Today we have on the show the very talented writer/director Benjamin Cox. He is the founder of Red Square Pictures, a New York-based film production company. As a creative head, Mr. Cox oversees all aspects of the company’s development, production, and content-related activities. A producer, writer, and director, his Red Square Pictures projects include work for a wide range of commercial/fashion clients as well as narrative work in both television and feature films.
A feature film that Mr. Cox produced, wrote and directed, NYC dating comedy Better Off Single starring Aaron Tveit, Abby Elliott, Lauren Miller Rogen, Kal Penn, Chris Elliott, Lewis Black, Shane McRae, Kelen Coleman, and Annaleigh Ashford, is set for its theatrical release in the fall of 2016. Another of Mr. Cox’s feature projects, an untitled ethereal dramedy starring Mary Beth Hurt, Aidan Quinn, Olympia Dukakis, Macy Gray, Peter Gerety, Emmet Walsh and Rachel Brosnahan, has recently completed
Another of Mr. Cox’s feature projects, an untitled ethereal dramedy starring Mary Beth Hurt, Aidan Quinn, Olympia Dukakis, Macy Gray, Peter Gerety, Emmet Walsh, and Rachel Brosnahan, has recently completed post-production and was produced by Mr. Cox, directed by Dianne Dreyer and executive produced by Kevin Spacey. Take a look at Ben’s stylish short film Bionda Castana:
Check out his current film Better Off Single:
A new film from Red Square Pictures and writer/director Benjamin Cox, Better Off Single is the NYC dating comedy that follows one man’s hallucination-fueled, post-breakup quest to find new love… and himself. Better Off Single stars Aaron Tveit, Abby Elliott, Lauren Miller Rogen, Kal Penn, Chris Elliott, Lewis Black, Shane McRae, Kelen Coleman, and Annaleigh Ashford.
When Charlie Carroll quits his job and his girlfriend on the same day, it seems as though he’s finally found freedom. But after a quick dip in the dark waters of the NYC dating pool, Charlie begins to wonder if he’s made a mistake. He’s not equipped for single life. In fact, Charlie might not be equipped for life in general. With no job and no love, Charlie is forced to go on a journey of self-discovery so intense that he begins to suffer from surreal hallucinations, flashbacks, and fantasies. Will he find “the one?” Or did that ship already sail, taking with it his only hopes for relationship sanity?
Get ready for some major knowledge bombs. Enjoy my conversation with cult classic writer/producer Benjamin Cox.
Alex Ferrari 1:24
So guys, today on the show, we have director Benjamin Cox, he just directed an amazing little film called better off single, that's going to be released soon if it has not already been released, and has a great cast, including legends, comedy legends, Louis black, and Chris Elliott. And he is one of the definitions of indie film hustle. And without question, he did a lot of film indie film hustling to make this movie and to get this movie made. And he wanted to share his story with the tribe. And I hope you guys pick up something out of this because he drops a lot of little knowledge bombs, a lot of little nuggets of great information, and how he got this thing made, how he worked with actors, how we got to finance how we got to finished and so on. So without any further ado, please enjoy my conversation with Benjamin Cox would like to welcome to the show guys Benjamin Cox How you doing sir?
Benjamin Cox 3:17
Hey, I'm well how are you? Thanks for having me.
Alex Ferrari 3:20
Oh, thank you for doing it. Man. You have a fun little movie. And I think it You definitely did a lot of indie film hustling during during the making, I heard. So I thought it'd be a great a great story to kind of talk about and see how you got not just like a little low budget thing off the ground. But it looks like at least it looks like a substantial film, sir. production wise production wise
Benjamin Cox 3:44
Right on nothing like the indie film just yeah. from soup to nuts.
Alex Ferrari 3:48
Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. So um, how did you get into the crazy business man? First of all,
Benjamin Cox 3:55
you know, it's funny, because, you know, unlike I guess, I guess kind of a lot like a number of filmmakers. I did my first film, you know, probably when I was like in third grade, one of those kinds of things. And then kind of took a bit of a detour and did sort of non film related things for a while. And then probably around 2000 I don't know, three 2004 or something like that. I got involved in New York with an organization called stellar network, which was founded by a number of folks including Hannam and gala who is now running production over TriStar and she's she's kind of amazing and Nicola Berman, and some other folks all with the goal of helping young up and comers in film theater intelligence, enhance their careers via networking. And so I was working actually in finance at the time and I volunteer to be their, their finance director on this organization. So it gave me the opportunity to get involved with folks who are just doing this full time and talking to them about their projects and then networking and then learning and figuring out sort of the the best sort of plan of attack for when I was going to fully transition out of the day job, if you will, into the filmmaking side of things. And then you know, of course, meeting people networking for the purpose of that organization, which was so fantastic. So that's really kind of how it started on some level.
Alex Ferrari 5:22
Now, you said, the one word that stuck out for me was TriStar, because I haven't seen that horse logo in such a long time.
Benjamin Cox 5:31
I don't even know if tryst or the logo still exists. I'm not really sure.
Alex Ferrari 5:35
I know you right? Cuz you know what I'm talking about, like, you know, we used to see that wonderful horse animation with the, with the flying the flying horse was such a great thing. Anyway, I'm just geeking out sorry.
Benjamin Cox 5:47
Yeah, I know the one. That's pretty great.
