Slamdance 2011: Interview with Ben Brewer, Director of Beneath Contempt
As a final tribute to the 2011 Slamdance Film Festival and its nurturing of first-time, independent filmmakers, here’s one last interview. We’ve gone back and talked with the filmmakers of Beneath Contempt, whose initial January 21st interview with Sound on Sight can be found here.
In this unique interview, Director Ben Brewer and Executive Producer Anna Rau, reflect on their time at Slamdance, which was, for both of them, the first festival they’ve attended as filmmakers. Both Brewer and Rau are recent graduates from Emerson College and the excitement, inspiration and confidence gleaned from their experience at Slamdance is palpable. Read on to find out what these young filmmakers learned and who Brewer emailed to express that he would “be willing to hold his coffee on whatever movie he makes next.”
What other film festivals have you been to and how does Slamdance compare?
Brewer: I had never been to Slamdance before, or any festival besides the New York Film Festival as an audience member. Slamdance was a wonderful antidote to whatever nutty Hollywood-esque things were going on in that pretty little town. I wish they’d do it twice a year, just so we can come back to the Treasure Mountain Inn and hang out again. It was like a summer camp run by the most interesting and intelligent people you’ve ever met. Peter and Dan, who founded the festival, are keeping a mode of film appreciation alive that you feel dying every time you read the term VOD, and it was really special for me to be part of such an event. Someday when the Cannes film festival is happening live on Netflix, the Treasure Mountain Inn will still be packed with cool folks watching the latest shoestring masterpieces!
Rau: I had been to South by Southwest and Austin Film Festival before, but that seemed fairly normal as it was something that invaded my home yearly. Slamdance was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. Park City, even more so. It’s incredible how this little town completely transforms to welcome Sundance and Slamdance.
How did the first screening of Beneath Contempt go?
Brewer: We sold out our first screening! It was incredible. We had people sitting on the floor, which happens to be one of the best vantage points in the TMI screening room, but still! People seemed to be very into it, and most of them stayed for the Q+A. Answering questions was fun, and there were a lot of great questions, but I was so nervous I think I’ve blocked most of the Q+A experience out. I just tried to keep it light—the film is quite serious and slow, and I didn’t want to seem like a sourpuss with a pretentious movie. I wanted people to feel free to ask anything, and to know how honored I was that they stayed for the movie.
Rau: The screening and Q + A are quite honestly a blurred memory for me. I remember being thrilled that so many people stayed through the Q + A, and their reactions were all very kind and questions very thoughtful. I remember standing in the back watching Ben field questions from the audience in a very humorous and charming manner, and just thinking to myself “this is all so damn cool!”
Slamdance, whose tagline is “By Filmmakers, For Filmmakers” is known for giving first time filmmakers a platform for showing their work and making connections. Did this sentiment come across during the festival?
Brewer: Yeah definitely. Everyone we met was an impressive filmmaker! Like Josh Mandel, who was one of the programmers we really connected with, his movie Ringers was a huge festival hit a few years back. He has another feature, which he produced, happening very soon. He definitely inspired me, being such a talented guy in his own right who took time out of his life to rear some new talent into the festival world. I tend to be very competitive, so it was a good example to have set in front of me!
Rau: Absolutely. The festival is programmed by filmmakers who have previously screened at Slamdance. They are all incredible, fun people who go out of their way to welcome newcomers to the family by showing them the ropes and offering advice.
Have you met any interesting people?
Brewer: I don’t know. But I think some of the people who met me definitely met an interesting person.
But seriously, um, yes I definitely met some super interesting people. Like the guy who designed the Slamdance poster, Kii Arens. We met and talked at a party, he’s an amazing artist who specializes in concert and movie posters. Great pop-art influenced but elegant stuff. His Lady Gaga poster is classic. He also directs things like music videos. I don’t know if he’d remember talking to me, it was a bit of a late night, but we talked for a good 25 minutes about making music videos.
Rau: Everyone we met had their own interesting story to tell. However, some of the most interesting people we spoke with were the filmmakers behind Summer Children, a film created and shelved 45 years ago that premiered as a special screening at the festival. It was wonderful to hear the story of the film and its restoration, as well as to hear filmmakers speak so passionately about their project.
What other films have you gone to see? What were some of your favorites?
I was beyond impressed by the films. The first movie we saw was Snow On Tha Bluff by director Damon Russell, and it ended up being one of the films that really stuck with me. I hope someday to make a movie as daring as Snow, it’s totally wild and unforgiving, surreal in a ‘war-time journalist’ sort of way, and funny and sad and a work of its own time and place. I also really loved Matias Lira’s Drama, which was this vulnerable guilt-ridden beautiful movie with tremendously daring performances. It’s sort of like a Haneke film in that deals with lingering traumas of past atrocities—in this case it’s the post-Pinochet world of Santiago. It feels like Baz Lurhman remaking Guzman’s Obstinate Memory, to name a few more random directors. I emailed Matias after the festival and told him that I’d be willing to hold his coffee on whatever movie he makes next. That guy is the real deal.
The film that won the grand jury was really lovely, Stranger Things. It has a wonderful look to it—a very nostalgic warm grain, and that dynamic range you get when things are lit by natural light through foggy windows. There is a scene in the film where the main character packs up old clothes that were hanging in a closet, and I’ve never felt an audience quietly relate and deeply feel for a character more in my life—it’s a hard feeling to describe, but the whole room moved together through that movie, and that’s a crazy cool thing to accomplish.
What have you learned from all this? What will you do next?
Brewer: I learned that it’s pretty important to hire a publicist early on, because having a press list and stuff beforehand lets you set up meetings and get into gross awesome parties. I wouldn’t go into the next one without some sort of press rep publicist type person, mainly because I’m a big fan of working really hard in the preparation stage, cause I think we have a story behind our movie that catches people’s interest, but not if they are distracted by a big festival happening all around them. We were just too broke this time around to hire anyone to officially pump our movie.
Next step will hopefully be more festivals. We haven’t heard back from any of the ones we are waiting on. But we sent out a ton of screeners, so…hopefully someone will take the plunge on our long-ass student film again!
Rau: It was a great experience to attend the festival and see how things worked from a sophisticated level to a street level. I still have faith that people can succeed at Slamdance with a good film and not a whole lot of money – but also believe the filmmakers must incorporate a bit of cleverness to stand out. There’s a lot to compete with in Park City, so preparation is key. Furthermore, it’s crucial to begin this preparation when you’re in preproduction on the film by beginning to build a fan base and buzz for the project.
Whats next? More films of course! There are several documentary and feature ideas that have been shelved for quite some time. I’m excited to get the ball rolling again on a new project and incorporate all I’ve learned from Beneath Contempt.