This is a transcript of SYS Podcast Episode 321: With Filmmaker Brando Benetton.
Ashley: Welcome to Episode #321 of the Selling Your Screenplay podcast. I’m Ashley Scott Meyers, screenwriter and blogger over at www.sellingyourscreenplay.com. Today I’m interviewing Brando Benetton who is a recent USC graduate and made an action short film that looks incredible. It’s really an amazing short film and they ended up using it as a pitch for a story idea as a reoccurring TV series which I thought was a real good use of a 45-minute short film. We talk through all the trials and tribulations of getting this film produced and how this led him along his career path. So stay tuned for that interview. If you find this episode valuable, please help me out by giving me a review on iTunes or leaving a comment on YouTube or retweeting the podcast on Twitter or liking or sharing it on Facebook.
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A quick few words about what I’m working on. Obviously the big thing is still my feature film, The Rideshare Killer. I’m recording this podcast interview a little over two weeks after the Kickstarter has ended and the money did eventually flow into our account this week. Kickstarter tells you upfront it’s gonna take about two weeks and I think it literally took two weeks I think; we ended on a Monday.
Well, I guess it was a little over two weeks because we ended on Monday and I don’t think it actually flew into our account until Tuesday or Wednesday, two weeks later, so it was actually like 15, 16 days. Tony, the other producer and I, we are actively looking to bring on an editor now. We’ve already met with some folks and we’ve been emailing with a lot of people, have some more meetings set up, so we’re gonna make our final decision on the editor probably in the next day or two. Once we hire the editor, we’ll hopefully start working on a rough cut. I’m hoping this process, getting the rough cut only takes four to six weeks.
There’s quite a bit of technical sort of setup the editor has to do and I think I showed the footage to one of the first editors we met and he mentioned that it would take him, I think it would take him a few weeks just to get all the sound synced and kinda just get everything set up and then probably another few weeks for him to get a rough cut done. So that’s kinda the timeline, I think four to six weeks. The nice thing about this, again four to six weeks to get the rough cut, then there’s still a lot of work once the rough cut is done, but at least we’ll have a cut of the film. The nice thing about this project compared with my other film that I wrote, directed and produced- The Pinch, on that one it was just really, really, really low budget, but with this one we do actually have a decent amount for post-production.
So we’ll be able to pay people a little bit better, which will hopefully bring on experienced folks who do this full time so we can move a lot quicker and again, hopefully have a slightly more professional product. With The Pinch I was using folks, they were experienced and they were good, but a lot of them had full time jobs, did other things while they were doing the various duties on The Pinch in post-production. They were doing it nights and weekends type of thing. Obviously you can save a lot of money finding those folks. Again, these were all good people, I don’t have any complaints about any of them, but it definitely slowed down the process.
Obviously if they’re working a full-time job and they can only work nights and weekends, that just limits how quickly some of this stuff can get done. And if you remember back, I was in no hurry with The Pinch so it really wasn’t a big deal. I really needed to save the money because the budget was so low, but with this one, again, we have a little bit more money, so hopefully it’ll be a little bit quicker and we’ll get through this whole process hopefully a little faster. Anyways, that’s the main thing I am working on. So now let’s get into the main segment. Today I am interviewing writer, director and producer Brando Benetton. Here is the interview.
Ashley: Welcome Brando to the Selling Your Screenplay podcast. I really appreciate you coming on the show with me today.
Brando: Very happy to be here. Thank you for having me.
Ashley: So to start out, maybe you can tell us a little bit about your background. Where did you grow up and how did you get interested in the entertainment business?
Brando: I was born in Paris but raised in Italy. I moved to the States when I was 16. I would definitely say that the way I got into movies was the fact that we didn’t have a TV with channels when I was a kid and the only source of entertainment that was allowed to me was VHSs. And we would be doing these trips to London once in a while, then we’d come back with Disney movies solely in English. So I would be watching a movie, I would not understand anything that was going on because I didn’t speak the language. Then eventually I would make my way over to a friend’s house and watch Pinocchio in Italian and my mind would be blown because I would finally understand the plot of the movie.
