Benjamin Caro

I’ve cut together a new directing reel, featuring work I’ve done in the past couple years in the world of entertainment, travel, film and branded content. It’s nice to have a quick look back. Let me know what you think!

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“Therapist”
He entered the therapist’s room
a little distracted he had
rang the doorbell and the therapist
said next time you need to knock
I told you on the phone to knock.
He was on the couch now and
he stumbled over his words and
the therapist said feel into your body
feel into your body and
you will know what to say.
The man was in the middle of talking
about his wife and whether or not but
wait he should tell the therapist about
this other thing that happened which
the other therapist knew about but not
him and the therapist stopped him and
said let me help you let
me help you breathe and then
why don’t you tell me what you came here for.
The man was breathing and taking his time
and the man was talking about how he had
maybe put himself in a cage maybe and
just then he remembered the thing he
really wanted to talk about, but the
therapist said I should really wrap up soon you
finish what you’re saying but I should really wrap up.
The man was paying the therapist his due and
the therapist told him thanks and
he shook the therapist’s hand now
as if trying to make a deal happen now and
funneled out the door. He wondered
where he parked the car
and wondered where his money went and
though he didn’t know how he felt
he wondered what just went on.
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Before Kickstarter campaign for Cathedrals ended, I joined esteemed gentlemen directors Oren Kaplan and Matt Enlow on their podcast “Just Shoot It.” Oren and Matt interview a wide variety of people in the directing community about how to work, and how to make it work: working directors, indie directors, actors, and, uh… me.

I come in about halfway through. Take a listen to hear about my Kickstarter experience. You’ll learn some tips from me and the other guest about how to make a campaign that a) doesn’t suck, and b) gets funded. Crowdfunding is a weird journey, but worth it in the end. You’ll find a surprising base of support from the corners of your history, and then you get to spam them with emails. Listen to the podcast to find out not to become a hated person in the process.

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We wrapped production on my passion project in October. Here’s what I had to say on our Kickstarter page a day later:

What a whirlwind weekend! One car in a ditch, two locations, three long days! But we did it. And we can’t wait to show you what we’ve got.

Late Saturday night, Rick Boggs texted me to say thanks. Since it’s only because of you that we were able to make this happen, I thought I’d pass it along to you all:

“Hello, thank you again for the opportunity to appear in your film. Your staff was absolutely professional. You’re very smart and surround yourself with some very smart and talented people. Hope there might be a screening or at least one more opportunity to get everyone together. Have a pleasant night and thank you again. Rick Boggs.”

Here are some stills from the shoot!

Jessie Lande, costumer Jessyca Bluwal, Brenden Sexton III, makeup artist Cici Andersen and Rick Boggs hanging in the dressing room. From Instagram @heymisscici
Jessie Lande, costumer Jessyca Bluwal, Brenden Sexton III, makeup artist Cici Andersen and Rick Boggs hanging in the dressing room. From Instagram @heymisscici

 

The monitor used to say "B Cam" but we went with something more appropriate.
The monitor used to say “B Cam” but we went with something more appropriate.

 

 

 

Luckily, the shoot went off without a hitch. We did not have one car stuck in a ditch and certainly did not have the battery die on the car we were using for the main character.
Luckily, the shoot went off without a hitch. We did not have one car stuck in a ditch and certainly did not have the battery die on the car we were using for the main character.

 

 

Producer Ruby Siering, costumer Jessyca Bluwal, Michele Weaver, makeup artist Cici Andersen and production designer Jonathan Denmark just joined the Babysitter's Club and this is our first book cover.
Producer Ruby Siering, costumer Jessyca Bluwal, Michele Weaver, makeup artist Cici Andersen and production designer Jonathan Denmark just joined the Babysitter’s Club and this is our first book cover.

 

 

Ruby standing in while they adjusted the light. She's a natural.
Ruby standing in while they adjusted the light. She’s a natural.

 

Sleeping on the job. Shameful.
Sleeping on the job. Shameful.
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Finally, the Cathedrals Kickstarter has launched!

And now we have 3 weeks to reach our goal and make this film happen.

Cathedrals is an exciting adaptation of the Raymond Carver story “Cathedral” starring a blind actor that will raise money for organizations which help the blind. This is my passion project, and I’ve got an amazing team at Sawhorse Productions behind me. I just need your help to make it happen.

