Ned Benson & Cassandra Kulukundis Interview – LFF 2014
Having made it no secret that I’m a sucker for The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby, (I mean c’mon, Jessica Chastain and James McAvoy in the same film? What’s not to love?!) when presented with the opportunity to sit down with director Ned Benson and producer Cassandra Kulukundis at this year’s London Film Festival, naturally I jumped at the chance. Despite being fresh off the plane and suffering from jet lag, if not for the coffee Ned was nursing, you wouldn’t have been able to tell. It was all smiles and laughter as I was ushered in to meet with two of the most wonderful and down to Earth people I’ve ever had the privilege of interviewing.
Did you have any favourite scenes in the movie?
N: I think, my favourite scenes that we shot is tricky, because the film that’s playing today is the third one, out of the other two. I think my favourite scene is one we shot twice, and it winds up with them in the apartment at the end of the film. And I really loved just working with the actors during those two versions of that same scene because there was a lot of synchronicity between the actors, the cinematographer and the crew. And it was just a really great moment for us to see the most emotional moment of the entire film come together in a beautiful way. That was definitely one of them.
Are you working on any more shorts?
N: Shorts? No. When I have time, I’d love to, but you know…
C: You have the one you haven’t quite finished..
N: Oh, well, yeah. There’s a short we shot before we shot the film, that I haven’t quite finished yet, but I have to sort of polish that when I have time and do all the finishing touches on it when I have the time.But mostly we’re just putting together a new feature together.
Can you tell me anything about that? Or is it all secret hush-hush, cloak and dagger?
N: No. We’ve been talking about it. It’s sort of set in Los Angeles in the 90’s, on the music scene about people who go to Los Angeles to construct an identity and what that does to them, whether they fail or succeed or both. So we’re finishing up the script and putting that together pretty soon.
Who are your cinematic influences? And do you have any favourite films?
N: Oh god. I have so many favourite films and so many cinematic influences! I love Robert Altman, I love Paul Thomas Anderson. Ah, it kind of depends on the day really! Agnés Varda is amazing. And y’know as far as films go, I love a good popcorn movie. I saw Back to the Future like eight times when it came out. I don’t know, I think Network is pretty close to one of my favourites. It’s a perfect script, great movie, it really depends on the week or the day or the mood you’re in and what type of film you want to see. There’s so many great movies and that’s what’s great about cinema.
Is there anyone you’d like to work with in the future?
N: I mean, so many great people. Cate Blanchett, Meryl Streep, I mean there’s so many great actors I’d want to work with. Erm, Michael Fassbender, Matt Damon, y’know, so many. That’s such a hard question! There’s tonnes, literally the list goes on and on and on.
C: We haven’t worked with enough for that question to even qualify yet.
N: Yeah, we made one movie! Daniel Day Lewis would be like, a dream.
We’ll just put it out there and see if they take the hint!
N: Yeah, exactly!
C: Please call!
Is there anything playing at the festival that you’d quite like to see?
N: If we had time…I really wanted to see Mr.Turner, Mike Leigh’s film. I’m trying to think, that was a big one, I’d like to see Rosewater, Jon Stewart’s film that’s here, definitely haven’t seen The Imitation Game yet, so that one, is there anything you’d recommend?
Tokyo Tribe probably, which is a bit more out there than most. I’ll be really honest, your film is the one I came to see. So I was so smug when I got tickets to the premiere tonight and have dragged half of my friends along with me.
N: Oh, that’s so nice to hear! I hope you get chance to see the two part version since that’s what we’re most proud of as filmmakers. We just came out in the States last weekend with that version of it, and this version was just a little over a month ago. I also wanted to see Mommy, I haven’t had a chance to see that yet.
Are there any on set anecdotes that you can reel off for us that were particularly memorable?
N: Lots! The go to story has always been a firefly theme throughout the film. And like years ago, when I started writing the film script and we were talking about making this movie, at the beginning I was in Central Park and I saw these fireflies fluttering and it was so inspiring. So I wrote that as the opening scene of the movie, where this couple runs into Tompkins Square Park and sees fireflies. And that was like ten years ago, cut to like eight years later when we’re going to shoot the actual scene, and like it’s pretty rare, it’s East Village and pretty grimy, you’re in a park and you don’t expect fireflies to be there. We’d been shooting in and around the area and we walked in with the Park Ranger that day and nobody had really seen any fireflies and we thought we were going to have to do them in Post. And we like walk into the park, and it was crazy because there were thousands of fireflies fluttering, and the crew was sort of baffled, and the Park Ranger was like ‘This doesn’t happen’, and it sort of infused the scene with a real sort of beauty. We still used special effects to enhance that, but it made the night really special and we were able to sort of sue that as a composite to make other fireflies.
C: And there are some real ones, because if you look really closely you can see one that looks like it comes out of Jessica’s butt. And we would never put that one in purposefully but that as a real one that came out as a blinder, and I kind of really love that hero firefly!
N: There’s a whole shot of just the fireflies themselves on the B-roll while we were shooting so that was pretty special. There were just so many memories, but that was a really good one.
What got you started in film?
N: I just love movies! I’ve been into movies and making movies, or at least trying to, since I was a kid. And we’ve known each other since we were five.
C: And we made terrible family films, you know?
N: Whether it was on VHS or stuff like that. I think I didn’t know what I wanted to do within film, whether it was acting or production or directing or writing. I didn’t know how it’d fit, and I think once I was in college we met up again and sat down and talked. I went off and directed my first short after college and I was like: I really love this. I mean I’m not that good at it, but I want to learn how to do it better. So y’know, that was one of those things you’re never sure you can actually do until you do it, because it seems like a dream. So then I started writing and we basically started making movies together. Well, trying to make movies together and this is the one, the impossible one that somehow came together first