So I started to understand and learn English that way and at the same time, that’s where I think cinema in general was a big part of my life because it literally was… of course I would go outside and have friends, but that was a starter. Then my stepfather gifted me what used to be his old camera. I shouldn’t say gift, lend it. He would generously lend it, and so in an effort to emulate the kind of entertainment we were seeing, we thought we would start our own thing. So that’s where we got started. But it didn’t really get serious until at age 16. I made the move to New York and yeah, I haven’t really been back since.
Ashley: Okay, perfect. And so what were some of those first steps? What did you do when you moved from Italy to New York at 16? Were you done with high school, going to college, were your parents moving and you kinda tagged along? What did that move actually look like?
Brando: Yeah, great question. So my parents did not tag along, it was just me. And now they say what I remember doing a lot of, it was my last year of high school so I made… a lot have is very frequently in Europe, you can have your junior year be abroad and then come back and I obviously never came back. But what was really useful about it and what I was… in going to film sets a lot. There’s this website that’s still running, it’s called On Location Vacations, and I would do my homework in the afternoon… now keep in mind, I was 17, no adults around, I was trying to be responsible, but I would do the homework in the afternoon and then I would spend evenings and even nights sometimes until two, three, four in the morning with school the next day and I would just stand and watch them film.
So Tower Heist with Ben Stiller, Mr. Popper’s Penguins with Jim Carrey, movies where… I was slowly starting to get an understanding of who the assistant director was and this scene took five hours to shoot, but six months from now when I see it on a theater, it only takes up 30 seconds. So managing time and resources and really gave me a sense of how elaborate real film sets are. And while I was there, I applied college and once I’d made the move up to college in Upstate New York I went to Ithaca College and was extremely lucky. If you want, we can talk about… I started working and then I went back to grad school, which I finished and I went to USC. These two experiences were really apart from each other in regards to again, just the process.
But for Ithaca in Upstate New York, we were in the middle of nowhere, which seemed like a curse, but it was really a blessing because you were really up against no pressure at all. There was no industry breathing down your neck. It was just an open environment where we ended up by the way, which we’ll talk about in Nightfire and the… as a thesis film there. They would just let you run free with any kind of genre ideas you had. So that was a really positive direction I took without knowing because all I saw was woods and snow and I was like, “This is gonna be a disaster. I don’t wanna go in the middle of Upstate New York.” But it turned out to be great because it allowed for us to really hone in on the kind of films we were interested in. And there was an embracing of that.
You had students who wanted to do gay musicals and westerns and action movies and horror films and there was no restriction whatsoever, which I think is the best experience a student filmmaker can have, is if you’re gonna fail, fail big and make sure you fail while you’re in school. So we took chances.
Ashley: Yeah. So then talk about that. So then you’re at Ithaca then you go to USC. How did those two programs differ? What did you get out of USC? It sounds like we kinda understand what you got out of Ithaca. What did you get out of the USC education?
Brando: Yeah, so I finished Ithaca and the film… we can talk about that once we get to Nightfire, but the film started snowballing Nightfire but it didn’t go anywhere. So I went back to Italy and I had the craziest job I’ll ever have in my life. Because of that movie an amusement park hired me to direct a major stunt show because we had a lot of stunts. I did that for a year and my parents were really encouraging me in going back to studying and I didn’t wanna go back to school. So I said, “I wanna make sure I don’t get in. Wherever I apply, I’m gonna make sure I show them I’m applying but I’m not gonna get in.” Because I had been rejected… I’ve been rejected by NYU twice, I had been rejected by USC. I applied to USC, go figure, I get in.
And at that point I think one would be… if you’re lucky enough to have the resources to go, why not? So I went to USC and this is a three year master’s program and I think it really varied in regards to the perception one may have going to a grad program. I was still relatively young at the time, you had classmates who are in their 40s and 50s and people coming from law school and you expect to be treated with a level of, I don’t wanna use respect because there’s always respect, but knowledge in regards to what you wanna be doing. And what we started encountering, strangely enough were a lot of little boxes and limits where I think the school is obviously deserving of its number one film school reputation, but they also were trying to keep the students from not taking risks that could in any way tamper…
So I think what you started to get was a school that was cranking out movies that were a lot more specific and similar in tone and you get amazing dramas, social dramas and racial dramas. If you look into Student Academy Awards, there’s some fantastic work and the live action coming out of there. But the connection was honestly what came out of it the most, and I gotta be honest, my experience wasn’t everybody’s experience. I was just feeling a little bit frustrated, and what I asked myself while I was there was, “What can I do that I could not be doing anywhere else in the world?” So the idea of sitting down with professionals and ask Academy Award winning composers or production designers or cinematographers and learning from them the same way you are on the podcast extracting and sharing knowledge.