Alex Ferrari 5:49
So how, um, so I saw that you you've made a lot of short films in your career so far? How did making those short films prepare you for your feature debut?
Benjamin Cox 5:59
Um, well, you know, I really think you just kind of have to roll up your sleeves and get in there and just start shooting stuff. Because you can look at things in an abstract level and say, Oh, well, I mean, first of all, you know, you know that you're a director when you watch something on TV, and you immediately think to yourself, like, now I could do that better, right? I mean, that's
Alex Ferrari 6:18
a yes, sir. Yes. What goes through
Benjamin Cox 6:19
every director's brain, and it's an arrogance or whatever, I'm not really sure. But then what you find is when you start shooting it, you're like, oh, maybe I can't do that better. I don't actually know what I'm doing. Exactly. From from that perspective, it was hugely informative for me to get, you know, get behind the camera, start writing, crewing up, you know, doing all the things that it takes to, you know, make a movie. And I really try things out. I mean, the first handful of projects that I worked on short films, you know, I was lucky in the sense that I was working with some folks who really knew what they were talking about, and really gave me an appreciation for server the editing process and what it means to cut something and make it better and better and better and better. And how, you know, I assume on on this podcast, we can swear right? So yes, sir. What I like to call it is the is the fuckit button. So if you're, and this is particularly relevant for me, whenever I'm writing, or if I am editing something, what I mean by the fucker button is, you get to a certain point where you start to question your life, like you're writing a scene or you're, you're you can't figure out how to get the transition in the Edit from like, one sequence to another sequence, or why isn't this performance working? And you're like, you're pounding your head against the wall, you start to wonder why you're not a bartender in Maui, you're doing something literally questioning your life. sounds so good. And you literally get to the point where you know, the proverbial red button appears that says, fuck it, because you can, at that point, just do what most people do, which is to say, Alright, you know what performance is good not fuck it. You know what, I've been cutting this thing for weeks. Fuck it, you know, and moving on, sort of the sick side of me is, when that button appears, if you will. That's, that's for me that the point at which you can do something truly great, so you had to push through it, you got to move the button aside and really dig in further. And I think learning those lessons on short films is hugely important because then when you really get down to brass tacks later, it's like, you get it, you're like, Okay, now I understand going in these eight lines of dialogue, or descriptive or whatever from the script before we even get to the set because it's going to be pointless, I'm going to kill it in the Edit anyway. And I think I think really sticking to it, digging deep, if you will, is the thing that's gonna gonna make things work and allow you to be as efficient as you need to be when you get to something like, you know, shooting a movie, like better off single where, you know, we had, we shot that in an 18 days, 360 weeks with like, two days off in between. And so it was fast. And there's like, 51 story days in that movie running around New York City. So the only way we could do that for you know, pretty, a pretty modest budget is, is by being as efficient as possible and really making sure we know what we're doing.
Alex Ferrari 9:13
Now, as I think it was, as soon as Picasso or the Vinci I'm not sure who it was, but it says that art is never finished. It's abandoned. So that would be the bucket bond bucket button. At a certain point, you just got to go I could be on this scene, literally for another year.
Benjamin Cox 9:31
Yeah, well, you know, but what's interesting too, is like Scorsese has an interesting approach to this kind of thing. Like they somebody asked him at some point, you know, Hey, why don't you go back to main streets and you know, recut it the way like George Lucas does some of his stuff and, and he's like, you know, for in order for him to feel like, it's truly representative of where he is at a certain stage in his career as a filmmaker. He has to give it everything he's got at the time. Make literally The best movie that he can possibly make at stage and then and then when he's done he knows he did everything he could possibly do and then he moves on and he This is never going to change it again and sure if he made me streets today would it be better well in theory it should be because he's he's evolved right but it's representative of where he was at that time and so you know that's really all you can do and so for me it's it's less about the notion of abandonment it's more like this is representative of what my skill sets are and and I try not to get too precious about oh my god it's the be all and end all because if I don't you know, I do this I have anxiety forever. It's like you do the best that you can possibly do. And and then and then you go on to the next thing and it's cool because it's all part of one body of work,
Alex Ferrari 10:47
right? So then you look at I'm sure you look back as I do with my short films, and you just go Oh, I could do that better. I could do that better. Geez, I went Why didn't I do that? What I did this in but that's any artists they think with any form of art you love? I'm sure you go back and just go off. I could change that I
Benjamin Cox 11:03
could change this. Yeah, ya know, for sure. For sure.
Alex Ferrari 11:06
Now, how did you get better off single off the ground?
