Today’s guest on the show is Scottish award-winning filmmaker, and writer, Ben Sharrock, known for his Cannes Official Selection 2020 feature film, Limbo, and Pikadero, among others.
Ben’s unique visually captivating films are inspired by middle eastern and northern European cinema. Interpreting middle eastern character in his films as he does in some of his recent work stems from an academic background in Middle East Cinema, Fine Arts, and working advertising in Dubai. The rooted connection — learning and understanding these cultures carved for Ben, a unique cinematic voice in the industry.
Sharrock and his producing and life partner, Irune Gurtubai founded their production company, Caravan Cinemas under which they premiered their first film, Pikadero at the 2015 San Sebastian International Film Festival.
A penniless, young couple has trouble consummating their fledgling relationship in their parents’ homes, forcing their relationship into question as they try to break free from the shackles of a crumbling economy.
The film which had initially gone by Patata Tortilla was Sharrock and Gurtubai’s Screen Academy Scotland graduation film. They won two awards at the Zurich Film Festival in 2015, Michael Powell Award for Best British Feature Film at the Edinburgh International Film Festival 2016, and two BAFTA awards that year for new Talent Best Drama and Best Screenplay.
The recognition of Pikadero made it easier to get funding to write the screenplay for Limbo which came out in 2020.
Ben directed and wrote the original screenplay for Limbo—a wry and poignant observation of the refugee experience which follows Omar, a promising musician and Syrian refugee who is separated from his family, stuck on a remote Scottish island awaiting the fate of his asylum request.
Ben approaches the sensitive issues of refugees’ dehumanization and orientalism in this film with absurd humor and honesty.
The film was nominated at this year’s BAFTA for Best British Film, Best debut, and best international Feature Film for the GoldenEye.
I truly had a fun time geeking out on a tandem with Ben about film lenses, and cameras and learning of his film influences and transferred skills from his career in advertising to filmmaking.
Enjoy my conversation with Ben Sharrock.
Alex Ferrari 1:00
I like to welcome to the show. Ben shahrokh. Man, how you doing Ben?
Ben Sharrock 1:02
Yeah, good. Thank you. How are you?
Alex Ferrari 1:05
I'm good, my friend. I'm good. You are You are coming to us from the other side of the pond, as I always like to say, Umbro.
Ben Sharrock 1:07
Yes. Yeah, that's right. Nice and nice and rainy and miserable here at the moment.
Alex Ferrari 1:17
And here in LA. It's, it's perfect, as it always is. But but we have wildfires, earthquakes. I mean, it balances out in the nature. Yeah. We've got our stuff. We've got our stuff.
Ben Sharrock 1:28
Yeah, we just got a bit of light drizzle.
Alex Ferrari 1:31
Exactly. A little, little, a little God spitting on you is basically what, just a little bit, not too much. But man, listen, thank you for being on the show. I wanted to we wanted to bring you on to talk about your new film limbo. But I also want to kind of dive into how you got started in your journey as a filmmaker. So how did you get into the business?
Ben Sharrock 1:50
Um, well, it's so I mean, I kind of so I took a sort of in teresting route in, which is a little bit related, how I ended up making Limbo as well. But I basically started off with a degree in Arabic and politics. And, and then in my final year of that, I started specializing in Middle East and cinema. And that was really when I kind of made the decision that that I wanted to be a film director. And, you know, I think also, you know, I should probably say that kind of when I grew up when I was growing up as a teenager, I did, I was sort of did a lot of theater, youth theater. And I actually grew up wanting to be an actor, and then that's kind of like disappeared as I went to university. But then, you know, when I kind of started discovering all of these kind of, you know, amazing Middle Eastern Iranian films, it just kind of changed my idea of what cinema could be. And then, yeah, so I decided to go to film school. Made my kind of first short film directly after like my final year exams, I managed to get in. And then I, I basically spent a year at film school. After that I got a job in Dubai, working in advertising on the agency side. And then I was in Dubai for a year. And by kind of, you know, I knew that I wanted to make films, I want to make feature films, I didn't want to be a commercials director. So I ended up getting a scholarship to come back to Scotland, I am the Master of Fine Arts. And, and then basically directly after that, I made my kind of first my my debut feature film, which is, you know, a low budget, very low budget, pretty much zero budget self funded film, and which was made entirely in the Basque language, which is in from the Basque Country in the north of Spain. Sure. Um, and, and then yeah, and then basically, that film, kind of it premiered at San Sebastian Film Festival and then just kind of went on this big journey. And I ended up you know, kind of traveling around the world on the festival circuit in it, you know, did did pretty well. And then that kind of launched me into the getting the funding for to write the screenplay for limbo.
Alex Ferrari 4:19
Now, the I have to ask you because I have friends from Dubai. Is it true that it is hotter than literally hell? They're like that, like your shoes will melt.
Ben Sharrock 4:29
It is. It is so hot, but it's the weirdest thing about Dubai is how hot it is at night.
Alex Ferrari 4:36
Yeah, that's what they're selling me. It's like, it's obscene. It's like to die like 95
Ben Sharrock 4:41
Yeah, it's just it's so weird. And it really is like a really is like an oven. It's like that. That's that that's the feeling. It's like a kind of like a fun oven. But yeah, it's the night heat though. It's that that's I've never experienced that. And when it's so hot at night, just it doesn't even make sense.
Alex Ferrari 5:00
How could a city build up around that? Like That means I mean, I mean, we've built cities here and like Phoenix, you know, which is obscenely hot. We're like 100 and 110. And even LA, there's parts of La that gets to 100 110. In heat waves, but you guys are consistent and Dubai, like it was like a consistent like 115 120 in the day. Yeah, like your your shoes, man. Yeah, like your sneakers You don't?
Ben Sharrock 5:24
Yeah, yeah, yeah, you can't go out during the day. I mean, you know, it's like, you're literally like, you have to go from your air conditioned building into car into another air conditioned building. And that's how you live. So you can't really spend any time outside during the day at all. But then at night, it's really hard as well.