And even though it kinda pains me to say that was really the luck of being in USC is that there is a great community of filmmakers who has come out of there and everyone’s seems a little more willing to help each other out. “Oh, I’ll talk to you, you’re from USC. Of course.” So that really helped. Again, it wasn’t bad, it was different. It was kind of a whiplash going from an undergrad experience where you saw all these genres and nothing was laughed at in any way to going into… so it must’ve been eight years later going into a thesis screening where all the movies kinda felt like the same. There were some great ones, ones that shine, but there wasn’t… we could talk about a lot of film programs in general, but the idea of not being welcomed if you had something different to offer, it was kinda limiting. But again, I think the lesson to be learned was finding a way around that.
Ashley: Yeah. And I wonder if that’s not a function of them trying to prepare people for the industry a little more and there is a rigidity to the industry where being too out there is maybe not necessarily… it’s the old Blake Snyder the same but different. That’s kind of what it sounds like you were running into.
Brando: Yeah, absolutely. I think absolutely. Well, you touched on it. It’s exactly that. I think it’s the idea, and they don’t hide it as they’re getting you ready for the Hollywood industry, which to me… and I was very vocal about it. I think it’s great regardless to have conversations about our experience because I said that doesn’t need to be everyone’s reality. If you have students like myself that come from Europe or Indian students that… where the Bollywood system is completely different, is it worth investing? And the example I kept giving… because we kept asking, “Why is that? How is that helping us? I’m sure it is helping us in some way to have some limits, but why?”
And I think even though we were grad students and many of us had made movies and had found enthusiasm and happiness and success in these genre films, they would rather… for people’s safety, they would rather say no to a hundred students pitching some crazy idea. And this is mostly about safety too, because you wanna remember this is something that I don’t think is talked about enough for the sake of skipping permits and being out there. You can have accidents and these things have happened. And the same way… I know NYU had some unfortunate events happen and that’s what the headline would say, would say, ‘NYU student…’ So I think in that case they would rather say no to 100 people, even though 10 of those 100 probably know exactly what they’re talking about and they have done it and they would be responsible.
I think it’s a blanket of safety where in sometimes applying limitations, you try and spark a new creative direction, because you cannot do that, we’re gonna find a more creative way version to deliver whatever it is you’re trying to deliver. So I wonder that probably could be it.
Ashley: Yeah. I’m sure that’s a very valid point. In any event, so let’s dig into your short action film Nightfire. Maybe to start out, you can just give us a quick pitch or a log line. What is the premise of this story?
Brando: Sure, sure. So it’s pretty much a spy thriller as you said. I was very lucky, I grew up with films that really, really embraced locations as an action device, John Frankenheimer’s Ronin and obviously the Bond films and realizing that it’s a vehicle to transport people to places they’ve never been in, in regards to action, show them things they’ve never seen. So it follows these two American agents who infiltrate a base to retrieve some top secret content that’s baked into these little microchips. Their plan obviously goes awry the moment this prisoner enters the picture and they’re forced to nearly compromise the mission by dragging him along. In doing so, they pretty much ignite a snowball of catastrophic events that just get things in motion and they escalate over and over.
We are lucky enough to have Dylan Baker play the prisoner and he was very, very supportive in that. So Nightfire specifically as I was saying, it’s a spy thriller that follows these two American agents who are hired to retrieve military chips that contain top secret content and their plan almost goes awry the moment an unexpected political prisoner enters the picture. And we’re lucky to have a great international cast, we shot the entire movie in Italy even though it takes place in and around Europe. We shot it all in Northern Italy. Keep in mind as it was saying this, this was born as a TV pilot, a student production. And this was all in the effort…
We were sitting in that auditorium the first time we arrived at Ithaca and we were like, “What would we wanna see on that big screen that would blow our mind as students? What is the one thing that would really get us jazzed?” which I think is all that we are doing, you, me, the listeners. We wanna make movies that are so emotionally specific to our experience and that we cannot know what people are gonna like or not like. But if that movie was playing on the big screen, you would lose your stuff. You would be so happy. So that was it. And we went about constructing it by… this is in the… even before writing, we started listing all the things we knew we had at our disposal because we couldn’t dream up a Hollywood production.
