The thing I love about cinema is that there is always something for everyone. Besides the different genres, films end up being unique based on the style of filmmaking. Add to that the individuality that everyone brings working together to make movies for us. One such individual is Joe Benarick whose "indie-comedy" The Ultimate Ultimate will be hitting the festival circuit real soon. I had a chance to ask him a few questions about his film, his cinema preferences, and the art of filmmaking.
Hi Joe and thank you for taking out the time to answer some of our questions.
Oh, my pleasure.
Raghav Modi (RM) - The Ultimate Ultimate definitely sounds like the ultimate movie, but still tell us a little about the title and why did you select this very title?
Joe Benarick (JB) - You’re right, it is the ultimate movie. The title, The Ultimate Ultimate, comes from a line from one of my favorite comedies, Windy City Heat. Everyone needs to check out that movie. After a dozen views, it’s still the funniest thing I’ve ever seen. The title of our movie is really just a nod to that. The movie’s about two buddies taking a trip to a nearby town to get away from their problems at home, so there’s no real relevance, just something I thought of. It works anyway.
RM - Having just seen your trailer, the humor and the language is very much adult and very Jackass-y. Was it a conscious decision to maybe use it as a unique selling point because by going R rated you are limiting your target audience?
JB - My humor’s always been R rated. I don’t think I could censor it; I lack a filter. Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg tried to censor theirs in Green Hornet, and even though I like that movie, I was thinking, “The f-word would’ve been great there” the whole time. I think the only two PG-13 comedies that have lasted with me are Dumb & Dumber and Kingpin—Kingpin’s my favorite comedy. Those movies both have heart, though. I don’t have a heart, so I use filth as a crutch. But I’d love to write and direct something with emotion one day. I’m sure everyone would see through it, like, “This guy clearly doesn’t know what it’s like to have a dead wife,” but I could try. And there’s always going to be an audience for R rated comedy. That 18-34 year old male demographic is the one everyone’s trying to catch.
RM - Comedy has obviously played an important role in your life, and reflects in the films you make. When did you figure out that you had a knack for comedy and that this is the line you wanted to take professionally?
JB - Kindergarten. I did a Jackie Gleason impression and the kids lost it. No, I don't know. I've always loved comedy. As far back as fifth grade I wanted to be a stand-up comic. I thought I had a little talent for it, and as I got older it became something I wanted to pursue—something I wanted to be great at. I still do. I want my name ultimately to be up there with the greats, on both sides of the camera.
RM - Joe, you seem like a man of many talents especially with your name recurring a number of times in the credits. Was it a necessity that you had to take over a number of roles, or was it something you wanted to do from the start?
JB - Both, I guess. Writing is my first love; I’ll always be writing. I’ve grown to really enjoy directing, too. I’m looking forward to doing something down the road that I don’t have to act in, and I can just direct. I’d like to write something for our guy Frank Aguirre to star in, and I can stay behind the camera. Frank’s the half brother of Deco Drive host Louis Aguirre. He stars in The Ultimate Ultimate and our last movie, Days of Lightning. He’s very good. He could carry a movie. Up to this point, I’ve had to act in everything we’ve done because it’s tough to find good actors, and let’s face it, I’m very good. Brando-ish. I’m also easy on the eyes, if you like guys who aren’t good-looking. If you’ve ever said, “I don’t like really good-looking guys, I’m into 6’s,” I’m your Ryan Gosling. Or Shia LaBeouf, if you like him. I pronounce his last name “La-Boo”—real French.
RM - Please tell us something about your production house A Set of Works? A little about the origins and also what are the future plans?
JB - I started A Set of Works in 2007 when I was living outside Philadelphia, just doing little online videos. I was doing some stand-up comedy. Then I moved to Miami, Florida—Miami is awful, by the way. A really deplorable city. But I got down here and my buddy KB and I started doing a lot of stuff together. Our buddy Back to the Futrell helped out with ideas. It’s grown from there. I’m really trying to get the hell out of this city and move west. We have two or three other scripts ready to go. But we can’t keep doing things the way we have, i.e. funding them all ourselves. It’s not enough. But The Ultimate Ultimate is getting out there, and we’ll see what happens with that—where it takes us. I really stand behind this movie.
RM - Let's talk about the term Indi-Comedy. You said that The Ultimate Ultimate is an indi-comedy, so what is this genre all about according to you and why the necessity to differentiate comedy in segments?
JB - Yeah, it is an indie-comedy, and I don’t like that title because, to me at least, it evokes thoughts of weird, unfunny, obscure stuff that you see on IFC or something. I can name two indie-comedies that I love: Clerks and The Foot Fist Way. People will say some movies go over your head if you say you don’t like them, and I’m like, “No, it just sucked. I got it. I got that it was dull”. I aspire to do mainstream comedy because I think it’s better. Until you’re backed by a studio, though, you’re indie. I still want to look like we can stand next to the big boys, even on our own with no money or names attached. If “indie comedy” means our humor has to appeal to 3% of the audience, or we have to use a shaky cam and nauseating zooms like the Duplass Brothers, or we have to get Jason Schwartzman to star, I don’t want that. But that’s the label we’ve been dealt.
RM - You talk about mainstream comedy, which also is divided into segments. We have the family comedies with Kingpin and Dodgeball which are somewhat borderline family, but there are also comedies like Clerks and American Pie which are more geared for the college crowd. Which of the two are you more inclined towards and why?