Alex Ferrari 5:44
There's no rest, there's just no rush at all. And coming from I'm coming from Scotland, I'm assuming it's a bit different weather. Exactly,
Ben Sharrock 5:52
exactly. So I'm just not built for that at all. So that's the real reason that we left Dubai it wasn't
Alex Ferrari 6:01
about a year. Now, I also come from a commercial background, doing commercials and got my first start there. How did working commercials prepare you to direct your first feature? I always like asking commercial directors, because every commercial director has a different angle on that.
Ben Sharrock 6:18
So good question. Um, I mean, I think the main thing for me really, because, like, the main thing for me was that I think just just dealing with clients, and kind of managing the set and kind of, you know, because I guess, on set you've got, because I was, when I started directing commercials, I've got, you know, you've got so it's like the agency side, and then the client as well. And it's like, I think just managing all of those different people and kind of looking after them. That was probably at that stage for me, kind of going from film school into commercials, which was kind of then like, you know, that experiencing a professional set, and having people to sort of respond to and look after, like, outside of a student film context was probably the biggest kind of learning curve for me, but actually, in terms of like, my kind of style as a filmmaker, I never really got like the chance to do a commercial in the sense that I could you know, really it kind of explore my my style as a filmmaker and kind of that it was almost like to separate from my kind of feature film making. Now fortunately,
Alex Ferrari 7:35
exactly look, no commercial worlds. He's like you that deal with the clients and all that stuff. And the one thing that I think commercial worlds does so well is a teaches you the politics of a film, not only the film set, but just dealing with personalities and power, and, you know, the hierarchy and stuff like that, where as most film directors go into rate to features, they don't get that, like a commercial director is really well trained to deal with studio executives and investors and producers, and actors, and egos and all of that stuff. That's why a lot of these young filmmakers get destroyed on their first feature, because they can just run over whereas a commercial direct gap. It's got a little bit more armor. It got a little couple more tools in the toolbox. Yeah,
Ben Sharrock 8:15
yeah, you got to learn how to be kind of diplomatic and to kind of deal with those different personalities and try and kind of do what you want to do, but also kind of make them the client and people feel part of it as well. And I think that that's, you know, it's a really important, um, yeah,
Alex Ferrari 8:33
it is an art form to be able to make someone else a client feel that it's their idea so you can get the shot that you want. There's a it's an art form of of being able to do that. And that's, I think some of the best future directors in history are able to to maneuver in that way, especially early on in their careers where someone like Fincher got run over and alien, right. And he was really well done. But then he went into to seven, he's like, if you're gonna do it, I'm gonna do it my way. And then and he's done. Okay, he's done. Okay, he's done. All right. So fingers on okay. But I just wanted to hear that how your take was on it was now How did you get a movie like Limbo off the ground? Because Limbo, obviously, when the giant robot started attacking the city in your film, that obviously sold internationally much quicker. And when the superhero showed up, and help the migrants, it was fantastic. Yeah. So hard to see.
Ben Sharrock 9:37
Right? Yeah, I
Alex Ferrari 9:37
mean, it's like Fast and Furious all over again. It was crazy. So no, but in all honesty, a film like Limbo in today's marketplace, I'm fascinated how you were able to not only put that pack that project together, how did you get the financing for it? How are you getting How did it get out to the world? So how did you just get it off the ground because it is a challenge. I tell everybody what the movies about but it is a challenging story. like to say the least.
Ben Sharrock 10:01
Yeah, I mean, well, I mean to briefly say what it's about. It's I mean, conceptually, it's about a, you know, a group of asylum seekers that are center remote Scottish Island and wait for their asylum claims. But it really centers around Omar who is a very talented young Syrian musician. And it's kind of him coming to terms with his his circumstances of being a refugee. So it's not an easy sell. And it's, I mean, tonally, it's the film, you know, as well, I suppose that that's kind of what made this sort of treatment of this subject matter. Maybe maybe a little bit more more interesting for financier's in the you know, had an interesting tone, because it uses comedy or it uses, you know, absurdist humor in approaching the subject matter. But getting off the ground, I have to say, I think, in our case, it was actually relatively straightforward, because we have a really good system in the UK a structure for making films at this level, and for kind of them, you know, the sort of this kind of structure to support young filmmakers or you know, emerging filmmakers making their first or second feature films. So, in that sense, you know, in my case, because I had the picot era, which was my, you know, low budget depue. Before Limbo, we were sort of kind of, you know, pick it out, it did really well in in its context. So we were kind of, on the radar of, of the industry and have that kind of core structure in the in the UK, with the BSI and screen Scotland, who's, you know, the sort of government Scottish Government funding body. And then we've got film for and BBC films as well, which are the two kind of main broadcaster funders. And yeah, basically, that was quite It was really, in my case, it was a big error, because I kind of want pick it out hard was it sort of had kind of established or started to establish kind of my sort of style and voice and vision as a filmmaker. So we got the initial funding for the screenplay from creative Scotland. And then basically, the sort of the industry we're kind of ready to, and kind of looking forward to reading the script because of brigadeiro. And fortunately, they liked the script. So came on board, and then we had a commitment to production. So yeah,
Alex Ferrari 12:56
that's really awesome. Because in Europe, you have those kind of, in like in Australia and and a couple other places, New Zealand, they have these kind of government systems that help artists in America, they nothing. There's nothing for us here. Like there's you got to scrap it up, you know, so, like Limbo, you would have literally had the knock on dentist door and said, Hey, you want to invest in a movie? Kind of that's, that's so wonderful that you're able to, to have that kind of support system in, in the UK and, and in Europe, in general, a lot of countries have it out there. But that's great, because you need to get stories like this out into the world. And it's hard to get like, it's very hard for an American filmmaker to get this made today. I mean, unless they have a lot of cachet. Or a lot of, you know, fest and even then it's very difficult. So yeah, I suppose fascinated. I'm like, How the hell that
Ben Sharrock 13:52
is more common in the US as well to write scripts on spec, right. Oh, absolutely. So yeah, so it's kind of like that, that kind of early development isn't isn't as common there. Yeah, so there's not kind of a buy in at an early stage. It's kind of like, you've got to have a finished script that's really been kind of worked on a lot. And then
Alex Ferrari 14:10
you need a finished script, you need stars attached, you need pre sales already set up and distribution. You have you need to have a PNA budget already set up and some sort of theatrical explain that now as much but before you would need like do you have some sort of theatrical in place for day and day and like they distributors now want you to bring? Literally just do all the work for them?