So in regards to… then bank on raising the money, that’s something that’s very difficult. So just…
Ashley: Yeah. Let’s start right there. Let’s start before you’ve written the script. What is a list of some of these things that you had access to that you thought, “Okay, we can incorporate these high production value things into our story?” Maybe just give us a list of some real examples of things that you had and you used.
Brando: Absolutely. So for example, we were trying the design which… this is something fascinating that Christopher McQuarrie, the director of Mission Impossible: Fallout, has talked about in regards to the same way with Rogue Nation. They were drawing up different set pieces and understanding, which was an unusual way of structuring story. How do we go from this to that to that in an organic way? So we knew for example, the amusement park that I was mentioning before, they have a stunt show and they have an amazing set. This open-air Afghanistan-looking set, which has trucks and uniforms with soldiers. And I was like, “We gotta have a military base in there.”
They also have a submarine set, which is literally recreation of an entire U-571 kind of submarine. I was like, “We gotta have a sequence there.” We went to Verona, we shot in my hometown of Verona, which is a beautiful city in Northern Italy famous for Romeo and Juliet, but it has this massive open arena, and in front of the mayor’s office, we knew that there were gonna be building for the end of the new year’s. We shot it right over winter break, and they were gonna have a big stage. We couldn’t afford building a stage, so we talked to city hall and we said, “While you’re dismounting the stage on January 2nd, wait until January 3rd. We’re gonna shoot there on the night of January 2nd because it doesn’t cost you anything.”
And even in regards to car chases, we would go out and we said, “Okay, we gotta find a way to buy literally €250 cars,” and we know that they’re gonna break down, but that’s the only way we can afford to have cars smashing into each other and all these things. So we just started listing all these things. And same could go with actors, we know that person who knows that person, we definitely could have… we could try and have them in the movie if they think it’s… So listing from vehicles to locations to actors, just listing all these things and then trying to find an organic way of what is the most emotional order in which we can present this information so that it feels like an organic story. That was a process of many, many months.
We were rewriting the script even the mornings of… and we just had 12 days as I was saying, where it was a student production, I went to all the classmates and I said, “Friends, not only we cannot pay you, we cannot even fly you over to Italy, but if you can get yourselves there and not only… Well, obviously we’re gonna feed you and we’re gonna house you.” We had 30 students sleeping in sleeping bags in this giant living room. “But we can assure you it’s gonna be unlike any experience you’ve ever done.” And to me that’s what often you guys talk about on the podcast. I’m very lucky to have gone to film school, but the experience of those 12 days of shooting where you have dozens and dozens of professionals, because we can talk about that.
The two departments where we did not wanna mess around safety wise was stunts and special effects. We had to have professional for that because you cannot improvise yourself an explosive effect.
Ashley: Let’s hope not [laughs].
Brando: Don’t do that. But the experience of making a movie like that was worth way more than so many years in film school because…
Ashley: Now what about like the cinematographer? I mean, you had a lot of pretty intricate action stuff. Was that a student cinematographer or did you have someone that had experience with that action stuff?
Brando: Great question. Garrett Nicholson, who’s the cinematographer of Nightfire, I went to his screening. These things happen and I went to a student screening in one of the films. I went up to him after and I said, “I don’t know you…” He was my same year. It was a large cohort, never met the kid. I was like, “You and I gotta work together,” and we did. And I think so much of the success of the movie is based on the cinematography. We realized early on that we had to shoot the entire movie on a steady cam because in 12 days with so much… As you know, action… we would sometimes shoot seven pages of dialogue in two hours and sometimes we would shoot a three-minute car chase over six nights.
And it’s that management of time, which we’re talking about where you realize you gotta… it’s a push and pull. Some things if it’s not important to the story we can afford walking away from it. And there are other moments where we would literally stay up for 24 hours in a row because we understood that if we don’t have this moment, the movie falls apart. So cinematography, again, we shot on a Red Dragon, which at the time was the hottest camera we could think of just based on, and this is also an interesting thing, we shoved the entire movie mostly at night. We set it at night because I was really scared of having lighting continuity be… if one day you got clouds and the other you got sun, I was like, “We cannot afford to deal with that.”