Benjamin Cox 11:10
Uh, well, you know, it's interesting because for me, there was a lot of I imagined this is similar for folks who are directing their first feature it was was a question of like, well, Who the fuck is Ben Cox? Right? This guy, it doesn't you know what I mean? It's nice that that I can speak words and maybe maybe you like the script, or maybe you don't like the script. But But when unless you have at least some sort of recognition over the notion like hey, this is this is something you know how to do. And you have a track record for it. It's like you're, you're kind of up shits Creek. And so for me, it was about building a team. And one of the first things I did was try to really dig deep on the script. And I really believe in feedback and trying to get as much of that feedback as I could possibly get and starting with like, sort of what I would call low hanging fruit, ie, people who don't necessarily work in the industry or people who work in the industry but are friendly and are not going to bad mouth you to somebody else later because they read something that was drivel and they were like and and like really bounce ideas off of people and just see Well, what's working on the page. And you know, what changes need to be made. And so, you know, I think I probably took like a good year of just going back and getting as much feedback as humanly possible on the script. And letting people tear it apart. And and specifically trying to solicit that feedback in as detailed away as possible. So that I could sit down usually in and sort of units of 10. Or I'd have I'd have 10 versions of the script where people who have marked it up. And then I would sit down and look at page one and go Okay, well there's three jokes on this page because you know, it's a comedy right? So there's three jokes on this page two of them are resonating all the time and one of them not so much. So it's like gives me at least a sense of what I need to be killing right. And, and then after getting the script to a point where it's like, okay, now that the low hanging fruit has been exhausted now now, it takes a little bit more risk and bring it out to some people. And one of the one of the people that I met, in my time with stellar network that had mentioned before a woman named Tracy Becker, who, you know, her brainchild, was Finding Neverland, sort of back in the day, she's the one who developed that and brought it to at the time, Miramax, and then they obviously made it into movie. And that was like her first feature, producer, and obviously not a bad one to have it. Not a bad Not a bad one to start with. Yeah, yeah. And so she and I were friendly, via the stellar network stuff. And I brought it to her and you know, asked her for notes, and she gave me a ton of notes. And I said, Would this be something you'd be interested in working on as a producer? And she said, No.
Alex Ferrari 13:55
Benjamin Cox 13:56
Definitely not. It's not far enough along, you know, here is like a copious amount of notes that I would incorporate and you know, and you should be getting those from other people and I got a whole bunch of other people. And then, you know, I went away for a few months, and I came back and I said, Alright, here's, here's where we are now. Can you let me know if this might be be feasible? And she said, yeah, this is cool, man. Let's talk so so now Tracy is somebody who is real in the industry that she's doing. And so she's signed on to produce with me and, and I, one of the short films that I had produced years before was something where the DP was a guy named Vincent Laffer Ray, who's pretty prolific in sort of like the digital filmmaking space. He actually won a Pulitzer as photographer, he's kind of awesome. And Vincent, read the script. He was like, Hey, I'm really into the script, and I love it. He goes, but what I would do is I would additionally talk to Russell carpenter. And I was like, Who's real? rosel? Car? So Carpenter one. Yes. Ask her for cinematography for Titanic, right?
Alex Ferrari 15:06
He's James cameras guy. Did you realize that a bunch of his movies? Yeah,
Benjamin Cox 15:09
did he? I mean, I know who he is now but he but at the time I really didn't have an appreciation and I looked him up and I was like, wow, okay. Yeah, sure. If he's willing to read the script, I'd love to do it
Alex Ferrari 15:19
did Russell did Russell's was your was your dp on this?
Benjamin Cox 15:23
He, he initially signed on to be the DP, which is sort of one of the best meetings I ever had probably my favorite coffee of all time. Oh, my God, I can imagine, you know, out in LA, where we sat there for like, I mean, three plus hours. And I don't think I touched the latte that was in front of me. We were both very animated and talking about all things creative. And, and he was a big fan of the script, which is cool. And it felt very complimentary. And, and so he said, Look, you know, who knows what will end up happening? There's all kinds of things because but if it's helpful, yeah, I would love to do it. I think it'd be great. And you know, you can figure out what it is. Now, it ended up being the case that we couldn't raise enough funds to do this as a union movie. So Russell is an executive producer on the movie, and he helped us get gear and do some other things, like got a great call from panda vision one day like Russell would like us to help you, we're going to help you. Nice, awesome. But anyway, so it's like, you know, I got Tracy involved, they got Russell involved. And then I had been working on sort of different people from like a casting perspective for a long time. And one of the people I came in contact with this Patricia de certeau, who casts among other things, all of Woody Allen's movies, she's done like his last 20 plus movies. And, and so she is phenomenal. And I probably begged her for, I don't know, two years to be the casting director for the movie and and at one point, she finally said, You know what, all right, let's do it. Let's do it. And so with those folks, and then you know, Christa, Rita who's a DJ Casey or w in LA, he he came up with show morning becomes eclectic forever ago, and he's kind of a legend. As a music supervisor, too. He's been nominated for a couple of Grammys but he joined to be our music supervisor slash co producer on the movie and he brought along with him a guy named Chris McLean is also DJ kcrw who is amazing and as the music supervisor on the movie ultimately and just sort of building out is as impressive a team as I could possibly muster. Who a hell of a team all people yeah, that's pretty great. I mean, like my goal is to be sort of like the you know, dumbest, slowest, least attractive person involved in the move.
