By: Addison Wylie
Mars Horodyski’s Ben’s at Home is a film you can’t help but root for. I’ve been cheering the movie on since I saw it at this year’s Canadian Film Festival, and was overjoyed to hear it won Best Feature as the festival was winding down.
Besides its win at the Canadian Film Festival, Ben’s at Home has won all sorts of affection; which is very impressive considering how small scale the movie is.
It’s a daunting task to make a bottle film like Ben’s at Home work. Ben (played by Dan Abramovici) voluntarily cuts everyone out of his life, and the audience has to spend the duration of the film with this loner. Luckily, Abramovici makes the character into a witty comedic force, and his charisma rubs off on those who share the screen with him.
I recently talked with Abramovici about Ben’s at Home, which he also produced and co-wrote. We talked about the original conception of the film, the feeling of winning over crowds, and whether or not this movie would’ve worked in a pre-smartphone society.
Addison Wylie: You co-wrote Ben’s at Home with director Mars Horodyski. What triggered you two to write this story? Any autobiographical influences?
Dan Abramovici: What really triggered us to write was the fact that we were both frustrated with waiting around for opportunities. Mars is a super talented director and a CFC [Canadian Film Centre] grad, but the phone wasn’t ringing. For me, when the phone did ring, it was inevitably for a commercial. There is nothing wrong with doing commercials, but convincing you that a $4.99 burger will make your life meaningful is not why I fell in love with acting.
So, after doing a short film together that we had a lot of fun making, we decided to go for it and create our own work. We knew we would have super limited resources so we wanted to think of a very low budget story so that we could shoot it very cheaply without having it feel cheap (if we did a car chase movie, our 20k budget would have allowed for zero cars). Like everyone, we have been through relationships falling apart and were interested in capturing that feeling you get a month or two after a break-up – when the last thing you want to do is go back out there. We were also interested in the way social media connects us and simultaneously pulls us apart, and realized that now if someone really wanted to never leave the house they could actually make that work.
Besides that, there is definitely a lot of us in these characters. We did shoot at my real life home using my pinball machine, my decor, and my dog. The foosball scene was based on a few real life dates I had, and there is a little shout-out to Lynn Shelton who is one of Mars’ heroes in film.
AW: Did you find setting most of the movie in one location intimidating? Did you feel added pressure as to how to keep the audience involved and interested?
DA: The big challenge was how to make the audience care about a character who was more reactive than active. Typically in stories, you have the lead character going after something but it was very tricky to write that when the setup is that this character never leaves the house. That said, after we felt we figured out the arc, tone, and character, it was kind of liberating. We were able to focus on making our story tight and lean and not get bogged down with extra fluff. We decided early on to not do a Judd Apatow comedy where the first 45 minutes are great and then the next hour drags. We wanted to keep things moving and take out any scenes that don’t move the story forward or develop character.
As for keeping the audience visually engaged, a lot of that is getting very lucky with casting and the great job Mars, our DP Walter, and our editor Mike did in keeping the environment fresh even though the entire thing was shot in my 600 square foot loft. Oh, and music. Great music!
AW: How was the casting process? Everyone fits really well within their roles, and I also thought it was a great idea to cast Canadian comics as your friends in the film. The chemistry and overall amusement between you guys felt very authentic.
DA: We got very very lucky because we never held any auditions. Everything came together in under a month, so we simply didnt have the time or money for it. Everyone we cast was someone that we either worked with in the past (Jess Embro and I did a FunnyOrDie short) or admired just from being a part of Toronto’s comedy and film scene. We knew we would work with great improvisers so we shot chronologically and with two cameras so that we would be able to change things on the fly.
AW: The film’s been a full-fledged success at various film festivals, including this year’s big win at Toronto’s Canadian Film Fest. Congrats on the film winning Best Feature! This question is a bit of a no-brainer, but how does it feel to see a film you’re heavily involved with win audiences over?
DA: Thanks man. It’s very very cool. Honestly, we felt a bit like it was Mission Accomplished when we played it at the cast and crew screening because “holy shit we actually made a movie we like!”. Now, its just very validating to get these great reviews, festival wins, and having a run at an honest to goodness movie theatre in our home town is a dream come true. There is some tremendous talent in Toronto and if we can help shine a light on it, that would be tremendous. Now, with Ben’s At Home having distribution and a theatrical run, we hope to be able to make the next one. For that one we willl need funding, so every bit of attention on Ben’s At Home helps.
AW: What do you think audiences attach themselves to the most when they watch Ben’s at Home? Is it the relatable dialoguing? Your character’s wit?
DA: Thanks again. I hope that it’s the fact that it was made very honestly and with a lot of heart. There wasn’t any writing by committee, and at no point did we think about how to make the film more marketable. We just wanted to make a film that we ourselves would enjoy. We put together an awesome group of passionate people and everyone gave of themselves and worked for *free (*thai food) because they believed in the project.
I think the film moves and that the comedy is grounded in reality. Mars and Mike our editor were very careful to make sure that everything is on screen feels like its there for a reason. If it’s funny but doesn’t move things forward, it gets cut. And in terms of feel, we both love the stuff that Lynn Shelton and the Duplass Brothers make, but we also really enjoy stuff like early Woody Allen, the Farrelly Brothers, Noah Baumbach, and Will Forte and Judd Apatow. So when we write, its this hodgepodge of influences that – if nothing else – is uniquely true to us.
AW: I think Ben’s at Home is an excellent film, but I’m wondering if audiences a decade ago would’ve just as easily connected to your character’s reclusiveness. This feeling of falling into loneliness seems relevant nowadays with more people accepting a closed-off lifestyle as they become more involved with their mobile devices and online communities. Do you think this decision we’ve all seemed to unanimously agree to helps maintain that audience connection to this film? Or, do you think I should chill out about kids and their wacky iPhones?
DA: I don’t think you should chill. I think you should rage. I’m not nearly smart enough to predict what’ll happen to the 3-year-old kid who already knows how to use an iPad, but I do know that I’m terrified for her.
Having everyone you know at your fingetips and always having another option and another thing to do and another person to flirt with if you swipe right…it’s already so entrenched but its so very very new. I’m not sure what to make of it, but im fascinated by it and, yeah, I don’t think a story about someone who becomes willfully isolated would have worked as well a few years ago.
AW: I imagine other filmmakers are inspired by Ben’s at Home because of how resourceful and intelligent the production was. Can filmmakers learn to be this proactive, or do these storytellers have to be wired a certain way to have that determination?
DA: That would be really cool. And, I hope the ones that make stuff cast me in their work – hint hint.
It would be amazing if I hear that anyone was inspired by our movie to go make their own. That would be awesome. The thing is to really just go for it and surround yourself with other people who are willing to try and fail and then pick themselves up and try again. And, it is a whole weird head trip especially here in Canada because everyone just tells you to wait. You need a proof of concept, you need a star, you need this grant, you need social media presence, and you need to be a part of the club. And, if you listen to all that and over-analize, your film never gets made.
Just go for it! Let me know if I can help.
Ben’s at Home hits Toronto’s Carlton Cinema on Friday, May 15.
Click here to read Addison Wylie’s Ben’s at Home review
Follow Addison on Twitter: @AddisonWylie