AARON MOORHEAD & JUSTIN BENSON ON DEVELOPING IN THE FILM INDUSTRY

Giles and Robbie chatted to power-team Aaron Moorhead and Justin Benson this week about their hit feature film Synchronic. And their journey to getting it made.

And even though they have had many successful indie projects, Aaron and Justin still have to make their own paths in order to find and make work for themselves.

“If you don’t have the resources, you just keep doing it and doing it and doing it. And then you develop your style and you develop your methods, as opposed to waiting for someone to come along with money or an organisation to come along with whatever resource you think you need – the person you need to work with, or to hand you a good script.”

As we all know, that doesn’t happen to anyone – unless you’re Steven Soderbergh or one of the other very well-established directors. You’ve got to go out and find the projects by writing them, getting them together yourself or finding people to make it with you.

They were approached by some small studios, after making Resolution, with work; but realised that even though they were approached, they would still need to do a lot of extra work to convince the studios that they were capable of doing the work. 

“If you put all of those working hours into your own stuff, you can go make your own stuff with very little money, very little resources and have something that’s tailor-made to you and ultimately probably more gratifying than working on something that was originally someone else’s.”

Hard Work Pays Off

“One of the best, most inspiring and accurate things I’ve ever seen is Mark Duplass’ 2015 SXSW Keynote speech, which he calls ‘The Cavalry isn’t Coming’.”

“Basically, you make a movie with your friends for a couple of toothpicks, a safety pin and a borrowed camera. After you make that, you’re gonna make a whole bunch more and your budgets gonna be like $10 or $15 or a hundred dollars.

And you just make them until you’re actually kind of good at it, as opposed to making your first one and sending it to film festivals and finding if you’re good by validation of others. And you just keep going and going and going. Then you make your first feature in that same way, your budget is a thousand dollars and you ‘borrow’ stuff from Home Depot. That’s when people start to pay attention, but it’s all bad, so you have to go make another one like that. And then another one like that.”

And then at a certain point, it appears that the cavalry shows up and offers you a movie. You are able to do it, but you need to decide if what they are offering is worth it. So you say no and make another one, like the ones before.

“But basically what he (Duplass) says is that at a certain point, you’re going to look behind you and you’re gonna realise you have a body of work, the ability to get movies made and to survive off of it. And you are now the cavalry.”

But You Can’t Do it Alone

Building relationships in the film industry is vital but “sometimes what people are referring to is do you know people with more power than you have or people who can open up doors.”

“I have never found that to be helpful in almost any way. It’s just exclusively gross and weird and non-helpful, but we have a great relationship with our camera operator Will, and we have a great relationship with our editor, Mike and a great relationship with our production designer, Ariel and our producer, Dave. XYZ – they’re friends, all these people are more lateral to us than above.”

The thing is, the way up is not a ladder. “I wish this visual weren’t a ladder, because it’s not really a ladder, it’s more like an ocean rising. But there are little bumps that happen and everybody’s just trading places all the time.”

If you look at the people around you “those are the people. It’s not up, it’s the people around – it’s the people that you are going to the potluck with, not the meeting that you’re having on Wilshire Boulevard.”

Using Lockdown to Grow their Circle

“We had a cool strategy that hasn’t completely panned out into a movie yet, but it will.”

After Spring, they got represented by a major agency. “And they can do anything for you – they can try to set up your movie and they can try set you up on these general meetings, but there’s something that nobody takes advantage of.”

Mayor agencies want to get your movies made using “people that are also at that agency.” So Aaron and Justin asked their agency to set up meetings with actors who were prepared to meet them for a coffee.

“It was never people that could finance a movie, which is fine, we’re not meeting people for financial gain here, but there’s always a world where we have a perfect role for them. And there’s the other world where they couldn’t finance a movie, and then suddenly they can.”

And it goes back to Mark Duplass’ idea of Randy Hercules who is not “just an actor that can finance a movie. But it’s also to see who you click with. When you’re writing, you imagine roles for them. And it kind of like helps piece the filmmaking process together more than a general meeting where someone says: ‘I like your movies and you say, I like your office’.”

You can find more from our brilliant podcast with Aaron and Justin, here.

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