So we shot it all at night because we knew there was gonna be no mistake of matching that and the dragon as a camera was a camera that would hold the shadows very well. So that was the decision in that. Obviously today it’s currented for anything. But yeah. So, I don’t know if that…
Ashley: What did that conversation look like when you went to the Verona City Council and said, “Can we shoot for… we don’t have any money, we don’t have anything. We’re a bunch of student filmmakers. Can we shoot in your great little courtyard here?”
Brando: Great question. I sat down the summer before we started shooting with all of the city councils. So the fire marshal and the person who was in charge of transportation and health and sanitation and safety for the trees and parks and all the… and we would go, when I acted out the entire movie for them. And once in a while someone will say, “Well, hold on, you can’t do that. We can’t give you two lanes, we’re gonna have to give you one lane.” Like, “Okay.” So you’re imagining them pushing and pulling. The one thing they wouldn’t allow us to do was blow up a vehicle, like literally blow up a vehicle in the air. Very cool effect. You can find it in the trailer, but we had to go to a different city.
That was the one thing they wouldn’t let us do. So we went to a nearby city and shot on private property. And even then we had to, because again, as I was saying, safety is the most important thing, so even though we sound like it’s all crazy and bombastic, we didn’t wanna get anyone in a position of being hurt in any way. So you still have fire marshals on set when you’re having explosions of cars. Yeah, you really had to sell them on it. And I think that the city, there’s a luck I think for any one of us going back to shooting. If you shoot in LA, they don’t care. They’ve seen it, they’ll say no, they’ll try and get money out of you. But the wonderful thing about going to a town which hadn’t seen as much filming is because… is that you can get them excited.
You can get them so excited about it and you can show that… they don’t know. So Dylan to them, Dylan Baker, who’s a terrific, terrific actor, it meant the world that he was coming in it. It made the movie feel like it was a Hollywood production, even though it was really a bunch of kids. And talking about the experiences you learn, we had the newspapers covering us on front page or in the newspaper every day and they would be handing out addresses and times where we were shooting. Now the first couple of days it sounds cool. You’re getting all this attention, never had that before. After third, fourth day you’re realizing that by publishing the times of dates, there are all these crowds, and now the moment you’re going on a reverse of someone else, you’ve got to get everyone out of the way and it’s eating up time.
These things you cannot learn in film school. These are… the way I always put it with myself I think life in general is one big… am I allowed to curse?
Ashley: Yeah, sure. It’s all adults here.
Brando: It’s just like one infinite list of fuck-ups you’ve gotta go through and the more you go through them earlier in your experience, the more experienced you are once you arrive to things later, which is to me was the pleasure once I got to USC. And maybe I felt a little frustrated about directing because no matter what I pitched there was no… the answer was no. And I promise you I wasn’t pitching explosions at USC. But I started working a lot as an assistant director, a first assistant director on other people’s sets, on larger sets because I was still getting the experience out of other people’s mistakes the same way anyone working on a set would or vice versa. I could be offering solutions whenever…
I’ve gone through that mistake already. Let me tell you why it’s not gonna work, this is what you’re gonna run into, “Oh yeah. We ought to consider that.” So don’t worry, it wasn’t all flowers and happiness. We had our mistakes on set. The €250 car broke down before the car chase was over. We were like, “Great. Okay, how do we finish the car chase? We don’t have a car?” So you’re trying to figure out, you’re trying to play with sound, you’ve gotta rewrite the scene. All these things, thank God it happened the way that it happened because it really pushed us. We came back to school after those 12 days just feeling like different people and we had three and a half months to just edit it all together and sound mix it.
We were just better people for it once we got back and still even after the movie was presented in the thesis screening, we did not stop working on it for a year or two just because I’ve learned that it’s… once you have footage like this you should always be challenging the material. And sound is such a vital part of the filmmaking experience that… I was talking to Elísabet Ronaldsdóttir who is a wonderful editor and she did John Wick and Atomic Blonde and she was telling me how much of Atomic Blonde with Charlize Theron is ADR. They rewrote a quarter of the screenplay in the ADR session, and it doesn’t matter. Challenging what you have is always the most important thing. If you can make it better, I think it’s your duty to do that. Yeah.