Alex Ferrari 17:35
That's really smart advice, actually. Yeah, I
Benjamin Cox 17:38
mean, you know, like my thinking is like, if I'm the worst one, then we're going to be fine right? You know, so so you know, if you get people in with the right attitude and who are really really great, then you're building a positive spiral for success and it's like a bucket of water right? It may sound cheesy when I say shit like this, but you know, here I go, it's like it's a bucket of water, right, if you spin in one direction, where you spend in the other direction, whichever way you're going to start spinning that water it's going to move right so you go negative, it's going negative and even if you try to like stop it and go the other way, you have to first fight the current to stop it and then get it going in the right direction. But if you get that positive spiral going, you know the same thing applies where it's going to help you and it'll carry you in spots once it's already moving. So that way as long as people understand and believe that like, you know that this thing is moving forward and we're out to make something that's truly fucking great, then I think you can really make something that's really fucking great and that's kind of the idea
Alex Ferrari 18:39
that's really a great I'm gonna steal that analogy because that's an actually great analogy for for that because a lot of times filmmakers just get caught up in the negative or there's the wrong kind of people the wrong kind of team and it just kind of starts going in one direction and then it just goes right into the ground. But I've seen other projects that they just pick the right people at the right time and then things just start moving. And it's true and it take and even if something negative happens you momentum is still going positively so it can handle it and you just got to keep going. And now I was gonna ask you the question like how did you get over the whole first time director thing but I see what you've done is you actually got a whole bunch of 800 pound gorillas in a room and they kind of they kind of helped you bust through the door but and obviously the script and the project itself, but I know a lot of people with good scripts that never get made so you were smart enough to kind of bring in the right people that can get at least attract the right people to help you get through the door. Am I am is that a great is that a good explanation?
Benjamin Cox 19:37
Yeah, yeah, I think I think so. Yeah. I mean, it's it's, it's uh, you know, I also try to think about it is like, you know, like the who's driving the bus factor, right. And, and if and if you if you let people know the leg look, we're driving the bus and, and on some level is kind of like a game of chicken right now, due to that Some somebody gave me a long time ago which I think is apropos is if you're you're driving in your car and you're going straight towards this bus and you are playing chicken The only way that you can win truly is to look the other driver in the eyes You're pummeling towards one another and take the steering wheel off your car and so right as long as the other driver sees you through the steering wheel out the window then you don't have a choice you know i mean it's not like this is it's not like making your first movie is is a decision based in intelligence. Oh god no. It's like you just have to decide are you doing it or you're not doing it like do you want it because if you want it, then throw the steering wheel out the window and you're gonna win the game of chicken or you will crash and burn but but at least there's not in decisiveness that's gonna shoot you in your own foot and you'll be able to really move forward steadily with with the objectives that like hey I'm gonna figure this out come hell or high water and and I'm bringing people along with me who believe in the concept and what it is that we're all going to do together and like we make our movie right like it's not my movie I mean like you know, it might be like hey check out my movie this or that but like it's our movie it's like we're all doing it so if if you get the right folks who are are happy to be on board and really are out to do things at like a Super duper high level then you're gonna be great and and also you know, there's a lot of folks who I work you know, shoot commercial they do other things I mean there's there's people who are in the commercial world that you know, they think of it is like making sausage right? Like people want people want to go make movies people want to make in the movies like if they're if they're doing you know, sausage making sort of like commercial level or web content that like doesn't pay money and you know, etc, etc. I mean, it's not as fun so it's like why not empower people to do the things that they want to do anyway? And you got to stick your neck out there a little bit but I mean, you know, for me it's like it's a bigger failure if you don't try it and so it wasn't it wasn't too tough to kind of go make the decision I think it was just more a question of like, Well how feasible is this and you know, how long can it take and of course it takes way longer than you think it's gonna take it's way harder than you necessarily think it's going to be but hopefully at the end of it you have something that you're really proud of and you know, in this case that's that does work out for me in terms of better off single on some of the other things I've gotten as well so that's cool.
Alex Ferrari 22:39
So if I may be so bold as to suggest that if this whole directing chain doesn't work out, you write a book on analogies sausage making the theory and the bucket those three are gems, honestly, they're really great.
Benjamin Cox 22:55
I'm not I'm not short of analogies. I'm sure I have more.
Alex Ferrari 22:58
I'm telling you, right you should write a book on filmmaking analogies, just write a quick ebook. Great. Now out of curiosity what what camera did you show and you said pan of vision? Did you shoot this on film?
Benjamin Cox 23:11
We shot on an Alexa Okay, okay. Yeah, yeah. Yeah, no, it was great. Our dp is a guy named Igor crop it up and he did a really nice job I think and it looks
Alex Ferrari 23:21
gorgeous from the trailer look gorgeous
Benjamin Cox 23:23
Yeah, thanks. Yeah, it was it was pretty fast but I think it was nice having access to an Alexa because of the range that cameras got and it's gorgeous camera you know you can you can do a lot of stuff on that so that
Alex Ferrari 23:38
and what size crew did you have generally speaking, I mean
Benjamin Cox 23:42
you know it pretty standard kind of mid sized crew you know, like 35 to 50 bodies kind of running around at any given day depending on what was going on. You know, it was it was you know pretty legit I mean we we shot mostly three and three as far as like our GMA team and you know, we we had certain people came in extra depending on how big of a shoot day was and where your location and maybe we wanted to use a jib but you know, we were trying to be smart and judicious about when we're going to get fancy with stuff so take you know, we did have a day where we wanted to, like you know, get some like top down shots and have the camera fly through the air a little bit. So it was like, good. Well, what else can we piggyback on that day? And how can we maximize that and where do we want it to be placed in the movie and you know, kind of go from there. I mean, I think Robert Rodriguez his book is informative in that sense. You know, he's like, Look, I'm going to I'm going to try to put high production value things at the beginning of my movie and at the end of my movie, and in the middle. We'll we'll get by on story. So if we can, if we can serve it teed up that way and set the right tone. I mean, people are always interested to watch Indian movies, but I think they're pleasantly surprised if they start watching. In any movie, and it doesn't look terrible, and they're like, Oh, this looks like a movie movie. It's not like an indie movie, you know? Right? colloquial approaches to this kind of thing. I mean, people who work in the film industry think differently, obviously, but like, I just mean average movie or, and, you know, so for me, it's kind of like, I want to set the tone like, yeah, did we do this pretty inexpensively? Was it difficult, you know, all the rest, that kind of stuff, the usual indie hustle stuff as you're talking about? Yeah. But, but we want it to look really good. Because ultimately, that's going to be the thing that's going to enable us to pair investors back and, and ensure we get as many eyeballs on it as possible, which is, which is really the point.
