Neil Sedaka famously sang in that once ubiquitous 60s song that breaking up is hard to do. When people are forced out of relationships, they can take it a number of ways, right? Some people move on without hesitation, others get terribly emotional and cry, while others attempt great romantic gestures meant to win back the heart of their love. And some, they just internalize the pain, retreat from friends and family, and do their best to avoid anything that can hurt them again in the same way. And that’s what happens in the wonderful comedy Ben’s at Home, co-written and directed by Mars Horodyski.
Ben (Dan Abramovici, also the co-writer) breaks up with his girlfriend and after seeing her out at a bar with another man during his 30th birthday celebration, he makes a rash decision – he will never leave his home again. Despite the protestations of his friends and his brother David (David Reale), Dan finds that it is actually very easy to do this. He finds a few jobs where he can work from home to earn money, he can have food and groceries delivered at any time he wants and he can still keep touch with those nearest and dearest to him through the internet/social media. He is even able to find companionship via the world wide web, and by companionship, I mean disposable one night stands that sate his sexual appetite but leave him free of any of the entanglements of the relationship that caused his retreat into hermit status. With his dog Schnitzel by his side, what more could a guy need?
Of course things get complicated as he refuses to attend the bachelor party of one of his best friends, Jim (Jim Annnan). He catches the ire of his other friends, most aggressively by Craig (Craig Brown) who takes him to task for being childish and selfish. Ben, foolish man that he is, dismisses his friends’ concerns and continues on his stay-at-home path. Just while he’s chugging along, Ben makes a connection with delivery girl Jess (Jessica Embro) his quest for total removal from society is challenged.
Suffice it to say, I was incredibly surprised with Ben’s at Home. It was an incredibly insightful portrait of a character, who like many, couldn’t cope with his situation and retreated the only way he knew how – by building barriers around him to keep himself from getting hurt again. That he didn’t care what other people, including his friends and own brother, thought showed conviction. And perhaps the biggest testament to how well Horodyski and Abramovici constructed Ben as a character is that I never hated him or really even wanted him to change his course until he himself was in the right place to do so. I was willing to participate in his journey without judging him and that rarely happens in film. Ben, despite his one major quirk, is quite likeable and Abramovici‘s performance has a lot to do with that. Ben is easy to relate to because he could be any one of us and it is Abramovici that ultimate sells it.
This film is tight with a 70-minute run time and I think it is one of the film’s greatest attributes. Horodyski is able to strike the proper balance of giving us Ben’s journey without staying too long. Rare is the film that can achieve this. Bravo to the filmmakers. The original music provided by Freedom or Death adds an additional layer to the film that was unexpected. The music filmmakers are using in films these days are much more astute and have gone beyond the days where a quirky soundtrack gave the studios another piece of the film to sell. I think Wes Anderson, who was known for his themed, eclectic soundtracks went off the rails post-Rushmore. Here we have none of that. The music adds to the tone of the scenes in which it is played and as a nice transitional device between scenes.
There isn’t really anything I didn’t like about this film. The actors were spot-on (Jessica Embro was especially delightful), the direction and tone were tight and the limited location use (really only two were used) contained Ben’s story without distraction. This will be a hard film to top at the festival, at the very least in the comedy realm, and I’m glad I led the week off with Ben’s at Home.
And lucky for you all, I was able to have a nice conversation with co-writer/director Mars Horodyski as well as co-writer/star Dan Abramovici. Here’s what they had to say about the film, its evolution and their process:
How did you guys meet and how did the film come about?
MH: Dan and I met on a short film and connected there. We realized that we loved doing stuff together. We worked together on a couple of short films and decided to see if we could make this work. When we created the opportunity to make Ben’s At Home, we went all in. Dan’s that kind of crazy.
DA: We had hit a point in our respective careers where we were tire of waiting for the phone to ring. Getting one line in a McDonald’s commercial was not why we got into this.
MH: We had this window of time in August of 2013 and we managed to cobble this awesome team together for very little money. We thought we would write this story that was heartfelt and honest and would make sense on a tight budget.
When we started the project we said let’s come up with scenario that doesn’t compromise budget. It’s all about story. We really didn’t want to make a film that people watch that people come away saying that they’ve seen it before. We saw this potential for social commentary, living in an era where we are socially disconnected.
Dan – it’s pretty awesome that you wrote and starred in a movie where you get to randomly hook up with multiple attractive women. Was it your aim to act in the film all along? If so, nicely done.
DA: (Laughs) That comes up when quite a bit when me and my girlfriend argue…
I actually felt that it was the most awkward day of shooting when we shot those scenes. The shoot was only 10 days long. The actresses came in and we made out on the couch all in the same day. I will say that my dad was proud of me for it…
I like that this film runs about 70 minutes. I think that the pace is perfect and Ben’s choice to stay at home isn’t overdone or become tiresome. Was this the intended length of the film or did you shoot more and need to trim the film?