Ashley: Let’s talk about just the writing of the script a little bit. You have a shared writing credit with Los Silva. Maybe talk about that process. What did that actually look like? As you guys are writing, are you sitting in the same room, churning out script pages, are you dividing up scenes? What does your relationship look like and how did the script actually get written?
Brando: Great question. Los was in New York throughout that entire… I contacted him, I believe in April or May and we didn’t get shooting until December. So I was in LA and he was in New York City and we were going back and forth at the time. He was such a terrific writer and I welcomed him on because I realized that I was lacking in writing dialogue, which is one of the things that obviously are the most challenging. And in an effort to divide and conquer I knew what could have been my strengths, but I also knew that I should have been smart enough to bring on board someone who was way better than me in regards to covering other ground. So I presented to him what was roughly the structure of the story that still is to this day and then we went in and by…
Obviously there was I think a month before of just talking out ideas and doing long beat sheets of ironing out any wrinkles. “Why is that character and making that decision?” “Oh, you know what, actually I hadn’t thought about it. I just assumed it made sense in the script.” So you iron out these wrinkles for the first month over exchanging emails and word documents. Then eventually, once he’s ready he dives in and he took what was already a complete draft of the script and pretty much made it his own. It was 55 pages and this is again, talking about understanding where a film can live and what the purpose is. It was 55 pages and they kept telling us, “You guys are idiots. It’s not really a short, it’s not a feature, just go either way.”
And we just felt this was the length that the story needed. We shot it, it was an hour and 10 minutes and then we cut it down to 45 minutes once we trimmed out any kinda fat. Then that’s when we realized the movie was really a TV pilot the entire time, even though we hadn’t predicted for it to be. And the moment we twisted it and started presenting it that way, it not only made more sense to us, but it made sense to everyone else. Because the moment you go pitching a 42-minute short film, people look at you crazy. But it kept going and yeah, the moment we were off to the races the last week of December, that’s when we split parts and then there was some rewriting done on the day on set.
Even some of it was from the actors who could be coming in and saying, “I think this would be a lot better.” And you try and find the perfect marriage between the two versions. Yeah.
Ashley: So when you were writing this, you’re still at Ithaca college, is that correct?
Brando: That’s correct. We…
Ashley: And were you getting feedback from your professors? Like were they like, “Man, this seems a little ambitious for a student film.” What were you getting from them?
Brando: Great question. Yeah, there were definitely two professors who I was turning to. And we had seen ambitious productions before at the school and that’s what inspired us to do it. But it was… people would go to a different town in Upstate New York and do a post-apocalyptic thing, but to this scale, that’s what I loved about it looking back. Nobody was trying to talk us out of it. We knew that students were laughing behind our back and obviously nobody would’ve banked on us, but they believed. They said, “You guys are adults. Kill someone, it’s on you. As long as you know that.” And we said, “We do know it.” But [inaudible 00:31:50] level I think all of these things, even if when you’re writing, being a producer of the same project makes you more aware that if you write this in, that’s a challenge you’re gonna have to solve. That is a problem from the future.
The same way, if you write your way out of something that’s something you are not dropping on yourself from the future. You’re having to solve that out. But these two teachers regularly, every… they were very busy. So I would come in and I would deliver the draft of the script, printed and they would go through it and they would say, “This works, this doesn’t.” And there was definitely an immaturity on a storytelling level. I think the film succeeds so much more on a technical level, which is why I was telling you that we… by the time we were over, we just looked at each other and said, “I wish we could rewrite it.” There’s so many beats, lines we just cut out because we didn’t have time on the day.
And by going back and taking the sound design as an opportunity to rewrite the movie, we started replacing all these things that we had missed. They would give amazing notes and we cramped… We started writing in March, something that you don’t really hear about. People taking a full year before they go into shooting just to do pre-production. Once Christmas came around, we just took off and we looked at the teachers and we looked and said, “We’ll be back and we’ll either be victorious or it’ll be a total failure. Only one way to find out.” When we came back we had the movie and now it was all about, “Okay, we gotta assemble it in three and a half months.”