Enough reading. Watch the video above and visit our Kickstarter page to see the awesome rewards waiting for you. Be a part of it!

 

 

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I promised an update when I was able to figure out who the copyright holders were for “Cathedral,” the Raymond Carver story I’m adapting into a short film. I am a man of my word.

In the vlog above, I describe the journey it took me to get there, from hunting through the U.S. copyright archives to asking New Media Rights. In the end, all it took was a Google search, and the word “estate.” I also talk about interviewing Greg Shane from CRE Outreach, an organization devoted to empowering blind people, for the Kickstarter video. He directs all the productions at Theater By the Blind, so he’s a great advocate for the blind and a huge asset to have in our corner.

Greg Shane of CRE Outreach

Greg Shane of CRE Outreach

My Letter about why this project should be allowed

It hasn’t been all roses, though. We still have to convince Tess Gallagher, Carver’s widow and executrix, to allow this film adaptation of his story. She was hesitant at first because of the departures from the original story, but I wrote the agency a letter:

This project is so important to me. Would it be possible to chat on the phone with her? I would really love to get tell her about all the great things we’re going to do to help blind and disabled artists with this adaptation, the fact that we have partnered with CRE Outreach to raise opportunities for the blind through Carver’s work, which I think is a wonderful thing. I’d love to tell her that by adding these departures, I’m incorporating elements of Carver’s story “Fat,” enriching the story not from any bastardization but by infusing Carver’s greater universe, as Robert Altman did with Short Cuts. I want to tell her about why this film will be talked about–not only because it’s a “Cathedral” adaptation, but because of some awesome and filmically experimental sound design, and because we are taking a risk by casting a blind person rather than going the easy route. Our production team has produced both The Hammer (2010) and The Championship Rounds (2013), movies that both starred deaf actors and brought a lot of interest on the film festival circuit, and attracted big names, because of it. We’re not using Carver’s name to get our movie out. We’re using our movie to get Carver’s name out, and hopefully introducing Carver’s work to a new legion of people who otherwise wouldn’t have read him, and would perhaps pick up a book or two because of it.

Tess Gallagher (right), a distinguished author herself, and Raymond Carver.

Tess Gallagher (right), a distinguished author herself, and Raymond Carver.

Tess is a writer, and I think that if I make a writer’s appeal to her, she’ll understand why the departures are a great way to incorporate Caver’s voice into film format, as many other adaptations failed to do. As we know, Carver is especially known for using narrators with strong voices and perspectives, and by framing the Cathedral story, we get to hear that voice, that unique perspective, coming from Phil as he tells Rita about what happened, just as the narrator does with the reader. For me, it’s important that when somebody Googles “Cathedral short film adaptation“, they don’t get a smattering of half-assed college assignments, as it stands now. It’s important to me that Birdman (which seemed to poke fun at him) doesn’t come to be the biggest Carver touchstone in this decade. It’s important for me to make something enduring that does Carver justice and represents him correctly, which is why it would be great to have Tess as a collaborator. I would love to listen to her concerns and make any changes to the script that she feels uncomfortable with.

I think we all want the same thing. Ms. Gallagher wants to honor his writing. The agency wants to honor his writing and grow his audience. And I want to honor his writing and grow his audience, all through raising awareness for a great cause: benefiting blind and disabled artists.

So there it is. There’s my appeal. Hopefully that strikes a chord in her and to anybody who wants to come on board! Please like the Facebook page to keep up to date with the latest developments.

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I like to describe Medium as YouTube for text. There’s a big community of writers running on on likes, comments and engagement, hoping their writing pushes through the noise. Because it’s the brainchild of one of Twitter’s founders, there is a vast majority of writing about startups, tech and digital nomad-tinged life advice. This is why when I wanted to write a satirical piece about an iPhone app that rates and organizes your photos, I chose to publish it on Medium.

The Roll is admittedly a pretty neat app that assigns your photo an “aesthetic score” and then describes your photo using keywords. The best photo on my camera roll, a picture of my girlfriend exploring the rocks on a beach, scores a 96%. I decided to test The Roll to see how it would do with a “random sampling” of photos pulled from the internet. I posted the score and keywords it assigned them. As you could guess, my “random sampling” includes some instantly recognizable famous photos, known for not only their aesthetic beauty but for their political and historical impact.  Here’s a sampling from the piece:

Kevin Carter, "the vulture and the little girl"

Kevin Carter, “the vulture and the little girl”

Aesthetic score: 35%
Keywords: animals, field, livestock, grass, nature, landscape, herbivorous, outdoors, day, grassy, brown, rural scene, selective focus, animal, beauty in nature, tranquility.