Ben Sharrock 14:33
Alex Ferrari 14:36
we're just gonna take 30% not do anything, you're gonna do all the hard work, and we're just gonna put it out for you. And that's all and you have the market as well, you. And if you don't have an audience, it's even tougher. So like, what? Like, what do you do? So I'm moving I guess we're moving to Scotland, I guess. You know, I guess the
Ben Sharrock 14:54
weathering of making my next film in the US but now I'm kind of stymied.
Alex Ferrari 14:58
I think you should start it in your up and maybe finish it out here. I don't know,
Ben Sharrock 15:01
Alex Ferrari 15:03
I don't know. But now this there's some scenes in the movie, the classroom scenes, which were completely absurd. They were just absurd in what was going on. Is that accurate? Is that what happens? And can you explain what happens in those kinds of classroom scenes to?
Ben Sharrock 15:20
Alex Ferrari 15:21
to the refugees?
Ben Sharrock 15:22
Yeah, I mean, it's so yeah, they're a bit I mean, they're based on on reality. So, you know, I definitely kind of heighten the absurdity of that those scenes in the film, but, but they are based on real classes that take place in different European countries. But the ones that I came across were in Norway and Finland. And, you know, I came across a class in Germany In Germany. That's how to teachers, asylum seekers, how to flirt with German girls.
Alex Ferrari 15:56
thats a good movie in itself.
Ben Sharrock 15:59
So yeah, I mean, so yeah, they were really based on on on real, real cultural assimilation classes,
Alex Ferrari 16:07
and been in it's always, essentially just the West's way of dealing with that like, like, like, the way I mean, because you're, you're coming from completely different culture. And it's just, I guess, the wit, the West is trying to teach their way of do is like, Can you explain that a little bit?
Ben Sharrock 16:24
Yeah, exactly. And I think that that's the thing that and that kind of goes back? Is it kind of like Orientalism and kind of this idea of like the construction of the other, which is this sort of very kind of Western approach to, to, to the rest of, of the world? And it's, you know, and it's connected with British colonialism and imperialism. And, and it just goes back so far that there is this, this kind of idea that, that, yeah, that's just still exists. And that's really, you know, an example of of, of that, and, you know, with these classes in Norway you know, obviously, people really patronized by this is incredibly patronizing, you know, to, to have these sorts of classes and they were very compulsory in Norway in order to get asylum. And so it really is kind of Yeah, very good, inherently absurd.
Alex Ferrari 17:18
It's a completely so because it means some of these refugees might be like, extremely well educated people that just hang up. They just happened to be refugees. And you're like, this is how you talk to a German girl if you want to get pick her up. And flirt and you just like, it's it was very absurd. I love that scene. By the way, I absolutely love that you have friends in there. So there's a scene in the movie that the refugees are watching friends and then that the later that conversation about the break. And that there was bootleg friends seasons.
Ben Sharrock 17:52
Alex Ferrari 17:53
like, and the comment was like, what was it the comment is like, can you get? Why can we get a match? It was like, Why couldn't you get a mattress? He goes now those are that's very high in demand. Yeah, why didn't we get a coat? Well, it's a very high demand but friends CDs, DVDs everywhere. It really is like I you know, I've lived in I lived in the US all my life and is that we do truly are our number one export, it's our culture is that dream and when you see, you know, refugees from Syria, watching friends, and just like getting into it, like cuz I don't see now maybe a little bit more with Netflix that you kind of see a little bit more international stuff coming into our feeds. But yeah, Americans are just so it's all we have no reference point outside, where the rest of the world that's all they have is like, American, that, that America we were talking about? Before we were talking about the comeback story about how we, how you know, before we weren't doing really well in the whole vaccine, and the whole COVID thing and now we're leading the world in, you know, vaccinations and not worried like exporting out vaccines to India. And we're like, the rocky Rocky and it's America's what America is good at, we're good, but we sell that I always say like America's greatest says selling the sizzle. But they're not really good at selling the steak. Because the American Dream sounds fantastic. But the actual American Dream is very, very difficult, if not impossible for some people, depending on where you come from. And and, you know, I don't want to get into a larger conversation about immigration because that's a whole other podcast for another day. But But yeah, just I just found that very fascinating that you put that in there. And what was the blind? Yeah, like, why did you pick friends just out of curiosity and having the right to the friends how did you get the rights of friends? That's another
Ben Sharrock 19:44
Well, that's another story. Yeah. I mean, wow. No, I mean, I mean, like in terms of in terms of, you know, friends being written into the script, it was actually something I was just very natural to me to do because I you know, is It's something you know, it's a series that is, is global. You know, you go anywhere in the world and everyone has watched friends you know, I lived in Syria and you know, people watching friends, they sell a lot of bootleg DVDs in Syria as well. And you just see all of the seasons, you know, lined up outside shops and, and you know, everywhere in the world. I mean, I remember being in China as well and you know, meeting someone that their English name is Monica because of friends you know, so it's, it's so it's so kind of Yeah, go global and universal and also cross generational. That's the other brilliant thing about friends because, you know, I've got 16 year olds, 18 year old cousins, and they've seen all our friends are obsessed and friends have nine year olds.
