Director Benjamin Howard was feeling thankful and ecstatic having his short film "SLEEP ON IT" being selected and had its World Premiere at the recent 19 annual FilmOut San Diego LGBT Film Festival. This year, local filmmakers and talents are able to submit their short film in one of the segments featured in the 3-day festival held at the historic The Observatory North on University Ave. Thanks to Program Director Michael McQuiggan who had this brilliant idea, encouraging locals to participate. The result is a flock of submission entries from the LGBT community in San Diego, hopefully to continue in the next coming years.
"Sleep On It" is well-directed and written, executed by two actors (Jordun Lyons and Demetrius Hodges) who never acted onscreen. It is about a gay couple who starts to contemplate the real score of their uncertain relationship while they were buying a mattress after moving together.
I caught up with Dir. Howard and this is what we've talked about .. please read on:
HOLLYWOODFLIP: How long did it take you to write the script for SLEEP ON IT?
BH: The script went through about eight or nine drafts, and took maybe three or four weeks to write. It was an assignment for school; I had the script finished before I pitched it to the class. (Editor: Howard just finished schooling and graduated last month at San Diego State University.)
HOLLYWOODFLIP: What was the inspiration in creating the script and the film?
BH: Early on, I set out to write a simple story that could be shot in one long, unbroken take. Jim Cumming's Thunder Road, the Sundance Short Film Grand Jury Prize winner for 2016, was a strong technical inspiration. Personally, my past experiences with guys and relationships and those of my gay friends were what inspired the molding of the two characters. Shooting the script in one take was important to me because I wanted the audience to be along for the ride and not distracted by cuts or edits. The camera is essentially a person just spying on these two guys in this store.
HOLLYWOODFLIP: How did you cast your two main lead? I heard they were non-actors. Where did you find them? What was the most challenging part during the shooting? How did you motivate your two actors .. did you give them special instructions? What were the preparations? Were they allowed to improvise or you were keen on them sticking to the script line by line?
BH: Jordun (Andy) and Demetrius (Tustin) are working actors. They were found on Breakdown Express via Actor's Access. We held auditions in Hollywood; they both live in Los Angeles.
Blocking-wise, I wanted to keep things relatively simple to allow both my actors and crew to keep things natural.
The most challenging part was dealing with our faulty RED camera; it shut off mid-take a few times, which was very frustrating. The shoot was a two-day project. The first day was set-up and rehearsal- the second day we went for takes. The night before the second day, talent and I went to their hotel room and rehearsed the scene, over and over, until the emphases and nuances I wanted were memorized. I told them to try to stick to the words I'd written, but since it was a one-take short, fluidity and improv were okay with me. Ultimately, they recited the script almost verbatim. Andy's "Never mind?" when he stands on the top of the staircase was the only piece of improv that Jordun made-up; I loved it.
HOLLYWOODFLIP: How many days did you shoot it and how many locations?
BH: Two days total, but just one day of shooting. We shot at a House2Home Furniture and Mattress in Lemon Grove, CA.
HOLLYWOODFLIP: Can you talk about your background and goal as a director? Do you have a role model?
BH: Sleep on It was the fifth short film I'd written and directed. During my time at SDSU, I did seven total. Ultimately, my dream is to make a living writing and directing feature films. A number of filmmakers influence my style and tendencies; Xavier Dolan is a strong influence. P.T. Anderson is my favorite filmmaker.
HOLLYWOODFLIP: The film is part of a program where local actors and filmmakers get to participate at this year's FilmOut San Diego. How cool was that? How and when did you learn about it that you were encouraged to submit your short film.
BH: Seeing one of your projects screen anywhere is an awesome privilege. But to have it screen at a local LGBT festival is like a sweet icing on top of the cake. I think I found FilmOut just on FilmFreeway, when I was researching LGBT festivals to submit to.
HOLLYWOODFLIP: What type of films or genre attract you?
BH: Dramas are my thing. Stories about people, and their experiences and the human condition are stories I love to watch. I enjoy worlds that I can relate to; real-life situations that anyone can live. They're real and genuine and make you think and ponder. That's what I dig.
HOLLYWOODFLIP: What's your next project? Ever thought already about your first feature film?
BH: I'm still finalizing my senior thesis film (facebook.com/DeviantShortFilm), and editing my last short I did while at State (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt6770098/). I have a number of short scripts and concepts I'm constantly tweaking, but nothing immediately on the horizon. The thought of my first feature is exciting, but I think one or two more shorts under my belt would be beneficial. I definitely want to get started on tackling the first feature within the year, though.
HOLLYWOODFLIP: What would you like for your audience to take after watching SLEEP ON IT?
BH: I wrote Sleep on It intending to tell a universal story of young love through a contemporary lens. I want the story to be relatable to anyone who watches; anyone could be Tustin and Andy. For this story, it just happened to be two gay men.
HOLLYWOODFLIP: After FilmOut San Diego, where is this film going to .. any festival you also have submitted to that readers can check it out?
BH: FilmOut is the first and only festival Sleep on It has gotten into so far. We have a few other festivals which we've submitted to; haven't heard back yet.