While The Roll is able to detect the “beauty in nature” this photo exhibits, The Roll is unable to comment on the responsibilities of Western journalists in the third world, their conflicting roles as both objective documentarians and active players in the horrors in front of their lenses; nor quantify the tragic consequences of photojournalism in the public sphere. But it’s early. Looking forward to the next update.

The story behind the vulture photo is disturbing, one of the reasons that the photo matters. Check out the full article  on Medium for more misguided photo analyses, and my conclusion of whether technology will eventually be able to replace humans when it comes to judging visual art.

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X Men: Apocalypse was released this Memorial Day weekend with Sophie Turner playing Jean Grey. No matter the reviews, though, no matter the box-office numbers, people will still adore the actress. And for good reason. She’s delightful.

Sawhorse Productions needed a pinch-hitter to direct Sophie in her cover shoot for GQ. Blake and Gino were working on a Pepsi Halftime “rap-up” to air soon after the Superbowl, so they called me in. I’d directed an Improv Imagination episode with Katie Lowes from Scandal, but this was a bigger deal. A little more run-and-gun, a little more involved. The DP Casey doing A cam, and a B cam operator. We had a PA, who I asked to go to the grocery store and buy apples (unbeknownst to him, two hours later he’d be balancing those apples on his head while Sophie shot at him). We’d film b-roll of the photoshoot, then try to squeeze in a humorous little feature sometime afterwards or during lunch.

GQ came up with the creative a couple nights before. Bryan Singer posted an Instagram vid of teaching her archery in prep for X-Men, so we were going to have Sophie use a toy bow-and-arrow. Our first idea was some sort of archery challenge. Can you hit that target? No. What if it has Ramsay Bolton’s face on it? Yes. But that idea was “shot down” (cough) –instead, they wanted her running a-muck, shooting up the set. Fair enough.

 

 

My first and probably biggest decision was choosing the bow and arrow, which was upsetting, because you know, who am I to pick out a girl’s trusted weapon? Seems like a very personal decision, one that no man should have the right to determine or legislate. Even so, I had five options. I put myself in Sophie’s shoes: which one was the least embarrassing? They were all embarrassing. One was pink. New strategy: utility. I had the sound guy spend 45 minutes testing which ones worked, and which ones would worked too well. I didn’t want any deaths. No deaths on this set. In the end, we went with a Zelda/Robin Hood-esque arrow you see in the video. The ritualistic-looking bow stand, by the way, was one of my pillar candle holders I brought from my apartment. Yes, Pier 1 sells weapon stands for your weapon relic needs.

Sophie was great. She was down. She was totally go for all of this. The things I was asking her to do–shoot at her photographers, chase a goofy stampede of people running from her down a hall, hide behind clothing racks and look ULTRA-SERIOUS–should’ve made her want to tell me to go fuck myself. Instead, she went with it, smiling the entire time. It gave the shoot a feeling of some sort of high school project–we all knew we were making something goofy, rough around the edges and spontaneous. Instead of feeling insecure about that, she took it seriously, even after hours of being in front of the camera posing for the mag.

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A few surprises made it into the cut. First of all: Look, I didn’t actually want her to shoot anybody in the head. Aim at them, I said, but you know, don’t really pull back all the way. Just kind of let the arrow out softly.

Nope. She had no interest in that. She had the bow, and suddenly she was out for blood. I highly doubt the photo assistant knew she was going to nail him right in his head. On the first take, she drew the string back, and… the arrow fell off. On the second, right in the head. The shock on his face was so real. The three guys cracked up at how absurd it was that she actually launched that thing. I said, “Great! But let’s not um, actually kill someone.” She was like whatevs I’m a boss ass bitch.

The next outtake that made it in the cut was when she hit the mirror with the arrow. After the first take where the arrow fell off the bow, I can’t say she felt super confident with it. So when she aimed at the mirror and the thing stuck right to it? A goddamn miracle. A feat of epic skill. So she stood up and pointed at the thing and cursed in utter awe of herself and we don’t have the best coverage of that but that was definitely an awesome honest reaction. She had overcome her doubts, become one with the arrow, and now was ready to face the final boss: Kyle, our PA.