Alex Ferrari 20:48
I have nine year olds and my the other day Jennifer Aniston happened to just come on this on the screen for like, some show or something. And she's like, Daddy, isn't that isn't that Rachel from friends? My wife and I just looked at each other. Like, maybe we've gone too far. Maybe we shouldn't let them watch all those friends. But they'd love to love friends. Like even though it's a little inappropriate sometimes, but, um, but like, it's still
Ben Sharrock 21:13
Alex Ferrari 21:14
I need to get the right to have to ask how did you get there?
Ben Sharrock 21:16
We got so we got the right. So yeah, it was actually you know, so we were we were told that it would be impossible, essentially. And then Renae, who's the producer, she's also my wife. And she. So basically she got she was put in touch with someone who, who knew David Schwimmer. And then so then she got in touch with David Schwimmer. I think I wrote, I wrote a letter to David Schwimmer. Then Rene sent it on to him. And then he basically read the script. And he you know, and then he, you know, he loved the script. And he basically said that he wanted to help us out. And he told us that basically, we could have scenes with him in it. Because he could give the rights like he could help get the rights to the scenes with him in it, but it would, we wouldn't be able to get any of the scenes of any of the other characters. Right. So that was it. So then, so we were like, Well, great. So we'll so we will use they will use Ross scenes and friends. And then basically, yeah, he was actually really instrumental we wouldn't have been able to do it without it was quite touching good. I think it was actually quite difficult even for him to get past Warner Bros. But he kind of just like fought the battle for us and, and he ended up getting us the rights. It was incredible. And, and then yeah, and then we sent him a bottle of patch around which is a kind of basket. Look here.
Alex Ferrari 22:51
As you should as
Ben Sharrock 22:53
yeah as we should. And, yeah, so so we also Yeah, we don't actually know if he's seen the film yet or not. We want him to see the film. We hope you've seen it, but you need to edit it send a link send a link. Have we I think we have we have but like, you know, he's David Schwimmer. So like he's busy. He's busy. Yeah. So he's busy.
Alex Ferrari 23:12
I got it. That's a fascinating story. Because you just being here in LA. I know. That's impossible. Like you can't get it. That's why I was so shocked at a kind of like, indie film from from Europe. Yeah, got a clip of friends. I'm like, yeah. And it's like, How the hell did they clear that? Because I mean, the budget, just to clear that must be the budget of the film. Like how, because I know how difficult that is. But now that makes sense. And people listening like when you said David Sherman like and like David has no control over any of that. So like, I'm like I when you said that was like, he can't like he must have just started pulling favors. He started making phone calls and pulling people because he has the cast has no power over any of that. But they have influence. Yeah, but they That's amazing. That's a great that's a great story.
Ben Sharrock 24:04
I'm we got a good price on the on the rights as well. I think so. You know, I think David Sherman also got a discount
Alex Ferrari 24:10
he Oh, yeah. Yeah, I mean, I'm, yeah, I can't even comprehend. Let's just put it this way. I've never I don't think I've seen a clip of friends anywhere else other than friends, like I haven't seen in popular culture and other shows. Unless it's unless it's a warner brothers project. And even then I'm sure it's even an issue. But yeah, that's why I was so shocked. So that's a great story. So everybody knows, just contact David Schwimmer write a really good script, write a letter and. So, `one thing I found really interesting about your directing style, it is a fairly unique visual style. It kind of calls back to Wes Anderson. And little bit in the way you frame the shots are so like the quirky colors and the color Have you used the wallpapers and stuff? One question I have to ask is what lens Do you use for those internal bedroom shots because now we're gonna get into like geek film stuff, because that it's wide, but it does fisheye so it's fairly wide. So I just want love to know what that is.
Ben Sharrock 25:14
Yeah it was 16 mil.
Alex Ferrari 25:16
It was a 16 minute Was it the Zeiss or Kuya?
Ben Sharrock 25:18
Cook 16 Mills ice. Yeah, that makes 16 Mills a standard primes,
Alex Ferrari 25:25
standard primes that supersedes standards, right?
Ben Sharrock 25:27
No, they were standard primes. He was standard. Yeah, so actually the first my first film big era we shot on superspeed spit This was with standard primes.
Alex Ferrari 25:38
If you ever want to get into if you ever Sorry guys. We're gonna go off on a filmmaker geek thing here. If you ever really want to, like go all in on the wide get a canoptek 9.80 Wow, the canoptek 9.8 is Stanley Kubrick's lens he used for very for very long without
Ben Sharrock 26:01
a fisheye, right? It's like
Alex Ferrari 26:02
Yeah, so the shot in sorry guys were film geeking out here. So the shot Clockwork Orange, where they knock on the door right before the rape scene. And is that wide shot that he's just crossing into to the library? That was that was the Synoptic the Amaze The may seen in the shining all the Coptic the following the kid on the Yeah, yeah, cannot Yeah, so it's a super wide lens. I have I have one but I have the 16 millimeter version of it, which is aka What is it is it I forgot I forgot the millimeter of it. It's a 5.6 so I have a 5.6 in the in the 16 version of it. I connected to my Blackmagic Whoa, my Blackmagic Pocket camera the 1080 p one. Oh, it's more shot at my last feature. I shot with it like that. And everyone was just like what is going on? It's so crystal clear. So it helps to have a lot of light with that lens. But with the 9.8 is gorgeous. So if you ever really want to kind of talk to your GP about it and just like 9.8 9.8 canape dick it's a specializing. Yeah, it's especially they don't make it anymore. So it's it's it's vintage, but if you'd like want to go all in? Yeah, you really want to get that. It's It's
Ben Sharrock 27:23
It's not a lot.
Alex Ferrari 27:24
It's the cool. It's a cool, it's a cool trick, lads. I mean, come on. It's a French lens, if I'm not mistaken, and they made a handful of them. But they're around you can rent them. I mean here they're around in LA but even in Europe, I know they're around. So definitely check it out. Anyway guys, I'm sorry. We went on the geek, a geek film geek. Tangent. Yes, sir. The gear porn. This was a little bit of a gear porn so I apologize. What camera was out of curiosity look, right.