Ashley: So then how did you raise the money? What did that process look like? You had your script, you had your plan and what was the process of actually raising the money to actually get this thing done?
Brando: Great question. It’s a mix. I think many filmmakers are lucky enough to have grants coming from the school and whether there are funding grants or completion grants… We finished a movie but we need a little more for something else. We definitely have support from the school in that regard. There was also crowd funding and that was a lesson we learned. Obviously the crown funding didn’t go as well as we wished for it to go. So we got some of it from that. Sometimes it was frankly just borrowing money, IOUs, promises, and the luck that we had is that we were trying to… or have people donating, that’s what… on the side too. It’s just getting different funding from different directions.
Obviously it’s never the amount of money you wish for it to be. You go, you shoot, you hope they don’t waste money, because that’s something that I felt in some way you run a risk of not only feels like it’s not enough, but you end up spending money on things you never needed but you couldn’t have known at the time. Then we came back and the luck that we had later on is that we came out with the movie on the other end and it was pretty much a debit. We owe money to people and because everyone’s telling you, “This is not a short, it’s not a feature. You guys are idiots,” there was no hope for us to sell it anywhere. What we did is that we put a trailer on YouTube just to try and spice up the excitement, and someone ended up, a distribution house in New York called Hewes, ended up seeing it and asked to buy it.
Which again, yeah, it was very strange lengthwise, but the fascinating thing for me was trying to understand what about the project was appealing. So in this case, we have action in Europe and people wanna go to Europe if they’ve never been or even if they have been. So that was something…
Ashley: And what are they gonna do with it? What are they gonna do with the film? Are they gonna air it somewhere?
Brando: Yeah. Yeah. So for example, this happened a while back and they bought it and they put it up somewhere and now there’s an upcoming release of it. It got bought and incorporated into another theatrical release. So technically speaking, now the movie is going theatrical merged with another short, and that’s one thing. And on the other, finally it took forever, but there’s a very wide Video On Demand release coming up which we can talk about, it’s gonna be in April. But that’s useful and I’m glad we had all this time because even though technically the movie was completed a while back, we never stopped challenging it. We knew that the extra work would be temporary, the fatigue, but the film would live forever.
So as Jackie Chan always would say is like, “Are you gonna go in every single auditorium and tell them, oh sorry, we couldn’t afford on the day.” It’s like, no. The audience is gonna receive the movie and it’s either gonna work or not. So we’ve been working down to the wire up until now to get it finished and I’m very glad people are finally able to see it in its completed form.
Ashley: So now what’s next for you? Do you feel like this has actually led you to your next project? Has it opened up some doors for you?
Brando: Yes. I think what it definitely… which people hear a lot, having a film of any kind student or not that is a good business card on a visual or technical level. I mentioned Garrett Nicholson who was nominated by the American Society of Cinematographers, which for him was like Mount Olympus, the highest achievement he could have received and he got a nomination from them. And it’s a testament to how good the movie looked. I think all in all we talk about screenplay techniques and putting together resources, but it’s really about making movies that feel expensive. Obviously the storytelling is at the forefront, but these are the kind of corners we’re trying to cut and deliver as much big production value in front of the camera as opposed to behind, expensive catering, expensive fee of the actors.
Audiences are not gonna see that, but if you can deliver something in front, if you can steal a couple of shots in Grand Central Station or shoot… whatever it is. That’s what I think the movie did for us is that it showed people. We would get in rooms and for the first time where usually they would be worried and say, “Well, we don’t know if you guys can handle high production value, moving pieces, explosions,” all these things. The moment you can show them we have done this and at this price tag, which honestly again, we’re talking about student film level budget, people took us more seriously. Because for once even… trust me, I look like a puppy, and the moment they see the movie, the movie speaks for itself and people get… they trust you a little more.
I think it’s very challenging for first time directors, a chicken and the egg situation where you get in a room and you have a script and they would say, “Well, you have never shot a feature. How do we know you’re gonna handle the pressure, the 32 days shoot?” For once having something that is not a feature but is of that scale allowed us to get in the room in the first place and for them to listen. And there’s only so much you can do. Chris McQuarrie always talks about the fact that you cannot control the direction of your career, all you can do is control the quality of the work you put out there. So I think that’s what we were focused on and what we’re gonna be focusing on now. But yeah, we’re trying to have the plan B and the plan C.