Alex Ferrari 25:39
Now, and I'm assuming that your casting director had a lot to do with the great cast that you have.
Benjamin Cox 25:44
Yeah, I mean, you know, I think I think it certainly adds credibility when Patricia de certeau, is picking up the phone, because she's, like, literally a legend. And she's amazing. And that definitely helps. But I also think it's kind of like, Well, once you start to go down the path, and you figure out, Okay, well, this is how we're going to do it, then you have to have the script that is going to work and then you got to meet with people and you know, make sure that that there's the right connection, you know, like that, that it's going to work and that people understand the characters and that we're all sort of doing this for the right reasons. And so you can't have leads to your to your movie who show up on set and are like annoyed that they're going to change their clothes behind to V flats in the corner, you know, you've got to be like, Okay, guys, like so this is what we're gonna do here. And, you know, we need people to self report to set and, you know, there's nothing fancy going on here at all. And it's not that kind of movie, not the kind of movie and, you know, and I've certainly been in situations where people don't seem to get that, and it makes it a lot harder for everybody. And so this is a question of like, Alright, well, let's start building, building the team. And once we can get a few people on board of note, then that's going to really help and we'll just sort of move from there. And yeah, I was just kind of really nice thing. I mean, it worked out great, too, I think from the, from the actors perspective, because all of the actors in the movie are great, you know, like, they're tremendous. And, and it became almost not really competitive. Exactly. But it's sort of like, if you're an actor, and you show up on this set, and you don't have it that day, you're going to feel real silly. Right? There's everybody, everybody brings it every day, you know, and that's, that's one of the things that was awesome. For me, directing a movie like this, because because like literally like Aaron devait and Abby Elliott Moore and Miller, Rogen, and kalpen and Lewis Black, Chris Elliott, and, you know, Ellen Coleman and Jane McCrae. And like the whole, you know, a whole bunch of folks who would come in and do this, I mean, like, Emily Ashford is in the movie, she shot two days, and she flew in from LA, on shooting Masters of Sex. And she, she flew in on a red eye on a Friday night, and landed on Saturday morning, came to the production office, slept under a desk for like three hours, wow. And then got up and then did this awesome scene, right, and then went to sleep for like a normal night. And then we shot her out as fast as we could early in the morning, we're actually shooting at Old Town Tavern in New York in a bar, like, you know, at 7am. And, and then went to an apartment and shot her scenes in her coverage first, and then she headed back to the airport and flew back to LA so she could be back on set on the Monday. And like, those were her two days, you know, and it's like, you get somebody like that, who comes in and is like, super happy to be there and does an amazing job. And it's like, Great, that's like super invigorating for the first two days of our shoot to have someone like her there. Because it really sets the tone for the other people who come in and like, Oh, we have somebody else is going to be here for a day or for two days. And, and it's like, you know, the crew, and everyone has an expectation around like, Sir, how this works and all the talent is onboard. And you know, it's nice.
Alex Ferrari 29:21
Now, do you have any advice for dealing with agents when you're trying to hire top end talent?
Benjamin Cox 29:28
advice for dealing with agents? Well, I mean, I think I think you just have to have your shit together. Because agents, you know, they're not fucking around, you know, they, they're trying to do the best things that they can for their for their clients, and they care about their clients. Maybe they care about you, maybe they don't. But, you know, at the end of the day, it's like, unless you're showing them how it's going to be beneficial to their client, then you're kind of wasting their time and probably your own because it's not going to get it there. So you know Look at your script. Do you have typos all over your script? Do you have verbiage and you know, do you have descriptives that are like paragraph after paragraph in between actual dialogue. I mean, if you're Tarantino, you can do that his scripts are littered with descriptives. But he's Tarantino. So that's fine.
Alex Ferrari 30:20
We'll be right back after a word from our sponsor. And now back to the show.
Benjamin Cox 30:31
You know, for me, it's like, get your syntax in order, make sure that you sort of know what the expected types of things are. And before you send, hit the send button on a script or somewhere, make sure that it's full on ready, and you're going to get your one read. So don't waste it. Take the extra time really focused on the script, do it and then just be no bullshit about it. Like, hey, this is what I can do. This is what I can't do. You know, this is what we can pay. This is what we can't pay. I love the cast person, but they have to work local, I love to do this. But they have to, you know, whatever, whatever the things are. And I think agents will respect that and see that you're apt to do stuff, and then just don't make stuff up. If you say you're going to do something, do it, because it sucks to have to retreat.