MH: Our script wasn’t that long, 75-80 pages. First cut was around 90 minutes. We were pretty ruthless in making it tight. We had a small budget and our editor was working for free, so it took about a year to get it to the theatrical cut. It plays well and people have liked it.
DA: I think of the movie as The White Stripes of indie film. Early White Stripes were a guitarist and a drummer, simple but effective. They made catchy short songs and made a lot of noise. After they got good with that, they started up the other bands. I relate to their song “Little Room” – (sings) When you’re in your little room…
Don’t forget the little room when you get to the big project. We were really focused on telling our little story and making it big. We come from a background in short films and sketch comedy and we understand that we need to get in before it gets really good and get out at the apex. That’s what we strove for with Ben’s at Home.
The foosball scene is flat out perfect and I think that it may be the most important scene in the film, and sneakily so because this is the one time that we see Ben assert some authority and I think it’s magnified even more when he finally comes clean that his breakup with Katie wasn’t mutual (which wasn’t really a surprise). Was this your aim when creating the scene?
MH: Something was missing when we completed the script and we put that scene in to round out the story. Ben’s world is turning, the things that have been easy are now not so easy, things are changing.
DA: There was something in his character arc, in his beats, that was missing. He was lacking a spine for a stretch. This scene tied it all together.
Was any of it autobiographical?
DA: That story is based on two very real dates that I had. I met a girl online and sent me that EXACT picture – so we did the chat chat chat thing, and decided we wanted to meet. I picked her up at the mall and she wasn’t what I expected. I was gobsmacked.
I was curious about the writing process for the script. Did you two collaborate in person or did you do so virtually. I’m basing this off of the fact that Dan is now in LA and Mars you are in Toronto.
DA: We were both in Toronto. There is a really great coffee and bar scene there, so we would basically go from one to the next when we needed new energy.
MH: We have two drafts of two new feature scripts going right now. We need to be in the same room for the first draft at least.
How much, if any, time did you have to rehearse together? What was the shoot schedule?
MH: It was a 10-day shoot. We organized a rehearsal with everybody for a couple of hours and that was it.We shot in chronological order when possible to help us troubleshoot with dialogue.
Lynn Shelton was a big influence.That was her style of working – shooting with two cameras all the time to get the coverage we needed. It helped us work out the story. I would love to make every film moving forward in that way. It’s so much more authentic if you live the scene that you just shot, moving in chronological order, rather than picking up where you left off three weeks before.
Were there any films you looked at to help create the tone?
MH: Things evolved very quickly – Walter Pacifico, our DP did a great job. There weren’t really any specifc references. Although Humpday was our go-to film for inspiration.
DA: We watched Puffy Chair and some other mumblecore films as well. I really liked what Jon Favreau and Vince Vaughn did with Swingers writing in their voices and working on such a tight budget.
I really love what Freedom or Death added to the soundtrack of the film. The song at the opening is really nice. How did you connect with them?
DA: The story of how we got a music really is one of my favourites…
Freedom Or Death is my all time favourite Canadian band. They’re amazing. I first saw them at NXNE here in Toronto and immediately bought the album. That album, Ego, was one of the ones I would always have on rotation when hosting and it would be the one that would constantly receive compliments and inquiries. It blew my mind that they weren’t a big huge touring act.
So when writing the first page of script we had a bit where Ben was getting ready to go out and I thought it would be fun to write “music by Freedom Or Death” plays. Never in a million years thinking we’d actually get a song by them. Little did we know that Mars’ music supervisor friend, David Hayman, was good friends with one half of our beloved band. He showed Fernandez from FOD a rough cut of the film and not only did he agree to let us use some of our favourite Freedom Or Death tracks, but they actually wrote original music for specific scenes just for us. That opening song is an original composition for Ben’s At Home, as is The Black Keys sounding rock track in the montage. More than half the soundtrack is Freedom Or Death.
You have mentioned that you are working on two other projects together. Any idea when they might move forward?
MH: Our next feature will hopefully shoot next fall.
I just wanted to say thanks to Mars and Dan for taking time out of their busy schedules to talk with me about the fantastic Ben’s at Home. If you are in the Indianapolis area or will be in the city over the next week, be sure to check out the film at The Heartland Film Festival. Here is the schedule:
Tuesday October 21 @ 2PM – AMC Traders Point Theater 9
Friday October 24 @ 8:45PM – AMC Castleton Square 11
Saturday October 25 @ 8PM – Wheeler Arts Community Theatre