Thursday 23 April 2020

Interview with Brando Benetton - Writer and Director of Nightfire

Real location. Practical action.
Nightfire starring Dylan Baker.
Streaming on Hulu and Amazon Prime May 1, 2020.

Two American agents are hired to retrieve military chips containing top-secret content. Their plan goes awry when an unexpected political prisoner (Emmy-nominee Dylan Baker) enters the picture.

Shorts are well-known for being a launchpad for some of today’s biggest names. Why did you decide to, well, start small (or rather, short)?

Honestly, our movie runs less than a full feature in length (just shy of 45 minutes), but in terms of scale, production and ambition it definitely felt closer to a feature film than a short. Our shooting script was 55 pages and the first cut was about 1h5m. But usually short are a good creative ground because—on a “stakes” level—you have less resources pulled and less to lose in regards to your career.

But you’ve still decided to do a film that’s rather ambitious – even for short standards. Did you have anyone try to talk you out of that?

Oh, absolutely. Many people suggested we were better off chopping the story way shorter or “watering it down” to reach a feature film runtime. There are definitely pointers in regards to what festivals are looking for, but we always kept audiences in mind and felt that the film needed to be as extensive as the characters and the story called for. As long as it’s well paced and tightly edited, we were hopeful the film would keep audiences engaged, and by the end of this process Nightfire kind of began to feel like the pilot episode of a very ambitious TV show.

Was the script bigger  - in terms of action – than the finished product? Anything that you just couldn’t, either due to money or resources, bring to life?

Great question! Well, the script didn’t include larger set pieces because we were kind of “locked” into locations and shooting days dictating what could or could not be done for a specific sequence. But we did have small gags—whether it was stunts or practical special effects—that were either cut or created on the day (bullets breaking through a car’s windshield, a stuntman jumping off a speeding truck, etc) that were small modifications we’d add or remove from an existing action sequence.

Keep in mind, we wrote the movie around what we had at our disposal, as it felt like the smartest way to maximize our production value as opposed to write elements that we’d then have to go buy/rent. Does you cousin own a bar? Your uncle’s friend have a horse. Well, that’s production value. Looks like you’re gonna make a “horse in a bar” story as your first feature, congratulations! Write around the resources already at your disposal.

How long did it take – from conception to release – to get Nightfire done?

For the bulk of it, I’d say about 16 months, from when we started writing to when we delivered our first full cut. But I’d add about 4/5 months where we returned to the movie, right before release, to polish our sound design. Sound is still 50% of the cinematic experience, and we tried to deliver through sound what we couldn’t shoot in camera (a character line, a larger crowd just off-screen, etc) was carried through our sound. You’re still re-writing your movie to polish story and emotion, in a way.

And distribution, how was that achieved?

This is a funny and totally unexpected story. Almost a year after completing the first full cut of the movie, I got a phone call while in Los Angeles from a distribution company based out of New York names Hewes Pictures. They had seen a teaser trailer we had released online, and contacted me with the hopes of purchasing the movie. So not only I feel immensely grateful to them for having the good sense of tracking down filmmakers via Youtube, but felt proud of the work we had put into editing the trailer, which along with a poster can be the greatest tool to promote and spread the word about your film.

What kind of doors would you like to see open as a result of your short?

Write the movies you’d love to see yourself as an audience member. This film was such a collaborative effort and made possible thanks to so many people, but I hope it’s proof (on a technical level) of what can be achieved if you write “smart.” Turning one’s hometown into a large-scale movie backlot, thanks to the support of locals and fellow friends. If they wish for us to do more, or dream bigger… they know where to find us. We got many more stories to tell. Thank you guys!

Enjoy here a behind-the-scenes look at the Practical Stunts of Nightfire: