Close-Up Catch-Up: An Interview With Director Joe Benedetto

Director, writer and producer Joe Benedetto takes time out from his busy schedule to chat about his short film, Darwin Fick, and his other upcoming projects.

Hi Joe, thank you for taking the time to chat with us again. Darwin Fick tells the story of a legendary author plagued with writer’s block who is offered a unique deal from a mysterious stranger. Where did the idea for this story and this mysterious character of Darwin Fick come from?

The funny thing about this film is that I had the name Darwin Fick in my head for a long time and wanted to use it in different scripts over the years. But the opportunity didn’t present itself simply because the name just didn’t seem to fit in any other story.  So I had that name ingrained in me for a while. Then I thought it would not just be a great name for a character, but a great title for a film. That was my starting point. 

As you say, there is something inherently mysterious and curious about that name. Couple that name with my fascination and love of the old Twilight Zone TV series, and that’s how I ended up conceiving this script. I had toyed with the idea of making this film in black and white to really give it a Twilight Zone feel, but ultimately decided to back off from that aesthetic.   

The film explores many fascinating topics, including the trade off between ‘selling out’ for a life of wealth and comfort versus giving up everything for greatness. What interested you about this?

I’ve wanted to write a script and make a film that has a Faustian bargain at the forefront. There are so many cool ways to spin that concept that bring about a character’s own moral tug-of-war, as well as the highest stakes possible for the story.  

There are a lot of entertaining performances in the short. Can you tell us about your experience working with this talented cast?

This was the best cast I’ve ever worked with in any film. Eve Austin as Darwin and Kristen Samuelson as best-selling author Colleen Coles give powerful, measured performances. They were also crucial creative partners on the film as my co-producers. 

Add to that the fantastic Samantha Robinson, whose work you are very familiar with from The Love Witch, Once Upon A Time In Hollywood, and For Your Consideration. Sam is simply one of the most gifted actresses of her generation.  She provides the film’s comic relief as an over-the-top fangirl talk-show host.

Then we have the inimitable Moe Jeudy-Lamour from a little show called Ted Lasso, who plays Colleen’s literary agent. Moe is magnetic and charismatic in this role.  It was a pleasure to work with everyone in this cast.

You are currently working on Amazin’, which will be directed by Emmy nominee Matthew Penn. What can you tell us about this project?

It’s based on Pulitzer Prize winner Jimmy Breslin’s book Can’t Anybody Here Play This Game?, about the 1962 New York Mets, their hilariously bad inaugural season, and their owner Joan Payson – who was the first female in history to ever own a major American sports franchise. I was hired by Oscar-winning producer Brad Wyman to adapt the screenplay.

You will also be working on Devastation, which takes place in Puerto Rico in 2017 during and in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. Long time Martin Scorsese script supervisor Martha Pinson will direct. What will be the challenges in making this film?

I wrote the screenplay and am a producer on this film. It’s not going to be a typical “disaster” movie.  It will be very emotional and character-driven with a surprising mix of humor in the face of tragedy, while also honoring and being respectful to the actual real-life events.

Martha Pinson has literally worked side-by-side with master filmmakers such as Sidney Lumet, Brian DePalma, Oliver Stone, and obviously Martin Scorsese (on The Aviator, Hugo, Shutter Island, and several other films), so there’s literally nothing she hasn’t encountered on a film set. 

The major challenge with a film like this though is determining which effects should be practical, SFX, or VFX.

You’re also working on a film about Al Martin, who became the king of the New York comedy club scene. What interested you about this project?

Al Martin is a compelling figure in that he’s an Everyman, an underdog, someone who had no resources nor connections and yet defied to the odds to be an immense success. That film is called I Did It On A Dare.  

I hear you’ve also produced a horror/thriller that’s been getting great reviews. What can audiences expect from Slapface?

It’s a very different horror/thriller in that the characters have an immense amount of depth. That is thanks in large part to writer/director Jeremiah Kipp. Slapface is currently streaming all over the world on Shudder and AMC+.

Have you got any other upcoming projects or ambitions to share with us?

I am presently adapting the novel Nights Of The Turntable, by British author Ron Roberts, into a series. It’s a period piece, which is always fun and challenging to create.

The next feature film I will direct is a comedy I wrote called Pure Happenstance (the script formerly known as Tale Of The Wet Dog), which has been delayed several times (largely because of the pandemic). The goal with that film will be to turn everything on its ear, keep the audience guessing, and most importantly, bring them wall-to-wall laughs. There has been such a dearth of great comedies in recent years and that bothers me as both a viewer and a filmmaker.

Follow Joe on Instagram – https://www.instagram.com/trajectoryfilms/

Check out Joe’s IMDb page – https://www.imdb.com/name/nm3225285/?ref_=nv_sr_srsg_0

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