This is part of an ongoing series of interviews with the people behind In-World War. Filmmaking is a team sport; it takes a village to make a movie.
Benjamin Morgan is our Executive Producer.
An incredibly engaging DIY sci-fi human drama.
What was your role on IWW and what did you do?
I am an executive producer. Brant [IWW Director DJ Bad Vegan] and I have been pushing each other to get off our asses and create things for over a decade. So much of what I do is provide feedback, guidance, and support (often in the form of lashings -- "tough love" as they call it on Craigslist). This started in the story stage, through script. A producer needs to be critical, yet supportive. It's a tough balance to maintain, but Brant has a pretty thick skin, so I know I can be real with him.
Brant and I have been meeting weekly for years. Sometimes it's a 5-minute check-in. Sometimes an hour. And there are times when we simply can't meet. But we try to keep it as consistent as possible. The purpose of the meeting is to review progress on goals, and provide feedback on current work. We obviously stay in contact about other issues as they arise. But the weekly call is to hold each other accountable, and force each other to stay on task. I have always pushed Brant to keep creating, even if it's just 5 minutes of writing every day. It's imperative to keep marching forward. Momentum is everything. We live almost a thousand miles apart now. But we keep pushing each other, by any means necessary.
One thing we focus on is setting realistic deadlines and insure that those deadlines are met, no matter what. Deadlines make the world go 'round. When you're in the trenches, it's easy to get lost in the pursuit of perfection. Sometimes, a producer has to be an idea killer, which is a tough thing to do. Yes, you want to inspire and nurture creativity -- you're supporting a vision. But you also have to keep the big picture in mind. Without momentum, you will never finish anything. And if you don't finish, you're just wanking. Without climax.
So, to answer your question, my primary role has been to support Brant's vision and try and keep him focused on the end game: finishing the damn movie.
So far so good. Making a film of this scope with no money is a phenomenal undertaking. I'm proud of Brant for sticking with it and am confident that, unlike the majority of people who start the journey of making an indie feature, we are going to have a finished film to watch at the end of this journey.
Why did you get involved with it? How did you hear about it?
The writer/director Brant Smith [DJ Bad Vegan] and I have collaborated on several projects, including my last feature, Quality of Life, which Brant produced. Brant was my creative partner on the project, from development to distribution. I was really excited to hear that he was directing his first feature and was honored to be involved.
Did you enjoy working on the film? What was the best part for you?
It has been inspirational to see Brant and the team fight through obstacle after obstacle to keep this project moving forward. It's not easy to make a feature film. It's damn near impossible to make one with no money. But the IWW team has been relentless. I can't wait to see it on the big...or any...screen.
What interested you about this film in particular?
The script. Story is King. And Brant took the time and effort to write a kickass script. It's such a unique, compelling story. Like so many 99-percenters will, I connected to Mary's financial struggle. And the themes of anonymity and cultural indifference and intolerance were incredibly powerful. But ultimately it's a human drama. And Brant did a great job of crafting this compelling human story.
How long have you been working in film/involved with film?
I was involved as a kid (small bit parts as a child actor), and writing/directing for over ten years.
What is your goal in filmmaking generally (director, writer, director of photography, key grip, etc.) and why?
I'm primarily a writer/director, although I love producing as well. I'm driven to tell compelling human stories that reach wide audiences with sensible budgets. I'm drawn to underground subcultures, stories that delve into human potential. I tend to pull from personal experience more than imagination. And I like to challenge audiences to think and draw conclusions for themselves, and leave the theater talking.
In your view, why is filmmaking and making art important to society as a whole?
Filmmaking is the most powerful, accessible story-telling medium of the 21st century. Thanks to the tools available, filmmakers -- and creators in general --from so many walks of life have the potential to reach so many people. It's a responsibility we shouldn't take lightly.
Did helping make an indie film leave you with a positive or negative outlook on this type of ultra-low budget filmmaking (and why)?
There are two sides to this coin. On the one hand, the democraticization of the filmmaking process has been a wonderful thing. Anyone can make a film! On the other hand, anyone can make a film.
We're seeing a lot of incredible work that would otherwise never see the light of day. But we're also seeing a lot of crap. It's similar to the graffiti world. We see a ton of bullshit scrawled all across the urban landscape. But we also see some mind-blowing, inspirational, cutting-edge work that would not exist within the traditionally curated landscape. It's all good in the end. Yes, the marketplace is flooded. But more people are creating.
From a personal creative standpoint, I'm drawn to smaller crews and budgets. Larger scale projects of any kind tend to be more cumbersome. I like the freedom and mobility of low-budget filmmaking. But, again, there is a flip-side. Groveling for money sucks. And, although you become intimately connected to a project over time, working on a film for 5-10 years limits your creative output. Like any art form, the creative process (and product) is subjective. To each his own...