The scene was to hit Kyle in the chest with it, then bite the apple. Get it? It’s a twist. Apple twist. First off, the apple kept falling off Kyle’s head. I knew Sophie was down to earth because she kept picking this dirty apple off of the ground and trying to reuse it, but I was like, “Listen, don’t even worry bout it. I got us a whole bushel of apple” and I took out a big produce bag and she was like oh ok it was so rad. So she pulls back, aims, fires, and it hits him… right in the face. It wasn’t my proudest moment. It looked painful. When a grown man says “Ow!” in front of a small crew of people and a well-known actress, you know that whatever’s happening to him, it’s painful. So, officially, publicly, I’d like to say that I’m sorry Kyle. But she did give you a hug, so that’s nice. You can see that blooper at the very end of the video.

If you’re interested in what I’m working on now, keep tabs on Cathedrals. It’s a short film based on a Raymond Carver story. There’s no bow and arrows, but there is going to be alcohol, so join the party.

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I’m at a loss. A blockage. A road obstacle.

Before I go any further with the film adaptation of “Cathedral,” I figured it was time to make sure I was in the clear, legally, to reproduce Carver’s material.

From what I’ve seen in the copyright section my Carver books, it looks like the sole copyright holder of the story was the man himself. The problem, you can guess, is that he’s not around. I can’t call him. I can’t tweet him. He’s in a better place, bless his heart. #blessed Because of this, though, there’s no one I can talk to in order to get express permission. I can go for it and hope that nobody pops out of the woodwork to sue me, but I’d rather just say “hey!” first, buy them a coffee, and we can work on that woodwork together.

Thanks to Loren Cochran for the advice so far, but I was wondering if anybody else knows the answer: if the copyright holder is deceased, who can I talk to make a derivative work? Please get in touch! Maybe leave a comment on the Facebook page. I’ll let you know the answer once I find out.

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cathedral

The Plan

My primary focus right now is preparing for the Cathedrals Kickstarter. And believe me, I’ve got big plans. This will be one of the most epic effective, crazy fairly normal Kickstarter videos of all time. We shot my portion of the video last week, but I’ve got a few more experts I want to talk to on camera in order to round out the “pitch.”

1. A Raymond Carver “expert” (or just a book editor) talking about the need for a modernized, truthful adaptation of his work, especially following Birdman, which kind of smeared him.

2. An advocate for the blind at an organization that works to support the blind or the disabled in the arts. I want to donate to an organization like this as part of the Kickstarter campaign. (e.g. “If you donate $50, we’ll donate an extra 10 on top of that to [Blind Advocacy Organization]”)

3. One of our producers, perhaps Eben Kostbar or Earl Bolden Jr., talking about why they wanted to jump on board and help make this thing a reality.

4. The blind actor who we cast.

I’m reaching out to organizations and experts for #1 and #2, but if anybody has any suggestions, I’d be happy to hear them!

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The Rewards

The second thing I’m diving into is planning for the rewards for donors. These are just in the planning stages, and I need your feedback! What looks interesting? Would any of these appeal to you? Please let me know in the comments what you think works, what looks like I vomited.

Kickstarter allows you to edit perks later, so we can experiment as the campaign progresses, but we might as well start with some cool rewards that get people excited in the first place. Here are some ideas, ordered generally from low donation/high supply to high donation/low supply.

1. access to the production diary
2. digital copy of original soundtrack
3. Twitter shout out from Sawhorse/Ben/actor
4. digital copy of film
5. Kickstarter thanks credit
6. we donate to [blind advocacy organization]
7. film poster
8. invitation to opening screening and afterparty
9. Instagram shout out from Ben
10. copy of first draft of screenplay
11. special thanks credit
12. Ben writes a poem about whatever you want
13. pages from script used on set, signed by actors
14. associate producer credit
15. visit to Sawhorse offices, meet and greet with producers
16. include a personal item or artwork in the film
17. join us on set
18. interview on “Making Cathedrals”
19. executive producer credit
20. include your name in the film
21. Ben changes his license plate to whatever they want

I’m pulling for #12, because I really want a reason to have to write poetry every night for the next 6 months straight. Let me know if you have anything you’d like to see! You can leave a comment on the Facebook page or YouTube vlog.

Big shoutout to Jason Ludke for letting us use his “Cathedral” artwork to promote the short film until we can create some original artwork for the project. Check out his website. He’s got a lot more calming Carver-related paintings that are pretty cool!

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Today I launched a vlog about my journey to make the film. Why a vlog? Why bother? I explain a little more in the video, but it’s because I was reading Show Your Work by Austin Kleon (great little pick up from Barnes & Noble–even though B&N is pricey, there’s something to be said for things calling to you from the shelves), and realized that if I want people to be excited for the film… hell, if I want the film to even be made, it’s important to bring people into the experience of making it. Why wait until the DVD to throw in the extras? I want to bring you in on the journey. I’m overcoming the fear of sharing unfinished, unpolished stuff, and throwing it out there. Thanks Austin. Your $12 book is worth at least $12.50. Definitely more. I thought I’d start there.

I also talk a bit more about why we wanted to hire a blind actor for the film. Did you know that about 30% of blind people are below the poverty line? After learning more, it invigorated me to bring awareness to and provide more opportunities for the disabled in the arts (and yes, the greater workforce). I think that’s what’s incredible about independent film. Since the bottom line isn’t the dollar, we can work towards bringing about change rather than bringing in profit. By crowdsourcing (read: Kickstarter or Indiegogo), I’m hoping we can do a little part in making not only a good movie, but a little good, too.

Watch the rest above! Subscribe to my YouTube channel for updates on videos, and please like the Cathedrals Facebook page!

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Rather watch a video instead? Click here.

For a couple years I’ve been threatening to adapt Raymond Carver’s “Cathedral” into a short film that combines the best parts of that story with some truly unique sound design ideas. If I was a good salesman I might say these sound design ideas have never been done in a film before. Of course, that’s probably not true. Moreover, does anything make you want to roll your eyes more than hearing a sentence like “never been done in a film before?” Probably not. So I’m not going to say that sentence, but you get the idea.

EXPERIENTIAL CINEMA

I don’t believe there is enough form experimentation in narrative films. Even “arthouse” indie-minded films tend to showcase a story in traditional ways. Though the content is shocking, out of order, or shot in a unique way, on the surface the audience is still watching a scene shown in a frame with as little interruption as possible. Film has the opportunity to use both sound and sight to express a story, but movies tend to tell the story visually, with the audio only enhancing the visuals, always in sync, rarely contradictory. I see an opportunity to use those tools separately.

I’m interested in film as an experience, rather than a mouthpiece for a story. Most movies in theaters try to get out of the way of the story—they want the audience to forget they’re watching a film entirely. But I’m interested in using the form to give the audience a unique experience. In the same way as most movies, many novels seek to relay a story. Poetry, however, uses rhyme, rhythm, spacing and line breaks to deliver an experience to the reader. I want to do the same thing with Cathedrals.

WHY ADAPT “CATHEDRAL”?

Carver’s “Cathedral” presents a great opportunity to tell a story through an experience. One of the major characters in the story is a blind man. Blind people use what they hear to understand their world. They’ve learned to live without eyes. Therefore, I want to present his part of the story in the same way to the audience. I want the audience to hear the story first, and see it later, so that hearing becomes the dominant way to take in the story.

For parts of the film, the visuals will be delayed several seconds, so that the scene feels slightly out of sync. Like a blind person, the audience will use their ears to take in the full story, rather than just their eyes.

I’ve tested this effect before, and it has a couple amazing effects:

1). It focuses your attention to the sounds, and how they connect to what you’re seeing.
2). It makes you feel a bit stoned or drunk, which matches what happens in the story.
3). Most importantly, it creates a strange dissonance that mirrors the dissonance between the characters on screen.

The film becomes an experience.

When the climax of the story occurs, you will feel that experience emotionally, too. I can’t wait for you to feel it. It’s going to be shocking.

THE PRODUCTION

Sawhorse Productions is helping me create this experience. Unfortunately, as of now, all the money needed to create this experience is coming out of my own pocket. That’s why I’m asking for any help at all in the creation of the project. Perhaps you want to donate some of your time to providing props for the set or PA-ing on our shoot.

Feel free to get in touch with me. I would be tremendously grateful for your help. Like the Facebook page for updates, subscribe to my YouTube channel to watch more from the filmmaking vlog. Shoot me an email, and I’ll send you the script.

Thanks for reading, everyone.

Ben
703 209 6479
benj.caro@gmail.com

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