Alex Ferrari 31:18
Right, exactly. And then it also starts tarnishing your reputation with that agency.
Benjamin Cox 31:23
Yeah, I mean, I look at it, it's like it's the Bangkok's brand, you know, that's all I have. So whatever that brand is worth, it'll be worth less if I'm totally bullshit. But if I, if I say, look, these are the things I'm going to do, even if it ends up taking a little bit longer, but you can I get there, okay. But like, you know, you're not, you're not going into it and saying, here's my $800 million movie, let's cast for this, that's sort of a waste of time. But if you come in and you're like, Look, this is a feasible way that we can go about getting this done, we'd like to attach, you know, your actors, because we think it'll help us with the remaining funds. You know, you don't go in saying something silly, like we have all the money when you don't or something like that. And, and then and then just don't waste people's time. You don't need to call every, every week, even, you know, just just call when it's when there's something relevant. And then I think I think you have a better chance. I'm not sure if that's much by way of advice, but it's a
Alex Ferrari 32:16
bit it's definitely good. It is good advice. It is good advice. Because, you know, it sounds it sounds rudimentary. Like it's like, oh, you know, just be honest, say what you're going to do. But sometimes you got it, you know, filmmakers need to hear that, you know, because a lot of times they want to try to impress or they're like, yeah, yeah, we've got the money in the bank, do you? And if you get caught with that lie, it's it's over.
Benjamin Cox 32:39
Yeah, we'll be be prepared to show bank statements. Yeah, thank you mean, use your bank statements, your bank statement, you know, it's pretty straightforward. And if you can't show a bank statement, and there's a reason for that, right, so luckily, oh, it's, uh, you know, be prepared for people to call you on anything. But what's interesting is like, you know, like, I produced a movie that we shot. This past fall, we just like picture on or sending up the festival soon. And what was great is like, you know, that that was a movie that I got the benefit of having done better off single. With all these agents. Some of these agencies are like, Alright, you, like we know who you are? I mean, you know, still, you're an indie filmmaker. It's not like they're gonna give you the same level of importance as they will James Cameron, Cameron, as an example. But, but they're like, Okay, great. Yeah, that's right. You employed my actors, and they had a great experience, and they got paid, and they're really happy with their performances, and it looks good for their real. Sure. Tell us about your next project, you know, like, you'll get that benefit on a go forward basis. You know, I think it's, I think it's it's refreshing in that sense. But But yeah, I mean, there's a lot of resistance, and I get it. I mean, there's a lot of people who kind of say they're going to do something, and then they don't you know, we're all kind of dealing with that, right.
Alex Ferrari 33:53
It's tricky. Oh, God. Which brings me to my next question financing because God knows. financing is always like, yeah, yeah, the money's in the bank. I know this billionaire. He just wants to be in movies. How much do you need? 200,000? Oh, that's nothing. That's his coffee. But let me just see. I'm here. I'm assuming you've heard that story a few times. Yeah, exactly. So how did you get the financing? If you don't mind me asking, like how did you finance this? This this beast?
Benjamin Cox 34:19
I mean, about a million different conversations. I mean, I mean, that might be an exaggeration, but it's true. 1000 conversations? I don't know. You know, look, I think, for me, it was really just a question of trying to let people know like, this is what we're doing and you keep going back and back and back and trying to improve upon all of the investing materials that you pulled together or try to improve upon the script, try to improve upon the team try to improve upon what actors are attached, like, do everything you possibly can and just keep doing it and doing and doing it and then eventually people will write checks and you kind of do what you need to do. You know, we will structure, we created a capital structure that deployed development funds. So, you know, obviously, they're on the riskier side, but you get a little bit better of a bump on your position when you roll it into the actual making of the film once you start shooting, so that's nice, but it gives you a little bit of leeway to make budgets and fly to LA when you need to, or you know, just to meet people like that kind of stuff. And just kind of get you to a certain point, and then, you know, straight equity, and then debt lending against New York State production rebate, and I mean, getting a 30% below the line credit for everything you're doing. And the state of New York is great, nice, so why not try to utilize it if you can. And then and then of course, like, you know, trying to get referrals from people and you know, whatever you can, in order to just like literally reduce the amount of cash, you have to lay out out of the gate, because I'd rather get people back and when I don't have the funds, then then not as a as I evolved in my career as an evolution taking place. I you know, then I then I think the back end becomes more precious because, because that's where, you know, you really make money, right? But in theory, but in theory, yeah, but when you don't have, but we don't have the money to shoot it all, then back end is worth zero, because there's nothing. So I'd rather I'd rather give away back end and, and shoot a movie and make a movie, then have no movie to show for it at all. So I think it's just trying to get creative with the capital structure. And then you know, going out and doing the best that you possibly can. And also look, this is one of those ones where for me, I'm like, Listen, I'm producing, directing, and I'm writing this movie, and I'm going to get paid as a deferral for all that stuff. So you know, I will put my money where my mouth is with this. And if I don't believe that you can get paid back your equity, plus some form of preferred return before I get paid to produce, write and direct this movie. And, you know, I think it makes it a little bit easier of a conversation to just be like, I'm going to put my money where my mouth is. And
Alex Ferrari 37:12
from there, right, like, Yeah, exactly. If you're, if you're if you're getting a paycheck, and then you're expecting everybody else not to get a paycheck and work on the third, it's a tougher sell than if you're like, Look, I'm in the same boat. You guys are.