Ben Sharrock 27:53
We shot it on Alexa.
Alex Ferrari 27:56
Okay, that makes sense. Yeah, cuz it has a nice soft soft image. Yeah. Very pleasant. Edge. Yeah, it's not like hard it's not hard edge.
Ben Sharrock 28:05
No, no. Like that's it No, and that's the thing I love I you know, I'd love to shoot on film in I'm not you know, I can't shoot on film for me. It's got to be Alexa.
Alex Ferrari 28:16
Yeah, and you've shot and you you're you shot film before so you've shot feature you should your last feature on feature.
Ben Sharrock 28:22
No, no, that was also like so that was also like,
Alex Ferrari 28:25
like you shot commercials.
Ben Sharrock 28:27
I shot film in film school. That's that's the only chance that I ever had. You know that I've ever had to shoot film. Actually, it was 16 mil I've never shot 35 and Oh, man.
Alex Ferrari 28:39
I mean, I'm you're a bit younger than me then apparently because I Oh, that's Yeah, I'm yeah, I've shot there. When I was commercials I shot 35 shot 16. So I also have this I have my super eight right next to me. And we shoot super eight all the time and get it transferred to 6.5k. So you can really get up. It's its core. Oh, yeah. Film is great. And everyone listening, you know, there's this thing about film. It's kind of like going back to the video store. You know, nostalgia. I was like oh man wasn't a video store is great. But I'm not sure if I would want to go and rent a movie and go through that whole process. It's just so much more convenient to just stream it or put into blu ray or something along those lines. film has for me that kind of it's unless you're Chris Nolan. You've got all the money in the world and all the resources in the world films great. And if this specific film of specific kind of project than film is awesome, but there is a there's something for me the smell, the smell of the can the smell of the celluloid I just went back and re transferred all my 35 old 35 I had lying around for like 20 years to retransfer it to rescan it at 4k because I wanted to go back and like recall or grade it and and then I would I put it up on the monitor and I would see every little bit of dirt that went through every little like I'm like Oh my god, it looks it looks awesome. So there's things that you can do on film that you just can't do on the Alexa but 95% of the time you know the images is fine but if you ever want to play is awesome
Ben Sharrock 30:15
Have you When was the last time you shall film was it? Oh, I haven't shot like since kind of digital took over? Have you had the chance to
Alex Ferrari 30:22
re film or super eight is the only thing I've shot. I shot a lot of super eight before since then. Which is still has that film definitely has that film texture and getting it transferred here in LA at 6.5. So you get I mean, it's gorgeous. It's gorgeous. I mean, some of the if you shoot the proper stock. Oh my god, you can get super great to look gorgeous. It really really nice stuff. But I haven't shot 3525 years probably haven't shot I haven't shot. Yeah, but so I'm not sure what I would shoot it again. Like I don't know if I would shoot a feature unless it was. I just need a lot of resources.
Ben Sharrock 30:59
I got Chris Nolan's budget.
Alex Ferrari 31:01
I mean, yeah, you want to shoot IMAX brother. That's great, Chris for you, man. I love it. Yeah, JJ, you want to shoot Super Star Wars and great. But for the rest of us on an indie budget? Yeah. Yeah, don't really know. And also, it's hard to find a dp nowadays I can run that knows how to shoot it and film it. Yeah.
Ben Sharrock 31:23
Yeah, and the conditions as well, it depends on the film like it, you know, like we shot on a we shot on an actual remote Scottish Island. So there's just like, far too many variables. So it just would have been a nightmare. It just never just wouldn't have worked finding
Alex Ferrari 31:36
finding camera cysts, who know how to deal with film, how to load a film mag, how to deal with film, finding the lab. I mean, you're you're in Scotland, so I'm assuming that you know, the film lab is not right around the corner either. So you're gonna have to ship get a transferred, upload dailies, like it would have been an insane process for you. Here in LA, it's even a little bit easier. But even here, it's still like this. It's money. It's cost. It's everything. But aesthetically, man, there's things you could do with film that you just can't do. digitally. Aesthetically, of my buddy, one of my great buddies, he was a dp on American Horror Story with shots shoots completely on film. And they shot reversal. They shot black and white, they shot super eight, they like took the film negative through it in a bathtub, scratched it up with sand, ran it through the scanner, again, because they wanted that kind of like, he wouldn't know the DP. Michael, I forgot his name for his last name. He wanted the creator went to the DP and said, Hey, I want this film this scene to look like Nazi Germany, poor, Nazi Germany porn film. And you're like, what? So that's it. That's what it's like. The dp was like looking through the computer. Doing research. He's like, I hope no one is looking. If someone's watching the
Ben Sharrock 33:13
CIA knocked down his door, like,
Alex Ferrari 33:16
what are you doing? What are you doing? Um, anyway, sorry for that tangent guys. We'll get back into it. But But talking about the visual style, how Where did you? What's your influences? Like? I mean, I'm assuming Wes Anderson had a little bit to do, or am I off kilter there, because it has a little bit of that vibe.
Ben Sharrock 33:31
Not so much. I mean, like, the, the main influences for me actually kind of go back to that time where so I was studying Middle East and cinema. And there were two two that came up in quite quick succession, which are two films, and one called the time that remains by LSE element, Palestinian director, and another film called The band's visit by Aaron colorin. And, and those were the two films that kind of made me want to be a film director. And they had, you know, and I guess, you know, you could relate the style of those films as well to Wes Anderson, I suppose that there's a kind of a kind of I wouldn't call that movement. So a group of filmmakers that that have similar sensibilities that kind of route back to Yasujiro Ozu and, you know, I guess Jim Jarmusch is part of that and our kicker is Mackey and Roy Anderson, Swedish director so I'm once I kind of like started to sort of find these directors I suppose I would like look for more that were like that. Fernando and Becky the Mexican director as well. And that can, I suppose, formed my sort of base of kind of influence in in sort of stylistic elements, but then yeah, I suppose since then. I kind of Also, I suppose, became more influenced by, you know, people like PT Anderson and durabilty tail on the Turkish director and Lynn Ramsay, as well. Yeah, Scottish director.
