The benefits of collaboration struck Dan Benamor during his time in the Writing for Film and Television program at Vancouver Film School (VFS). Over the course of 12 months, he had written half a dozen shorts – among many other things -- that were produced with students from different departments. Dan’s experiences on set taught him valuable lessons and resulted in a lot of friend making – a happy reality of studying at VFS.
Shortly after graduating, Dan wrote a feature film, Betrayed, for his cousin to direct in LA. When the realities of a micro-budget threatened to interfere with production, he called upon VFS grads to ensure that the film had a killer crew in place. The relationships that Dan fostered while at school paid off in a big way. Now, not only does he have a Rolodex of quality artists and technicians on hand, he has people with a similar work ethic and passion for film. He has a community.
Dan’s self-producing efforts have spawned a new feature film, Initiation, that’s set to release in August on ITunes. Because he's ultra savvy and motivated, we asked him to share some of his producing secrets. If you’re interested in making your own features keep on reading!
Guest Post by: Dan Benamor
There’s something to be said for the magic of “yes”. For me, a writer who has the impatience of a producer, “yes” has been a very important part of my career. And it really started when I was a student at VFS.
Got a friend who might have a location that we MIGHT be able to shoot in? Sure, I’ll write a short for you. Got HALF of a premise? Let’s figure it out together, I can write that.
This mentality was what led me to write half a dozen shorts that got produced (and another half a dozen that didn’t) with other students while I was at VFS. Each time, I’d show up on set and basically make friends. I’d get to know the actors, makeup department, the DP, the boom operator, etc.
Though I didn’t know it at the time, these relationships would eventually prove key when I finished film school. I had a script in hand I’d written also with that “yes” mentality for my cousin to shoot as a micro-budget feature in LA. When financing was an issue, I realized if I simply called everyone I had met over the year, I’d pretty much have a full crew. So that’s what I did. Together, we made my first feature, “Betrayed”. The film ultimately screened at WorldFest Houston, and we won an award for Best Suspense/Thriller.
I moved to Los Angeles, and just kept saying “yes”. An internship turned into an assistant position that turned into a development executive position, and I oversaw the development of over a dozen feature films.
What I took with me was that same lesson from VFS. Make friends with everyone, and say “yes”. Again, I didn’t know it at the time, but this would prove crucial for my next feature.
This time my cousin (Oren Benamor, our director, co-writer and editor on our film “Initiation”) had a script, a location, and was well on his way. I came in as the co-writer, and we got to work. Once more, my history helped me. I had learned the challenges of a one-location feature from my first film, and as a result we opened up the narrative of my second, our horror/thriller “Initiation”.
The story takes place in two primary locations, across two different timelines. This extra ambition to the narrative was something I would never have thought of had I not already made a single-location film. Ultimately, it proved crucial to the story we wanted to tell.
I also learned from my first film that there are too many good actors for the amount of roles that exist. I knew we’d be able to find great up-and-coming actors, and we did. But we wrote the script that way, with the expectation of relying just as much on the actors as we would on the genre elements of our story.
Another advantage of having said “yes” to such a disparate array of people as a writer is that I learned to tailor material to my collaborator’s strengths. In this case, our director Oren Benamor was also an extremely accomplished editor. That’s part of the reason our script included a lot of intercutting. It had to be there by virtue of the story structure, but I also recognized that played to our strengths. Because of Oren’s editing skill as well as directing skill, the tricky intercutting structure turned out great in the film.
We completed the film, and I found another advantage of saying “yes”. I had helped out in coordinating some administrative distribution work at my former job. As a result, I had the emails of many distributors, and knew what types of films they might like. I reached out to Gravitas Ventures, and fortunately, they reached back. Ultimately, all I really did was connect our excellent producers to a great distributor, and thanks to them it all worked out in the end.
Looking back on the entire process and my involvement in these two films, I can see a clear connection between decisions I made years earlier and how we maneuvered through making both films.
That’s why I try to say “yes” as much as possible.
August 9th, in the USA and Canada, Gravitas Ventures will release our film “Initiation” on ITunes (where it is already available to pre-order), Amazon, Xbox, Playstation, Vudu, and basically every major VOD channel.
Thanks, Dan! We can't wait to see it.