JB - Our content is geared towards the college crowd, definitely. Not only them but the young knucklehead crowd in general. We gravitate to the adult stuff as fans, too. Except KB. He likes that Raining Meatballs kid movie—the CG one. How unbecoming, right? Now, I don’t like vulgarity for the sake of vulgarity. It has its place, and it doesn’t belong everywhere. That’s a big issue with a lot of comedies these days: they’re trying to outdo each other in terms of shock value. That’s a direct result of a lack of creativity. Some guys have no originality, so every picture is an attempt to outdo the last one’s gags. With that said, the audience is clamoring for it, so how can you blame the studios for giving them what they want? Shock value is nothing new, though, it’s just more prevalent these days.
And I have nothing against kid friendly comedy—not at all. I think Meet The Parents is one of the best comedies of the last 10-15 years. Will Ferrell has made some classics in that lane. Napoleon Dynamite is still amazing. I don’t know if those are family films; they’re as clean as I can go. I haven’t seen a PG comedy in 20 years. Unless Napoleon Dynamite is PG. I watched approximately one second of Toy Story 3 and was like, “I got bigger fish to fry,” and turned it off.
RM - What about the actual filming of The Ultimate Ultimate. Tell us about some of the challenges you faced and how important was the location to your film, be it indoors or outdoors?
JB - We shot in and around Miami. It’s tough; Miami doesn’t want to help. If it’s not a Castro documentary, they’re not interested. Other filmmakers are selfish down here. They’re on year 4 of pre-production on their Scarface-influenced film, and that’s it. We had some luck on The Ultimate Ultimate with our locations. We rented a motel room nearby for a bulk of the movie’s scenes. We weren’t able to finish on time because we lost an actress—literally lost her, she died. She didn’t die, no, but she bailed on us, so she may as well have. And when we went back to the motel to wrap, the owner said we couldn’t film anymore because too many cops were watching the place because they rented rooms by the hour, which is illegal in Florida. We waited till he was gone one afternoon and knocked out the missing exterior stuff on property. I gave that dude fifty bucks beforehand—there’s no reneging, pal.
I do think setting a movie in a tropical environment is attractive to an audience. People love that look; they want to be there. It adds kind of a warm, upbeat feel. In that sense, Miami’s good for us. We can achieve that look all over Florida, though. Oh, I’m so bitter, can you tell? I just threw a Heat hat on the ground and stomped on it. They don’t have real fans, so it’s fine.
RM - As a director have you had any formal training in the field and also what sort of equipment did you use to film?
JB - No, no formal training. I thought about film school after high school, but I hated school way too much, I really did. I couldn’t fathom paying for more. The first camera I bought was a Panasonic PV-GS320 Mini-DV consumer camcorder. No external mic, no add-ons. I think I was 19. I read as much as I could on filmmaking, really studied film, and taught myself. It shows in our early stuff. I was a point-and-shoot director. I could write my ass off, though. But failure is to be expected. We even used that old camera for Days of Lightning. The visuals held up, I think, but it sounded terrible. For The Ultimate Ultimate we used a Sony HXR-MC50U with a shotgun mic, and an additional Rode mic for some exterior stuff. Edited in Final Cut Express on a MacBook Pro.
(Please keep in mind that the trailer has language that might be offensive for some)
RM - With the increase availability of the internet, especially blogs, and promotional tools like Facebook and Twitter, has there been a change in the whole independent cinema business? For one, you are able to reach a whole new audience, but what other benefits or negatives do you associate with this technological evolution?
JB - Oh yeah, a big change. Everyone’s doing it now. The benefit of it is like you said: you’re able to reach a whole new audience. The downfall is oversaturation. Look at Twitter: everyone on Twitter thinks they’re a comedian. Maybe 2% of them are funny. The market’s overflooded. It’s great that people are getting discovered via YouTube and stuff—good for them, but most of the stuff is dreadful. The YouTube stars are terrible. And for someone calling me a hater: you’re right, I hate them. It’s very competitive now, and competition can lead to great things, but I’m not really seeing it. I think, and maybe I’m wrong, but some truly talented people are going unnoticed because, maybe, their content doesn’t appeal to the kids and nerds who have the time to sit on YouTube for hours on end. Of course, I’m talking about us. Just kidding. I’m not kidding.
RM - Since this is a film blog, I honestly cannot let you go without you telling us your Top 5 films of all time, and why you regard them as the best?
1. American Psycho – This has been my favorite movie since I saw it in like ’99 or 2000. It’s hilarious. I quote it every chance I get. And if I don’t have a chance, I force it. Pat Bateman is the greatest. I still want to get him with the butcher knife tattooed on my arm someday.
2. Fight Club – It’s such a great movie. I wish I could articulate this better, but I just love it.
3. Goodfellas – The greatest gangster movie of all time. A gangster was the first thing I ever wanted to be, seriously, and this one is the best portrayal of that life ever on-screen.
4. Kingpin – My favorite comedy. This movie really struck a perfect balance between comedy and heartfelt emotion. The Farrellys have always been great at that. Someone’s going to say, “What emotion?!”, but come on, when Roy loses the tourney to Bill Murray, and he’s alone—Ishmael bailed on him...I’m going to trail off there.
5. Clerks 2 – Kevin Smith is one of my favorite comedic writers and directors, and this is his best film to me. Like Kingpin, it earned the spot because it’s a lot more than laugh-out-loud funny. The go-kart scene and Randall’s subsequent explanation for why he loves go-karts is one of my favorite parts of any movie.
Thank you answering the questions. We wish you all the best for The Ultimate Ultimate and your future endeavors.
Thank you, and let us know what you guys think of The Ultimate Ultimate.