Alex Ferrari 35:18
What I loved about it is is that has that kind of like, Master shot, and you let the actors do what they need to do, and then the movements of it, but it's, the framing is so beautiful, like every shot is like a painting. Like, yeah, that's, that's a beautiful way of looking at it is it's it's wonderful file. Yeah, and it works really well with Limbo, like it, the absurdity of some of this stuff needs to be you don't need to cut all around, just like let that thing say.
Ben Sharrock 35:45
And I think that's the thing is that lot of the a lot of the humor is is coming from the style of filmmaking, so it's coming from the composition is coming from the lens choice, you know, it's like using that wide lens on a close up creates an element of absurdity and humor in a way that it sort of lenses the faces. And yeah, using, you know, color, as you say, kind of creates that sort of playful feel. So it's actually kind of like really imbuing the film with this sort of undertone of, of humor, but then playing things very straight. And then that sort of allows that kind of tonal balance as well to sort of go from that humor and absurdity, and then kind of pivot into the more dramatic and serious tones of the film.
Alex Ferrari 36:34
Now, you had some amazing performances in your, in your product in your film? How do you have any advice on working with actors and getting the performances you're looking for?
Ben Sharrock 36:46
I think I mean, you know, one of the things that's really important for me is the rehearsal period, and having rehearsal having time for that. And that's kind of not only to sort of go through the scenes, and you know, but it's, it's, it's, you know, really to sort of spend that time exploring the characters with the actors. And kind of having those conversations where you can going into depth about about the characters and going into depth about the scenes, also, building a relationship with the actors, you know, as a kind of, ultimately, that's, for me, it's like, if you kind of build a relationship of sort of trust, and where you can sort of have this sort of open collaboration, then it just kind of makes everything so much easier. So I, you know, I think that was one of the things that was really key in limbo was that, you know, we had a really good team. And, you know, and I had a really good relationship with the actors. So it kind of almost, you know, felt like being on set with friends. And you're sort of building you know, and I also, I mean, very sort of clear with kind of my vision for the film. But it's like sharing that vision. And then we're kind of working towards the same vision. So when I'm kind of pulling it pulling in different directions, and even if there is questions, and there's sort of a difference of opinion, that relationship is there. So we can have a very kind of, yeah, very open and normal conversation about these things. So, yeah, I think that that's kind of one, you know, kind of a major part of it is really just like anything, it's like any kind of relationship in any working relationship is to have sort of communication and trust and openness.
Alex Ferrari 38:45
Do you feel Do you feel that actors? I mean, I found this to be true, I'd love to hear what you think that actors need to feel safe. They need to be in a safe environment where they can perform, if they don't feel safe, or if they don't feel that the director has their back. That is when you start getting the grind or the fight back or the pushback they become and they come in, they become protective of themselves like, well, this guy or gal is not going to protect me, I'm going to protect myself because I'm on the screen. So is that is that fair?
Ben Sharrock 39:19
No. 100% and that's the thing because actors are putting themselves into a very vulnerable position. And I think that's, that's why it's kind of, yeah, you want to create a safe environment for them to do to do their work and, and, and also value them like that. I think that's the only thing that can can happen is that kind of actors, like sometimes can feel undervalued and you I think you get you do get sort of different directing styles, and maybe you get directors that are more comfortable dealing with the camera than dealing with the actors, for example. Right. But, you know, and it's I think that's the thing is that the actors are so important to you. It's like they are everything you know, Like, they, it's like it doesn't, you know, it's like, so I think that they need or needs maybe the wrong word, but you know, it helps if they feel that you value them that you values in see how important they are and how instrumental their craft is to creating a good film, you know, to create, you know, and that's it because it is a craft, it's a skill, it's as much as, you know, as a cinematographer, you know, or the other elements and, and I think that often, actors kind of, you know, can be treated as almost as if it's like an afterthought to say, Okay, so we've set everything up. We've done anything now. Okay, go and do the
Alex Ferrari 40:43
dance monkey. dance. Yeah, exactly.
Ben Sharrock 40:46
Yes, monkey. Yeah,
Alex Ferrari 40:47
yeah. You've delivered the lines, the way I said it, and one take, and we're done, okay, cuz you're not really that important. You're much that vase in the backgrounds much more important than you are. And that's when problems occur. We got questions. No, a lot of times, it look in our industry, especially in the indie film world. What is sold to us by the companies and by marketing is all about the gear, and the 15k, and the 30k. And the new lenses and the old lenses and that this and that. And you know what they talk about a lot of times when they talk about someone like Kubrick is what I like you, and I just geeked out a bit about about like, oh, he used the optic 9.8. And he got this shatter. What was the lens that he used for how in 2001. And like, that's all cool and part of the process, but no one and that's sexy. That's super sexy. That's like the sexy part. No one's like, we got to get into the weeds and rehearse with this actor and really build a character like that's not marketed as much that's not talked about as much and most filmmakers lack in that creation of vibrant characters, with the actors as a team. And that's what jumps off in limbo. Like all those actors, you could just tell her having a great time. And there's a comfortability in what they're doing. They feel very comfortable. I can see that in the screen that is just there they're going out for they're going for because they feel protected. And it's something that everyone listening really should understand that. I don't care if you're shooting with your iPhone, man. It's all about what's in front of that lens, man. Yeah, actors are your they're the tools, man. They're the things that are going to bring your story to life. Not the lens, not the camera, not the color grading not the giant robot. That's going to kill the giant lizard. Like, that's, that's nice. That's nice. And we're in a lot of times those movies, like, Look, I'll call it out, like Godzilla versus King Kong. I loved it. It was super fun. But I'm not thinking a whole lot about it. Like my wife's like, why do you want to watch I'm like, because I want to watch Godzilla Fight King Kong for three or four scenes. Like, it's essentially what I'm watching it for. I'm not watching it for a plot, as long as you're going into it with that. So there's places for those kind of movies. But for this con, I mean, filmmakers really need to really connect with that. You agree?
