The best horror has always featured emotionally complex characters going all the way back to the silent era of film. Today’s filmmaker’s sometimes overlook this crucial element and how it affects the finished product. Fear not though horror fans because Ben Cresciman has brought us one of the most emotionally complex and draining films that this writer has seen this year. Ben’s new film, SUN CHOKE is a must see that will not disappoint. I had the pleasure of chatting with Ben on his process, casting the film and so much more.
Terror Time: Hi Ben, Congratulations on SUN CHOKE. I was completely blown away by the film. When you were writing the script did you have Barbara Crampton’s voice in your head? Because her voice is essentially it’s own character in the film.
BC: I don’t know if I had her voice specifically in my head but I had that voice. She just channeled it in a way that no one else really can.
TT: The film is intensely emotional. How hard was the casting process for the other lead roles?
BC: It definitely wasn’t easy. We saw close to a thousand actresses for the three main roles and that’s how we came to meet Sarah Hagan and Sara Malakul Lane. Barbara Crampton’s manager got a hold of the script as it was circulating during the casting process and she read it and really dug it. So that’s how it all came together with her. It was really about seeing what the actresses take was on the material and the character’s. I’m big on communication so it was a lot of discussion and getting to know these characters in such a way that the intense emotionality and intimacy of it would always be at the forefront.
TT: The film has a wonderful use of light and contrast. When you were writing the script was the shot selection and the use of the light in your head during the process?
BC: Oh definitely. Part of the original plan as I was fleshing out the idea was to see if I could bring a horror film out into the daylight. So much of horror takes place in the shadows and is predicated in darkness. I grew up in Southern California and my frame of reference is sunlit sometimes overwhelmingly so.
TT: The film definitely does not go by the horror film rules and standards. It’s hard sometimes for people to grasp a concept like this film. How hard was it to get financing since it doesn’t play by the ABC plot points and rules?
BC: It definitely doesn’t play by the plot points but I think there’s a long tradition of personality horror going back to PSYCHO, PEEPING TOM, REPULSION and that was always at the back of the minds of the producers. In my case I previously made a Kickstarter funded lower budget relationship drama in 2011 and in the process of making that film I got connected with a great production company named Lodger Films. A week after finishing that film I was notified that I had been accepted into the MFA screenwriting program at USC. When I finished that I had amassed quite a bit of material and I was also working on the script that would eventually become SUN CHOKE. When I took it to Lodger Films they felt it deserved more than just a basic treatment and they were in a position to fund it. It wasn’t a huge budget but they put up the cash and so we went and made the movie.
TT: Funny that you mention your previous film. I loved NEGATIVE SPACE and I’ve got to give you kudos on that. Charles Fleischer was amazing in the film.
BC: Oh wow. I’m amazed you’ve seen it. You are literally the first person that has ever said that to me. That’s fantastic. It’s a sadly under seen film that hasn’t had a proper release but that’s something we are going to try and remedy after Sun Choke’s release. Yeah Charles Fleischer was great to work with. He was a childhood hero of mine of course with him being the voice of Roger Rabbit but he’s a tremendous force on screen.
TT: I’m a huge fan of Todd Solondz and I noticed that you actually worked in the location department on PALINDROMES. I actually see some similarities in the way you and Todd both handle characters. Was he a big influence on you when you were starting out?
BC: Oh yeah. Todd’s films always struck me and getting a chance to work with him was amazing. Essentially what happened was I went to college at Bard College in New York and PALINDROMES was filmed in the area and the production struck a deal with the school where students could get the intern type jobs if the production could get housing and office space on campus. I ended up working as a location assistant primarily but there was a point during production where I ended up being the guy that drove Todd home from set for a couple of weeks. He was so generous with his experiences and his knowledge about the process. For those who haven’t seen the film it’s a really out there movie and being there to watch his dedication to bringing the film to life was a definite inspiration. He’s a filmmaker that tells only the stories that he needs to tell. That’s just a tremendous thing to have in the film making community.
TT: It’s so fitting that the writer/director of SUN CHOKE worked with Todd Solondz. It makes so much sense.
BC: Yeah exactly. Once again you’re the first person to bring that up as well. I’ll watch the movie every once and awhile and it’s like looking at a photo from summer camp. That was my first experience on a film set and everything is so deeply ingrained in me. Just fantastic memories.
TT: What’s an underappreciated film that you feel people should watch?
BC: That’s a good one. One that rings in my head right off the bat is KING OF NEW YORK. In the canon of crime movies, it’s not usually held in the same regard as THE GODFATHER or GOODFELLAS. As far as grit and feeling you can’t beat KING OF NEW YORK.
TT: Excellent choice. You can’t beat Abel Ferrara when it comes to grit. His name is the definition of the word in the dictionary. For people who are starting out and want to make character driven films what advice would you give them?
BC: Truly at the end of the day it comes down to the characters and conflict. As long as you keep those things in mind in a sense you can make anything interesting. Two people in any setting arguing about the right thing will captivate someone. If you’re script contains that kind of DNA you don’t need visual fx. There’s just no substitute for interesting characters and interesting conflict.
TT: Thank you so much for the time and discussion today Ben. Where can people go to follow you and your upcoming projects?
Check out SUN CHOKE which is now available on VOD and iTunes and in theaters on August 5th. Be sure to keep Ben on your radar as I believe he’s going to be a force to be reckoned with in the future.
I’m Orson Welles.- Brad Slaton @picking_brains