Benjamin Cox 37:22
Yeah, and I think that works both for crews. And for actors, as well as for investors, because everybody is going to be taking some form of a capital risk one way or the other. Either it's opportunity cost with their time, or it's actually writing a check. And so, you know, I think I think you just got to approach it the right way. And, you know, if you're asking yourself, Well, what more can I do today to make this movie happen? That's a pretty obvious one. So I think on your first one, there's, there's certainly no shame in it. And then once you sort of get past that point, then it's like, Alright, look, I did that. I don't know if I can afford to keep doing that anymore. And I got two kids, you know, blah, blah, blah. I know the feeling. Well, you know, and then also you're kind of like, now I have that track record. And I and I actually do know what I'm doing. It's not just theoretical anymore. Like it's like, yeah, I can do this.
Alex Ferrari 38:14
Yeah, I could. Yeah, it's Yeah, exactly. You're now a feature director. You're not just a commercial director or a short film director. You're now officially a feature director. It's under one's under your belt. So now they can't say that you can't do one. Yeah, that's right. So So and how did you get distribution for this film? And I know you are being distributed by friends of the show. gravitas?
Benjamin Cox 38:38
Yeah, yeah. No, they're great. We we hired a company called circus Road Films to I know, sir, I know Sebastian very well. Yeah. Right. Exactly. Especially to Glen and, and, and like, literally, they just said, Okay, so this is what we think in terms of like a plan. And we want to do things sort of all around festival and making sure we get things going the right way. And then we hired a PR company called prodigy to, to do a bunch of press for us around our premiere at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival.
Alex Ferrari 39:11
How was it? How was that premiere? By the way? How is how is the festival? Is it a good that's good to hear. It was a really good fest. Yeah, I
Benjamin Cox 39:18
really I really like it a lot. I mean, I'd been a whole bunch of times to like Sundance and run on Tribeca, and like a bunch of places and I had never been to the Santa Barbara festival. And then someone mentioned to me, you know, you guys should sort of check these these folks out. And like literally, I was looking into it, and then they called us. And they were like, Hey, we heard about your movie. And I was like really? Well, okay, cool. And they wouldn't really divulge it, how they heard about it. But presumably from us submitting somewhere else, and maybe somebody said something good, like, Hey, we can't program the movie, but maybe you should take a look at it. And so They took a look at it. And they said we'd love to program it. And then so we talked to, I talked to Aaron debate and Abby Elliot and Ken Coleman and learner Rogan and just try to figure out well, who's going to be in LA then and who can come out for this and help us with the PR. And so, you know, folks came out for the premiere, which is great. And, you know, we we had to sell outs for the movie, and then the festival was like, Hey, you sold it out twice. We'll see. We'll give you a third screenings are like, great. So then we, you know, play the movie again, which was cool. And I think because of the nice press around that, and the positioning that like surface road had been doing with, you know, the various distributors. It helped. And then also Aaron TV, just prior to that was, you know, played Danny Zuko on Greece live. So you know, like his IMDb star meter. The week of our premiere at Santa Barbara was one. And so we're all right, that's good. We like that. And so we actually had a number of companies that were pretty aggressively pursuing us to distribute the movie, which was great. And, you know, I think I think I couldn't have asked for a better festival experience in terms of like, just the way the festival was. And I would definitely recommend the festival to anyone I mean, it's it's, that's nice. They know what they're doing over there. And they've given awards to a lot of celebrities as well, Oscar Enders, and things like that leading up to the Academy Awards. And I think that helps also, just in general, getting members of press up there and kind of doing stuff. I mean, like Leonard Moulton, of all people, and to be at the premiere of better off single, and I'm like, awesome. So, you know, it's, it's just one of those kind of interesting things that that's just what happens in Santa Barbara. So that was nice. I think it definitely helps.
Alex Ferrari 41:52
Now, the last two questions I asked asked all of my guests, what is the lesson that took you the longest to learn whether in life or in the film business? That's my Oh, it's my Oprah question. If you were a tree, what kind of ninja?
Benjamin Cox 42:05
It is an Oprah question. I'm definitely an Oprah fan. You know, large Listen, boy. I feel like I'm where I wonder how deep I should get with that.
Alex Ferrari 42:16
I've had people go extremely deep. So as deep as you feel comfortable with.
Benjamin Cox 42:20
Yeah, I mean, you know, look, I think, I think like, it's tricky. It's tricky. I think there's a balance between the notion of some of the things that we talked earlier about earlier, like, you know, taking the steering wheel and throwing it out the window, and really trying to like, move forward with like, making a project and getting it done. And then also, like, your personal life, because in order to get a movie, like like this make, you're doing crazy things like you're editing through the night, or, you know, whatever, there's like lots of stuff that happens to make a movie like this. But I do think there is a balance between sort of how that goes, and then how much strain you can put on, like, your personal relationships, like with your wife, or with your kids or whatever. I mean, there's only so far you can take it. I mean, I think I think trying to find the right balance for like how obsessed you want to become with the making of the movie versus like, yeah, ensuring that you have other things going on. That are served outside. That whole thing, which in part for me is why I love living in New York, because people don't really care if you make movies. You know, like, if you're in LA, it's like, everybody's talking about movies and TV. And that's great. But like, it's hard for somebody like me, because I'm, I'm kind of obsessed so so so trying to figure out where that obsession should and pretty important lesson, and probably one that, you know, is taking me a little while learn. I'm not sure if I probably learned it. Definitely. But the but nonetheless, I think it's I think it's important.