Ben Sharrock 43:01
Yeah, no one? Yeah. 100%. I think that that's, yeah, it really and you know, the bass also even just like, like simple things make a difference as well. You know, it's like, even just going up and speaking to you're going up close and having an intimate conversation with the actors on set, rather than yelling your lines to them, or telling your first ad to deliver, like notice to your app, you know, so it's like every single time go and speak to the actors go and have that, because that's the the partnership and the teamwork that makes, you know, a good film. Yeah,
Alex Ferrari 43:39
yes. No question. Yeah, the guys who sit behind in video village just like, hey, I need you to say this slide again. But let's put a little bit more stake on it. Like it's like, you know, and you see the actors, I've seen it. I've been on set with directors like that. And you see the actual like, What did he say? What's going on? And then they'll stop the whole thing, and you can start seeing the frustration and that's when the whole thing starts coming. crashing. Now, your film has been nominated for a couple of BAFTA Awards, man, so I have to ask you, I'm assuming this is your first awards. nominations. How did that feel? Because that's essentially for everyone listening. The BAFTA is the Oscars of Great Britain. So what how did that feel?
Ben Sharrock 44:24
Yeah, it was amazing. I mean, it you know, I have to say, like, you know, it's incredible, because it's something that you sort of dream of, and like, you know, and you start you know, start making films and you've done a dream of, of getting BAFTA nominations and that kind of thing. So, but at the same time, you know, it's been such a weird year with the pandemic, so it's almost like, there's part of it, that kind of doesn't feel real because, you know, in a normal world, the ceremony you know, like, it's like the Oscars. There's a huge ceremony. It's not a Royal Albert Hall, like it's, you know, you know, the big red carpet and the aftermath. And lay all of these things in a big meal beforehand. None of that happened, you know, so it's like, you know, so it's almost, it's getting these nominations, and then we're just kind of on zoom. You know, watching the ceremony and and it kind of, like, dressed up at home. And
Alex Ferrari 45:21
it's so weird
Ben Sharrock 45:22
yeah, it's just and then it kind of passes. And it's, I think that it's been a kind of a year of that a little bit. In general, because, you know, the first sort of bit, like, big bit of success that we got was when we got the cancellation. And that was, you know, canceled. And so we just kind of got the can label. And then since then, it's just like that with every you know, it's either we're going to Toronto for the premiere, but we weren't in Toronto, we can travel to Toronto, you know, again, it's like a big deal to you know, have the film premiering there. But, you know, so by the time the BAFTA came around, there's just this very odd thing where you sort of, obviously is amazing, and you kind of really value that. But at the same time yet, it's kind of bittersweet, and you don't doesn't feel fully real. I don't know. I don't know if ever, ever will or if they'll invite us next year, you know, when they have the actual ceremony or I don't know, you know, it's kind of
Alex Ferrari 46:19
it's a it's a weird time for everybody. I mean, I know people who want you know, that are winning the Oscars. I just happened a little while ago. Yeah, like they just like, like, you don't really it's not thing like I know, I know, filmmakers who got into South by Southwest, which is a huge deal. And then they cancelled it. And you know, what? I've been waiting all my life to get into this and they cancelled it. I mean, we get the moniker we get the but we can't fly there. We can't really screen there. The distributors aren't going to be looking there. All that kind of stuff. It's it's pretty mind blowing. Honestly, it is pretty. It's pretty mind blowing. But look, you still got accepted at the Can you still got accepted into Toronto, you got some BAFTA Awards. When everyone 20 years from now looks back. That's all they'll see. They won't know that you didn't go. Yeah.
Ben Sharrock 47:07
Man face but I'll have it on my IMDB page you're having
Alex Ferrari 47:10
to and really, truly, that's really all that matters. Not life experiences. It's all about the credits and the awards on the IMDB page. That's really all that matters. Now, I wanted to ask you, what do you hope that this film does in the world, because it is touching and talking about a very serious issue. I feel you know, about refugees coming in into other countries, it's happening in our country very famously, you know, happening now in our country, and it's happening all over the world. But I feel that it's only going to get worse, I feel that with global warming and environmental things, there's going to be millions, if not possibly billions of refugees, in and hopefully many years away from us as possible. But look, things are getting crazy. So what do you hope that this film does, as far as putting a spotlight on that issue?
Ben Sharrock 48:11
I mean, one of the you know, one of the reasons that I was sort of kind of drawn to making a film about this subject matter was the you know, I was really struck by kind of what I found was a sort of process of dehumanization, that we were kind of experiencing of refugees. And that was sort of through the media or, you know, different different kind of depictions where you had this kind of the refugees, refugees were treated as kind of numbers and statistics and, and you had kind of demonizing on the right wing media, and you had the pitting of refugees as well. And both of these things were dehumanizing. And so, what I kind of really want from this film, it's, you know, obviously, you have a whole lot of creative desires as a filmmaker and the things that you kind of want to achieve. Because in the end, you know, you making a film, it's something that's that, that that's creative, and that's how has my voice behind it as a filmmaker, but it is also to spotlight this issue. And I think that, you know, is a different kind of way of looking at this subject matter and it's a lot different access point. And really, kind of what I would like is for you know, people to go to the cinema, or you know, wherever they watch the film, and spend an hour and 40 minutes with these people on screen and look up to these people on screen to these characters on screen and feel close to them and feel like you know them and that you find parts of yourself in them and then come away from the film and carried these characters around in you for a while afterwards. And I think yeah, that's that's kind of that's that's what I would like because You know, in general, it's otherwise, you know, refugees are just kind of, yeah, numbers, statistics that, you know, it's kind of sensationalized snapshots. But but they're real people that are just people, they're just human beings like us that we can relate to. And hopefully people kind of take that away from the film.