How do you feel about the genre of science fiction? Is sci-fi just for fun or can we tell serious stories that are culturally relevant? (Okay, that’s a loaded question....but still, what do you think?)
Sci-fi is such a powerful genre. Sometimes we forget that some of the most compelling films fall into this category -- 2001, Fight Club, Inception. The thing I love about In-World War is that it challenges you to think differently about the genre. There have been some amazing DIY sci-fi films in the past few years -- Primer, Bellflower, etc. You don't need a huge Hollywood budget to make a smart sci-fi picture. Studio Lo Mismo is totally fueling this movement.
The film takes an usual sci-fi approach to issues of racial profiling, Islamophobia and the so-called “war on terror” -- how have these issues impacted your life and your work?
I'm very fortunate to be a white male. As Louis CK says, if we had a choice, I'd re-up for white male every time. I never get profiled, or searched at the airport. I could wear a KKK hood and sing "Death to America" in line and get waived right through security. With that said, it's impossible to be awake and not be affected by this crazy, misguided, ineffective "war". It makes me embarrassed to be an American. (Didn't we learn anything from the Japanese internment camps?!) That's one of the things that attracted me to the script. It's a topic that hasn't been deeply explored in narrative cinema.
Much like the War on Drugs, or the War on Poverty, or the War on Graffiti, it's futile to go around chasing symptoms. We need to deal with the root of the problem. Why do kids feel compelled to write their names on other people's property? What's missing from their lives? Let's address that, instead of running around painting over graffiti and locking kids up for nonviolent crimes. Same with the War on Terror. Is it any mystery why poor people anywhere hate Americans? Especially poor people in countries where we steal their resources and kill civilians under a facade of "liberation"...OK, I digress. The point is, this issue affects everyone. Even sheltered crackers like myself.
Before you started with IWW, what did you expect it to be like working on the film?
How was it actually, compared to that? What was exactly as you expected it? What was very different?
I was really impressed by the overwhelming support this project has received from the film community, the SF Bay Area, and the world! It has been incredible to see people step up and help out all over the globe -- actors, crew, gear, etc. People have really been moved by this story.
DIY filmmaking can be rough. What was the worst moment? If you have one, share a painful memory from making the film, to give a taste of how tough it got.
This is a tough question since in the role of Executive Producer, I was far removed from the front lines of production for the first time in my life. But there have been numerous moments where I wasn't sure if the project was going to survive. Which is to be expected with the resource challenges we faced on this project.
I'm not sure I can point to a specific example. But honestly, the future has been tenuous for much of the ride.
With a small "underfunded" (aka broke) project like this, you're running on fumes from start to finish. You get energy boosts from periodic moments of success, like a great day of shooting, kick ass design submissions, etc. But a project like this runs on one commodity: The passion of the vision-holder. We've had a ton of amazing support along the way. But Brant has been shoveling coal non-stop for years. And will continue to do so until we see it on the big (and/or small) screen.
What did your experience of working on IWW tell you about humanity and people in general?
There are so many gifted, talented people out there looking for creative outlets. Give them an opportunity to work with a good script and they will come out of the woodwork.
What have you been doing since you worked on the film? What other film projects have you done?
I have been developing a feature that we're hoping to shoot in the next year or so. It's a quirky comedy about a bike messenger who has to find a way to support his girlfriend and their newborn baby after he breaks his leg in a wreck. So he starts a business selling her breast milk to gourmet foodies. It's called Mother's Milk. Really hoping to shoot it in SF, if the stars align.
I’ve also been writing some shorts and comedy bits with my 13 year-old son. My family is my number one priority, so I tend to run a pretty slow pace when it comes to making movies (which is a stifling challenge for a hyperactive spaz like myself). But features are draining. They take years out of your life. Shorts (especially ones I can create with my family) are obviously much less intensive, in terms of personal sacrifice. So that’s where I’m at right now. I’m focused on writing and directing comedies now. The first several films I made were very dark and serious. I was the class clown growing up, but adulthood brought on a wave of depression and pessimism. It feels great to laugh again. And make people laugh. I have a short that my son and I wrote together coming out at the end of this year that is going to revolutionize how humans function. Stay tuned…
Why should people get involved with, donate money and/or help out on IWW?
There are many reasons to support this film, all of them worthy: Support the arts. Support Bay Area narrative filmmaking. Support DIY sci-fi. But, at the end of the day, this is an important story, one that must be heard by as wide of an audience as possible. The themes of fear, racial profiling, and financial disparity are so relevant in these times.
The time for this film is NOW. But it won't be seen by anyone without your help. Step up!
What else would you like to say about your experience on IWW? Any funny anecdotes or behind the scenes stories?
This one time at band camp...
Brant is a true visionary. We need your help to get the film out there. But, the truth is, Brant will always find a way. It will take a helluva lot longer without the village. But...In-World War will hit screens near you, come hell or high water.
To learn more about Benjamin Morgan’s other film work: