JOE Benedetto is a director, writer, producer and the President of Trajectory Films. Close-up Culture spoke to Joe about a variety of topics ahead of his busy filming schedule this summer.
Q: Instead of attending film school, you learned your craft on the job writing a screenplay at 16 and making a film (Unlimited Potential) at 20. Can you tell us more about this background and how this slightly unconventional path shaped you as a filmmaker?
A: THE summer before my senior year of high school, I took a trip from Brooklyn to Eugene, Oregon for my cousin’s wedding. At that point, I had no clue what I wanted to be in life.
Within minutes of landing there, I had an epiphany. I realized I was a writer and that I would be back in Oregon within five years to direct and star in a feature film. I wrote the script Unlimited Potential when I returned to Brooklyn two weeks later. I ended up producing, directing, and starring in that film four years later at age 20.
It was a large scale story on a shoestring budget. One scene involved 6,000 extras in a baseball stadium. In retrospect, I had no business making that film at age 20. But making that film was my version of film school and I learned so many valuable lessons that have stayed with me today. I would not trade that experience for the world.
Q: New York is obviously an extremely competitive and equally inspiring place for a filmmaker. What have your experiences been working in and around the City?
A: THE best way to approach the competitive aspect is to realize there is room for everyone to succeed. All the filmmakers I know are supportive of each other so I never feel as though I am competing against another filmmaker. I am only competing against myself.
As for actually working in New York City, shooting on the streets of Manhattan can be so challenging logistically. But it is an incredibly inspiring experience that lends itself to creating great work.
Q: The struggles of a young actress moving to New York will be the subject of Sarah Q, a film starring Academy Award nominees Burt Young and Sally Kirkland that you co-wrote and co-produced. What can we expect from this film?
A: EXPECT the unexpected!
Q: You have been willing to approach different genres through your career – crime (Hide the Sausage) and comedy (A Guy Named Rick & Lydia, Gus… and Nina). What brings you the most joy as a filmmaker?
A: WHEN comedy is actually funny, then nothing beats that for me. But I also get a lot of satisfaction out of taking a high-concept idea and executing it properly. A Guy Named Rick is a high-concept film that happens to also be an unconventional romantic comedy. I also just finished a high-concept script called The Hastings Realm that I find exciting. Hopefully, others will share that sentiment.
Q: The Jersey 4 sounds like a fascinating true-story film you are working on. What attracted you to the story?
A: YES, it is based on a 1998 shooting in New Jersey of four innocent young men of colour by two state troopers. I initially met with Danny Reyes who was one of the shooting victims. Listening to Danny speak about the horrific event and having him show me his shattered arm from the bullets – and tell me he still has a bullet in his stomach – compelled me to join the project as a screenwriter.
I also became a co-producer and I brought a great director on board in Emmy nominee Matthew Penn. Matt has directed countless hours of A-list episodic TV shows and grew up on movie sets. He is the son of legendary director Arthur Penn.
Q: Samantha Robinson (The Love Witch) will co-star in your film Tale of the Wet Dog, which starts shooting this summer. Can you tell us about the project and what you feel Samantha will bring to the table?
A: TALE Of The Wet Dog is an ensemble comedy about five disparate characters brought together by a random event and how their lives effect one another moving forward. I wrote the script and will direct the film.
I saw The Love Witch and was immediately struck by Samantha’s performance, and felt she would fit the role of Steffi. She filmed an audition in Los Angeles — and let me tell you that audition is one for the ages.
She completely captured the entire essence of a character that is extremely multi-layered. I hope Samantha’s audition will be included as an extra when the film is eventually released on DVD.
She brings so much to the table with her dynamic screen presence, charm, beauty, and versatility. I feel extremely fortunate and honoured that Samantha is playing Steffi in Tale Of The Wet Dog.
Q: As you mention, Samantha delivered one of the most unique and brilliant performances of last year and is quite a ‘get’. Are there any specific people you can name that you would love to work with in the future?
A: TOO many names to mention here. But let me give you one name: Peter Fonda. Stay tuned.
Q: How would you describe your style as a filmmaker? Do you have any inspirations?
A: I TRY to adapt my style to the particular film I am making. Some techniques and approaches that work on one film might not work on another film. A Guy Named Rick and Hide The Sausage are 180 degrees from each other and I completely changed who I was as a director to make that happen.
Having said that, I do like to immerse myself in the technical and visual aspects of filmmaking and marry that to story, character and the performance of the actors — which obviously are of paramount importance.
My inspirations come largely from films of the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s, ranging from the obvious classics to even some more obscure films that caught my eye for whatever reasons and stuck with me over the years.
Q: You have an extremely busy schedule and plenty to be excited about in the coming months. How do you see your future as a filmmaker and what type of work do you want to produce?
A: MY goal is to make high quality films that are entertaining, never boring, and all different from each other – while building the brand of my company Trajectory Films.
I want to always keep growing, evolving, learning, and getting better as a writer and director. Maybe I can even inspire other filmmakers to do the same.