Q&A with Filmmaker Marc Benardout
Marc Benardout must be very happy about completing his first feature film. After all, heís yearned to be a filmmaker from the earliest age. But Benardout didnít want to make just any movie. ďI made Sinner in order to challenge an audience into thinking about right and wrong and to spark conversation on whether anyone or anything is unredeemable,Ē he explains in his delightful British accent.
Dealing with the universal theme of redemption, Sinner -- written by Steven Sills and starring Nick Chinlund, Georgina Cates, Michael E. Rodgers and Brad Dourif -- focuses on a Catholic priest whose private world is invaded when a prostitute clashes with his fundamentalist colleague. Benardout graciously agreed to a phone interview in connection with the screening of this film at the 2007 Vail Film Festival, and his enlightening responses follow.
Question: What motivated you to direct Sinner?
Benardout: Itís really a two-part answer: the first was sheer perseverance to fulfill my ambition which had not so much been sidetracked but more tabled whilst I shot commercials. Secondly and more importantly, I wanted to make a film that had an intellectual viewpoint through a dramatic narrative and wasnít inspired by one of those quick-success film courses in a money-making genre.
Question: Were you satisfied with the finished film?
Benardout: Absolutely satisfied considering the challenges we faced and the financial resources we had. Of course, I kick myself when I analyze what we should or shouldnít have done, but I made choices at the time and for better or for worse, I stick by them.
Question: What was your biggest challenge in making this movie?
Benardout: Not having enough rehearsal time with my cast due to budgetary and scheduling restrictions.
Question: What did you enjoy most about being involved with this film?
Benardout: Both the casting and editing process. The casting was engaging as this was the first time I was involved in feature film material that cast members could respond and react to with their own creative input. Their viewpoints really strengthened the narrative. The editing was similar in terms of amplifying the creative voices and opportunities. It is challenging having lots of choices, but ultimately that is why you need to experiment to get the best work. It was terrific to rearrange scenes and play with structure. Of course, this is only possible with a screenplay that was so well-knit and intelligently layered. However, my favorite part, hands down, is the final result: the part where people sit back and enjoy the film and canít stop talking about it afterwards.
Question: Do you have any formal filmmaking training?
Benardout: After leaving school, I began as a runner at a small editing company in the back streets of Soho, London, where I served my apprenticeship working the nights cutting documentaries for oil companies and commercials for Mattel childrenís toys (yes, that includes Barbie). I then switched to the production side and was fortunate to get work with some of the great British commercial directors of the time such as Adrian Lyne of Fatal Attraction fame. With their inspiration, I began building a spec reel of commercials, a few short films and music videos and embarked on a directorial career in the UK. Seven years later, I headed to the sunny shores of Los Angeles as a film disciple and a lemming to the pull of Hollywood. I have continued to work in commercials both as a director and producer, and continued to pursue my feature film aspirations. Sinner is my first feature. However, I did a short film titled A Little Worm which won some awards and was selected by Disney to be shown theatrically with Ed Wood.
Question: Who are the filmmakers you admire?
Benardout: Well, first off, I have a new-found respect for anyone who has made a movie because it takes much more than a good idea and blind enthusiasm. The filmmakers who have really inspired me are Giuseppe Tornatore (Cinema Paradiso), Baz Luhrman (Moulin Rouge), Lasse Hallstrom (My Life as a Dog), Martin Scorsese (Goodfellas), Francis Ford Coppola (The Conversation), John Schlesinger (Pacific Heights), Roland Joffe (The Mission), Sergio Leone (Once Upon a Time in America), plus Bernardo Bertolucci, Roman Polanski and Milos Forman for all their films.
Question: If you were given an unlimited budget, is there any movie of the past you would like to remake? How would you do it differently?
Benardout: Thatís a great question! I think I would love to make a more dramatic and contemporized version of Fiddler on the Roof. Irving Berlin was my great, great uncle -- and I enjoy the musical genre very much. Iím even looking through some of his works that were never produced.
Question: Why do you think movies are important in todayís world?
Benardout: The medium of film has expanded so rapidly over the past 20 years with so many more potential outlets, and that has had both a positive and negative effect. As filmmakers, itís my belief that we still have a responsibility to choose our subject matter wisely regardless of genre, otherwise if we do not police and question our own integrity, how can we complain when quality diminishes in favor of quantity?
Question: Is there anything else you would like to share with our readers?
Benardout: Entertainment comes in all forms. If we are lucky enough to have our sight, then the world is our oyster. But think for a minute about those who cannot see, who have lost their vision and can only imagine. How great must that imagining process be if we as filmmakers give them a canvas so rich in story and character? That is the ultimate responsibility, in my humble opinion.
(For more information about Sinner and the 2007 Vail Film Festival, which runs from March 29 - April 1, please visit www.vailfilmfestival.org.)