In the 'Blood' Lagrange, GA native Ben Watts recently successfully raised funds through the popular crowd-funding site Kickstarter to create a short film. He shot near his home town with young actors William Harrison and Cooper Guy.
The film is titled Blood of Man and it follows a young man, a compulsive liar, and his older brother who battle boredom during the summer in a quiet southern town. When they take a shortcut through the woods, they are forced to grow up much quicker than they had ever planned.
I had the opportunity to catch up with Ben and ask him about his latest project.
What made you want to make this film?
I was living in New York, working a job I didn’t really enjoy, and I was itching to direct again. I wasn’t sure of the story yet, but I knew I wanted to cast children in the lead roles. During my commutes back and forth to Manhattan, I started rereading a book of short stories by Flannery O’Connor, and something struck a chord in me that said, “This is how the film needs to feel.” From there, I started remembering my childhood, growing up in the South and all those summers where my brothers and I had nothing to do, and the pieces fell into place. I wanted to make a film that was steeped in that Southern culture that I grew up in and that shared the same characteristics of the O’Connor stories that I loved—the small-town sensibilities, the moral ambiguity, religion, violence—and I thought the best way to explore all of these ideas would be through the eyes of two brothers.
How long have you been developing “Blood of Man”? Have you made other films prior to this one?
I wrote the script back in November 2011, but didn’t really pursue making it until February of this year, when my wife and I moved to San Francisco. I started making phone calls and sending out casting notices in March, launched the Kickstarter in early April, and we just wrapped production on June 8. I directed a few shorts in college (where I didn’t have a crew), and I’ve worked on different films in various capacities over the years, but this is my first professional short film where I got to focus on directing.
You started a kickstarter campaign to raise the production budget, can you talk about your strategy and what you thought the key was to it ending successfully?
A friend of mine named Steve Gibson successfully raised over $11K on Kickstarter to fund a feature film in 2010. Up until that point, I had no idea what Kickstarter was or how beneficial it could be to independent filmmakers. When I started budgeting, I knew that crowd funding was the only way to go, and I purposefully wrote the script with the budget in mind (as I’m sure many independent filmmakers do), constantly asking myself: What’s the best story I can tell with the least amount of characters, sets, and artificial lighting?
Going into the campaign, I figured a key to being successful was giving as much detailed information as possible: who you are, where the money is going, who else is involved, etc. A fundraising campaign is not the time to clam up and get coy about your intentions. I think the other key to being successful was simply reminding people about your project; posting about it on Facebook, emailing, calling—whatever you can do to get the word out and keep your project name on people’s tongues. But I can’t attribute our success to anything other than the incredible generosity of our family and friends. In the end, they’re the ones who made this entire film possible.
What are you plans for the short once it has been completed?
We certainly want to try the festival route. I’m knee-deep in post- production right now, and I would love to premiere the film in September, back in my hometown of LaGrange, where we shot it. Then, after that, we’ll hopefully move on to bigger and better projects, like a feature.
Was it challenging to work with younger actors?
Believe it or not, no. Working with the kids was honestly the most exciting part of the process for me. I was a little nervous going into it because I was producing and coordinating from San Francisco, and I was only able to fly in a week before we started shooting. We had almost no rehearsal time until we got on-set, and that scared me at first, but I couldn't have asked for better or more professional young actors. All of my actors were phenomenal, but I got to work with our leads William Harrison and Cooper Guy the most, and they are both just amazingly talented. Even at a young age, they (and Canon Kuipers, who has a supporting role), have a lot of experience in filmmaking (i.e., sitting around waiting for the next take and eating all of craft services) so they knew what to expect with the process. William and Cooper’s families have been friends for a while, so not only do they look like they could be brothers, but they act like brothers off-screen, as well; they were always trying to start fights, teasing each other--the same kind of things my brothers and I would do as kids. Several times during the shoot, one of them would do something in between takes that was perfect for their relationship (slapping each other on the head or calling each other names) and I'd tell them to incorporate it into the scene we were doing.
Watch the teaser for Blood of Man here: https://vimeo.com/44222508