a very important meeting

a very important meeting

Mighty Minds

photo by Bing
Mighty Minds

Thanks to
hectic
production
schedules, my
film viewing
choices at the
8th annual
Florida Film
Festival were
limited to a
precious
handful of
screenings, none of which I regretted. Out of the short
films that I saw, one struck me with its hyper-fast edits,
surreal symbolism and absurdist situations. Four
corporate types, chinese take-out and a wind-up toy
puppy set the stage for director Ben Rock’s
eight-minute blast “The Meeting.” Recently relocated
to Los Angeles, this Florida native has a string of
shorts, commercial work and stage directing behind
him and is currently trotting around his hilarious
festival entry to various events around the country. He’s
a former UCF film student who ran with Haxan
crewmembers Eduardo Sanchez, Gregg Hale and Dan
Myrick when they were still dreaming of funding. We
talked about production and also his involvement with
this year’s hot-topic indie flick “The Blair Witch
Project.”

Bing Futch: How did you meet screenwriter/executive
producer Jonathan Mangum and who originally came
up with the idea to skewer boardroom politics?

Ben Rock: I had been a fan of Jonathan’s when he was
a performer at SAK theatre. He was always a very
inventive performer with an elastic body and face.
During the summer of 1994, I was a writing intern on
the ill-fated sketch comedy series “The Newz.” At the
same time, I was a DP on a student film in which
Jonathan (and [“The Meeting” producer] Jay
Bogdanowitsch, ironically) were starring. I told
Jonathan about “The Newz,” and he wrote “The
Meeting” with the idea of submitting it as a sketch to
the show.

BF: Were there any production difficulties while
shooting “The Meeting” that stand out?

BR: The
biggest
production
glitch was
unavoidable,
we had no
money to rent
a studio
space, so I
asked my
friends at
Theatre
Downtown to let us build a set in their back warehouse
area. This was good in that we basically had free run
of the place, but the building is not designed to be a
soundstage. When we shot, actors would often have to
wait for traffic to clear before saying their lines. There
is a silver lining, however. It gave us a ton of footage
of them looking nervous and impatient. You can see a
lot of that dead air in the film. It helped to set an
atmosphere of unease!

BF: The film manages to harvest quite a few emotions
and thoughts through tight editing, a succinct
screenplay and nicely restrained direction. If you had
had $14,000 instead of $7,000, what would you have
done differently?

BR: I would have paid the crew. Possibly, I would have
built the set in a soundstage. For $14,000, however,
there probably wouldn’t have been enough to pay the
crew and build the set in a soundstage, so the crew
would have gotten it.

BF: You did a lot of D.P. work and theater directing
after graduating from UCF–how long did it take before
the call of Los Angeles ripped you out of the Orlando
area?

BR: I realized about a year or so ago that if I stayed in
Orlando, I would get more and more comfortable
while the kinds of opportunities that I wanted to
explore were not available to me. The work that I did
after school was good, in terms of learning craft in a
safe environment. I also was given a ton of
opportunities to direct film shoots, which would have
taken longer out here. That being said few people are
looking to hire directors out of Orlando, and the kinds
of projects that are being offered are limited. It was
hard to leave, though. I love it there! I grew up there! I
plan to come back a few times a year, and Jonathan
and I are actually working on a script right now which
has many Florida locations.

BF: Has the L.A. scene been kind or indifferent to you?
Do you find that opening doors in that town is easier or
more difficult for a transplanted filmmaker?

BR: I was only here two months when “The Meeting”
played at the Los Angeles Independent Film Festival at
the DGA theatre. So I would say LA has been pretty
cool. You have to be patient in a town this big, but
that’s not to say you should sit around and wait for the
city to discover you. If you’re willing to work for free,
there’s a lot of opportunities to direct.

BF: Do you
foresee a day
when central
Florida
actually
supports a
large number
of indie
filmmakers?
Or is that
getting too
much hope up?

BR: With the whole digital frontier, where you could be
set up to shoot and edit feature-length programs for
under $10,000, the roof may blow off. There are many
people who hope that this will revolutionize
filmmaking. If and when it does, indie films will be
able to be made anywhere. What Florida seems to be
missing, in terms of indie production, is a solid base for
indie financing. The local economy does not depend
on filmmaking for revenue, and the people who could
make film happen are already doing it in places where
it is more understood and profitable.

BF: You served as production designer for “The Blair
Witch Project”, how did you hook up with Haxan?

BR: I went to UCF with all the Haxan guys, actually
Gregg and I went to VCC’s film program a year before
we went to UCF. Gregg had produced my first film,
“Vapor Man” and for some time, he lived a block away
from me in downtown Orlando. One night I was visiting
him and he told me about the whole Blair Witch
legend, ending it by telling me about three friends of
Ed’s who had disappeared while investigating it. Then
he told me the footage had turned up and he and Dan
and Ed were going to examine it and the blood
drained from my face. I said “You guys are gonna die!”
Then he told me it was all a hose. The Blair Witch was
fake, and it was all this idea that Ed and Dan had been
kicking around for a few years. He told me the
“method” they were going to use to film it, and it was
the coolest thing I had ever heard.

BF: What kind of stuff did you do for the film?

BR: The first thing Gregg had me do was research and
writing for the trailer we made to attract interest to the
project. A year later, Gregg and I went to Maryland to
shoot the film. It was the best and most fun experience
I have ever had doing anything, much less making a
film. My biggest contribution to the film is probably
those infernal little stick-men you see everywhere.
They were based on ancient runes. I also helped to
design and implement some of the scenarios in the
film, though that was mostly Dan and Ed.

BF: What are you doing for sustenance and what are
your newest projects?

BR: I just finished working for Haxan again, co-writing
a special about the Blair Witch for the Sci-Fi channel
(it’s nice to know they stick with their friends).
Additionally, I am directing this play, “Golden Elliot,”
in Hollywood and Jonathan and I are working on a
script right now. When I first got out here I found temp
work that paid more than I ever made in Orlando
within a week. There’s a lot of schlepp work out here if
you need a job quickly.

BF: What’s your motivation for making films?

BR: I like the job of directing, the process of making a
film. When it works, it really works. I enjoy
collaborating with actors, writers, and editors (though I
edited this one). The process reveals quite a bit about
everyone you work with. This is especially the case in
theatre, where the final show is a pure collaboration
between the actors and the director. Even when it
doesn’t work, you learn a lot. You pull something from
the experience. It eats you alive while it is happening,
but you stay there anyway and plug away as best you
can because you know that directing is a privilege.
“eyn a iei pvee en ipenpp

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