Alex Ferrari 43:59
And then what are the three of your favorite films of all time?
Benjamin Cox 44:04
three of my favorite films of all time, I mean, I think I think Casa Blanca might be my favorite of all time I think not only from like a screenwriting perspective and just how quotable that movie is, I mean it's it's incredible. How many of the lines from that film permeate the
Alex Ferrari 44:27
the culture, the American like heist.
Benjamin Cox 44:29
Now, I mean, it's, it's, it's remarkable in that sense, but I also think like critique is just it's like an incredible job from a directing perspective in terms of like, where the camera is, you know, what do you have in the foreground? What do you have in the background? What are you doing to really suck people in and I think I think it also has one of the most compelling and important scenes in cinematic history with that whole sort of battle between the the German national anthem, and the French National Anthem. Oh, it was quite seen. And I think I think that that scene in that sequences is hugely important and just sort of globally important at the time as well and you know, that's that's definitely sort of right up there for me in terms of one of the one of the films that really works for me. I think a movie like Annie Hall is
Alex Ferrari 45:22
you read my mind? I was thinking of that movie.
Benjamin Cox 45:25
Yeah, I mean it it's it's tremendous. I mean, on so many levels, and you know, I think I think it's just fascinating there's a lot of like, things you can learn from a movie like that I mean, you know, there's sort of like the like the save the cat, screenwriting book and the concept of like the pope in the pool, right? Like you, you you need to get exposition out but you don't want to bore people so you have to come up with a pope in the pool swimming laps in the background of like the, the exposition, just to distract people and make sure that they feel entertaining. You want something like Annie Hall and it's like, you know, he's driving his car, Porsche and he's driving home from from meeting at the the tennis match or whatever. And she's like, almost getting into a car accident and he finds like a half eaten sandwich in the car. And like, you know, there's like these comedic moments, but the entire time she's talking about her Grammy and Chippewa Falls and setting up stuff later. And, and there's just so much depth and so many layers to just like, not just like poking the pool type stuff, but like, all of the things that he does, and getting really personal and letting scenes play and just being epically creative. Which, which I think, is super duper powerful, and really kind of fascinating. And then and then I don't know, I'd say anything that like Kubrick does, like I just think like with the amount of detail in any Stanley Kubrick movie is is sort of mind boggling. And you know, I can see like Alright, well I don't know if I need to do like, you know, 89 takes of work necessarily, I mean, but but like, when things work it's it's kind of it's kind of great I mean like the duel scene and Barry Lyndon is one of my really of all time and and it's it's played so slow, but like I don't see how the comedy could be any better. I mean, like, I just, I just think from like a craft perspective. The stuff that he does and his pictures that he did, he really just sort of takes it to another level and so it kind of gives us all something that we can aspire toward.
Alex Ferrari 47:41
So where can people find you online?
Benjamin Cox 47:45
Well, my company is Red Square pictures if you go to Red Square pictures comm You can find links to a bunch of different things there. It's on Facebook and Twitter and all that kind of stuff. Better single is out October seventh. So there's various clips and trailers and stuff like that still going to be released in the coming days leading up to the October 7 release of the movie so and that'll be up on iTunes and theaters and select cities and German places there so you can find better off saying a lot a whole bunch of places and But yeah, I think rxbar pictures comm is a good place to start Facebook and Twitter, of course.
Alex Ferrari 48:22
Thank you, man. Thanks for being on the show and dropping some knowledge bombs on the tribe man, I appreciate it.
Benjamin Cox 48:27
Thank you so much for having me. I really, really pleasure
Alex Ferrari 48:30
Hope you guys enjoyed my interview with Benjamin Cox. I'm so happy that you got that movie made. It looks funny as all hell, you'll be able to see the trailer and links to where it's available in the show notes at indie film hustle comm forward slash 110 or 110. So guys, thanks again as always, and don't forget to head over to indie film syndicate COMM And check out the over 300 tutorial online videos and courses that we have for filmmakers and this very thriving film community where we're actually now doing portfolio reviews of people submitting commercials, short films, trailers, and I kind of just review it with them live and I post it up on the Facebook group and in the syndicate, so everybody can learn from it and we can all kind of grow as filmmakers together so it's a really fun community guys, I really wish I wanted to make it bigger and get as big as humanly possible and a lot of value there. So any film an indie film, syndicate calm, and if you want that 25% off coupon it's still available. Head over to indie film, hustle, calm forward slash 25 off the number to five and off. And don't forget to head over to filmmaking podcast calm and leave me a good review guys. It really helps to show out a lot. So thank you again so much. And as always keep that hustle going. Keep that dream alive and I will talk to you soon.
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- Better Off Single – Amazon
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Where Hollywood Comes to Talk
Oscar® Winning Writer/Director
(Platoon, Wall Street, JFK)
(Brothers McMullin, She's the One)
Oscar® Nominated Writer/Director
(Boyhood, School of Rock)
Emmy® Winning Writer/Director/Actor
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