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The Beginner is 'the end of the beginning'!

Ben Coccio (Zero Day, 2003) is the writer/director of the new tell it like it is coming of age/road movie, The Beginner (2010).

I asked Ben to tell us about his new film The Beginner. Read interview below.

 

me: "So, Ben. I love the dollar bill! lol! Can you tell us about The Beginner? What do you want to say about American culture to the rest of the world through this film?

Ben: "The Beginner is basically a modern, secular adaptation of The Prodigal Son. I wanted to make a movie about what freedom really is (personal freedom, not political freedom) and if it really exists. I wanted to create a character that, like the prodigal son, galls the audience with his decisions. That's hard to do nowadays considering how many characters we love that are complicated, or do bad things. The original story itself attracted me as a good backbone - there is something so transactional and economic about it, which seems to fit with modern American society. Some things have just not changed in 2000 years. That being said, I wanted to tell the story of a modern, white, middle-class American kid.
"I also wanted to see how free I could be as a movie-maker and still create a coherent narrative -- I wanted my intuition to be my only guide; work out a complicated story without a script; and build a movie based on only fleeting inspiration. It was like a challenge to myself to see if my instincts still worked after a rough professional situation left my confidence sapped.
"After my first movie Zero Day (2003) did well on the festival circuit and was nominated for an Indie Spirit Award, I was hired to write and direct a movie for a fairly prominent indie producer. At the beginning of that project, I was extremely confident, but as the process wore on and we went through draft after draft I started to realize I had a lot to learn. When the whole thing fell apart, I needed to walk away from the wreckage with some meaning, or a lesson or some direction I could grow toward. This movie sort of represents the end of that learning process. Or maybe the end of the beginning."

me: "'The end of the beginning'. I love that! How different was this journey making The Beginner than Zero Day, apart from the fact that you had to relearn a lot of things as you said?"

Ben: "Most of my movies have making-of anecdotes that make better stories than the finished product, but The Beginner didn't have many moments like that - for the most part, things went smoothly. I didn't shoot from a script, just an outline, but the outline had some very difficult locations. We had a crucial scene we needed to shoot at a casino and I wanted it to be at an 'Indian Casino' in the north east (a specific one called 'Foxwoods'). I had no back up plan if I could not make the shoot happen. Everyone I knew I was convinced I would never get permission to go in there and shoot. I emailed Foxwoods with my request and did not hear back for a long time. I was persistent, though, and found out my proposal had gotten lost in a spam filter. I re-sent to a different address and my entire shoot was approved the next day. For free! No insurance required. I could not believe it. Incidentally, if you want to shoot a scene in a casino and you are shooting in the north east, consider contacting the fine PR department at Foxwoods casino." :-D

me: "Thanks, Ben. Useful information for US indie makers. Can you talk about how hard it is to make an indie film in US these days? People have named indie films guerilla cinema. What do you think about that?"

Ben: "It's hard to make an indie movie in the US, yes, but at the same time easier than it's ever been anywhere in the history of the world. The movie-making technology people have at their disposal nowadays for a nominal price is nothing short of astounding. Future historians and sociologists will look back on our plethora of home-made movies as an indicator of America's unparalleled concentration of wealth. Filmmaking is still a collaborative medium, but less so than it has been in decades. It's almost as if the technology available to people has brought us back in time to the dawn of cinema; where people were cranking out (literally) movies with small crews, small casts and simple ideas. I funded The Beginner myself. It was a pretty cheap movie to make. I think the biggest advantage of working that way is having most of your struggles be artistic in nature -- you don't have to please a producer or a distributor. That's also the biggest drawback. You have to be very, very good at self promotion to convince anyone to watch a movie like The Beginner, even if you screen at a prominent film festival with a built in audience. It's got no stars in it, it's not overtly about some hot-button issue, and it's not going to satisfy you as pure spectacle."

me: "Well stated. What do you think about the state of cinema today in a wolrd inundated by films. I mean, without names and without major funds, how do you get your film to be seen?"

Ben: "Film Festivals have radically changed over the last 8 years. So has cinema. I am not sure how you get a finished film seen. I think the easiest way may be to put some movie stars in the cast, or to make a movie that is in some way controversial. You could also try to speak to a very specific audience whether through the genre you choose or the type of people you depict. Beyond those suggestions, I suppose you need to approach promoting your film with the same unbridled creativity you put into making it. It's almost a larger percentage of the work these days."

me: "Agreed. These are new times. Beyond word of mouth and in your face marketing, internet and facebook, Twitter, all of these new forms of communication have changed life as an artist and publicity forever. So, Ben, what can we expect to see from you in the future?"

Ben: "I am working on two things right now. I am writing a script for Derek Cianfrance (director of Blue Valentine) and hoping very much it will be his next feature. Derek is a great talent and I have learned so much in working with him.
I am also trying to get my next movie off the ground. I want to have Cal Robertson (my actor in both 'The Beginner' and 'Zero Day') play the main role, but this time, I am going to follow my own advice and get some famous names into the cast by hook or by crook. I have enlisted as a collaborator a young producer named Sarah Masse who is excellent at all the things I am not good at. Also, the script has roles in it that actors would really enjoy playing, so I think if we can get a little bit of money together or a casting director on our side, we should be able to put together a budget and shoot this thing."

me: "Do you have any advice for indie filmmakers world wide who are just beginning on this road?"

Ben: "The main advice I would give to indie filmmakers...If you are an indie movie maker, and you are wondering how to get started with your first movie or project, I would repeat to you some good advice I got years ago: No one is trying to stop you from doing your thing. They may not help you, but no one is going to actively stand in your way. So get to work!"

me: "Yay! Thanks Ben. Great luck and success on The Beginner and all your future endaevors. :-) We'll be watching you."

 

Interview by, Vanessa McMahon

 
Links to the trailer:

http://vimeo.com/9276531

http://professorbright.com/posting/The_Beginner/Trailer_01.mov

IMDB page:

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1546032/

Next fest -- Woods Hole Film Festival, August 5th, 7PM.

The Beginner is 'the end of the beginning'!
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