We talked about USC and Ryan Coogler’s story before Black Panther. He did Fruitvale Station and this legendary story around USC goes that Forest Whitaker brought him in and there’s some mentorship program and he’s gonna be pitching a movie and he pitches idea number one and they say no, and number two and number three and number four. And at the end of the fourth one they say, “Well, we’re sorry but none of these work for us. Do you have anything else?” And as he’s exiting the door, he says, “Well, hold on a second. I read this newspaper article.” He didn’t even have an outline, a fleshed-out idea. He just mentioned the article that became Fruitvale Station and that was bought.
So I think for us in general, the mistake we made at the beginning was like, well now they’re taking us seriously, we gotta make sure we have the idea number two and three and four and one may be a TV show and one may be a feature. You’ve gotta love each idea just as much, don’t have a hundred ideas, have two or three, but give them genre variety. Don’t do all action movies, otherwise that’s all they’re gonna expect from you. Don’t do all comedies. Show them that a good storyteller tells a good story regardless of the medium and regardless of the genre, because they’re gonna be looking for different things in different moments. So that for us has been kind of preparing two, three things we feel very strongly about.
Yeah, and so far it looks like it’s gonna be a busy spring in talking to people. So we’re grateful for any support we can get in any way.
Ashley: Well, perfect. Maybe you can tell us when Nightfire is coming out. You mentioned you’re gonna release I think in March or April you said, but maybe you can give us that and then people can check it out.
Brando: Absolutely. So I think… we are very excited, we are putting together new material. There’re trailers out there that people can find online. I think we’re aiming for the weekend of April 10th if people wanna write it down in their calendar. Bond is also coming out that weekend. We felt that rather than dropping it in on a random date, welcoming a similar audience would be a good idea. So I think if anyone wants to… I think I’m gonna put the info on my website if people wanna go. It’s definitely gonna be on Video On Demand, whether that’s Amazon Prime or other streaming platforms, people are gonna be able to find it, so they can check the website. But I think April 10th is the weekend we’re looking at.
Ashley: Okay, perfect. And as long as you’re mentioning the website, what is the website URL and anything you’re comfortable sharing, Twitter account, Facebook, you can mention all that stuff now and we’ll round that up for the show notes?
Brando: Sure. My website is www.brandobenetton.com and I’ll send it to you so you can have it in the links notes. And on Facebook we have a Facebook page for the movie, which is @Nightfiremovie, it should be the only one people find. Other than that, I think if people check out the YouTube channel, we’re gonna be releasing new content. But the film is the film and we’re lucky to have such a strong marketing campaign behind it. Because I think we have realized that rather than releasing new trailers showing people the behind the scenes process of it, the same way films like 1917 and Top Gun had been shining a spotlight on the filmmaking and technical experience that was making the movie.
I think we’re gonna be doing the same because it’s been very… I’ve been very grateful. And seeing how surprised people are that… the fact that hopefully this can be an example that a bunch of students came together, trust me they were laughed at by some of their classmates, they went out not knowing what was gonna come of it, and hopefully we came out on top. But I’m very happy to be finally sharing the movie with people.
Ashley: Yeah. Well, perfect Brando. I really appreciate your coming on and talking with me. Good luck with this film and of course, good luck with your next films as well. Hopefully we’ll have you on in the future and we can talk about some of your new films.
Brando: Thank you so much for having me. Thank you.
Ashley: Thank you Brando. Good luck to you.
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On the next episode of the podcast, I’m gonna be interviewing Philip Harder who just did just did a cool 1970s period piece called Tuscaloosa starring Natalia Dyer from Stranger Things. It’s based on a book by Glasgow Phillips which then Philip went and adapted into the screenplay ultimately directed and got this movie done. Philip goes into great detail about how all this came together. As with a lot of the people that come on the podcast, it wasn’t a simple process, it wasn’t a process that just went very quickly. It took a number of years by the time he got the book and wrote the script and got everything set up. So again, another really good example of just how persistence, just a lot of persistence won the day. So keep an eye out for that episode next week. That’s our show. Thank you for listening.