected, but it happened, and that wasn't all during that time. Don't shoot on a boat. 


And, finally, what did you learn from making this feature that you will take to other projects?

BENNIE: I learned how to direct a film that I hadn't written. It's definitely different because when I'm writing the script, I'm seeing it unfold in my head and I'm writing what I see, and I see things very visually, so this time I had to take what was written and find the camera in my mind and see it unfold.   It was a fun experience, and I look forward to doing it again in the near future! 

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