Alex Ferrari 50:18
That's amazing. Well, I'm so glad that you were able to put this film out into the world in the way you did it with a little humor to, you know, put, you know, little little honey, as opposed to vinegar on the on the, on the film, maybe make it go down a little bit smoother. And I'm gonna ask you a couple questions. Ask all my guests. What advice would you give a filmmaker trying to break into the business today?
Ben Sharrock 50:41
Good question. Well, good question. You know, I think that, I mean, I'll kind of speak specifically about being a writer director. And I think the one of it's not, you know, it's not a sort of great sort of, maybe it's not the most hopeful answer. But, but what I always say is that basically, you just have, like, you have to just write, you have to write a screenplay. And there's so many ways to procrastinate, and so many ways to kind of, like, go on these sort of endless meetings of kind of promises, and sort of hope and kind of labs and, you know, script labs, and all of these things. And I think that it gets to a point where all of this is kind of just like peripheral sort of just other ways to procrastinate that in the end, if you have something inside of you, where you want to write a screenplay, and you want to make a film, really, all you can do is write the screenplay, you've got to put yourself in the chair, sit down, and put the hours in. And that's it, spend the time in the saddle and write the screenplay. And that unfortunately, like that, really is the hanser. That's the, that's the first thing that you can do to break into the film, if you want to be a writer director, is just write the screenplay. And that's it, there is no other, that's all you need the product,
Alex Ferrari 52:19
right? As much as you can, as much as you can, it's
Ben Sharrock 52:24
and it's painful. That's the other thing as well, it's not easy. So when it gets really hard on you want to give up on the screenplay, it's meant to feel like that, it's meant to be really difficult, you don't get anything for free. That's the thing. It's, it's, you know, to work in the film industry and kind of make money from from making films, it's a very privileged position to be in. So you don't get that for free. It's a it's a lot of, you know, hard work and a lot of hours and, and in the end, you've kind of just got to got to put the time in, and it's going to be difficult, it's going to be painful, and you're going to want to give up and you just kind of have to sort of push through it and keep going and keep going.
Alex Ferrari 53:05
So you obviously are not going to be the marketing wing of the filmmaking dream, obviously. So this is not the way we pitched the horrible branding. What it is, is all you got to do is just show up to Hollywood and things. They just give you money. That's what that's what's been sold to us here in the states for the longest time. And it seems to be working. True. Sure. Words have never been said, Sir, in regards to our process and what we do, and it is a very, very difficult process. And that's what I try to do with the show is to, to let everybody know, like I always tell people you're gonna get in, no matter who you are, no matter how big you are, what stage in the career you are, you could be Steven Spielberg, he could be that film student, you're gonna get punched in the face. Yeah, punched in the face, and we're gonna shape or form, something's gonna happen, you're gonna get punched in the face. The problem is that most filmmakers don't even know that there's punches involved. And when they get the first one, they're out. And they're they're knocked out cold, and they don't come back out after it. So I'm trying to prepare them yeah, to let them know, look, you're gonna get punched. Now learn how to take the punch and keep going forward, keep taking the punches and keep one foot and then eventually, when you get a little older, you learn how to duck a little bit. And occasionally, you'll learn not to even Beware the punches being thrown at all, you're not even the same room. So occasionally you'll do that. But no matter who you are, you're going to get punched. So that's great, great advice. Now, what is the lesson that took you the longest to learn whether in the film business or in life? Oh, I
Ben Sharrock 54:31
think that, you know, the lesson that I'm still learning is how to how to switch off that that's, you know, that's the that's, that's the lesson that I really want to learn. Like how to kind of, yeah, yeah, how to switch off how to relax. You know how to kind of I, that that's difficult. I'm still trying to figure that out.
Alex Ferrari 54:55
Well, it's a disease. I mean, we're afflicted with a disease called filmmaking. It's like it's once you get the bug out. Have rid of it. It can go dormant for decades. But it always comes back. It's like craziness. I also remember talking to filmmakers, when the pandemic hit first things that go through their mind, like how we're going to shoot a movie. I'm like, dude, the world is coming to an end, and you're talking about shooting a movie. This is the insert. But this is the insanity of filmmakers. Like that's how we think that's it is but it is. It took me a long time, by the way to learn that lesson. To be able to shut it off, it was my wife to help me with that. Because if it was me what I would have been, I would have been on and I was 18 hours a day, all day, every day working on something online working, it's just it was it was just like this obsession, it just kept going.
Ben Sharrock 55:43
Yeah. And then when you're not working, it's like putting the pressure on yourself, like feeling that you should be working or that you can be doing more that you're or if you're not breaking through with your your screenplay or whatever, like that. You then you know, you're putting that pressure on yourself and you're feeling you know, so it's, it's, yeah, that's a guy that I'm still I'm still kind of figuring that out. Like how to do that. I figured I you know, I think video games help
Alex Ferrari 56:15
you talk like, you're talking like an addict? Did you hear the words that are coming out of your mouth? You sound like an addict. You know, when I when I get the itches, when I get this, I gotta I gotta you know video games help. That. That means there's a problem. Yeah, it's so wonderful. You know, occasionally walks, I do a walk every once in a while just to kind of you know, it's so funny. But that's, that's it is an affliction that we are have been blessed and cursed with all at the same time. And I know that feeling that you're talking about where you're like, I should be writing something, I should be watching a movie and analyzing it, I should be, I should be figuring I should be making a phone call, I should be trying to do something, I should be trying to get a project off the ground. That kind of energy is something that happens especially when you haven't broken through. Especially when you're still you're still hustling and trying to get your career off the ground. It is an affliction. It really is. I found that finally found a way to chillax about that to a point where now I'm just very mellow about it. And that also age dude is just age. It's just, it's just time as you get older, you just start figuring out things that are more important in your life and things that interested you in your 20s and 30s. When you get in your 40s you get family, things just start to shift a little bit. You know, so if you're in your 20s enjoy it, because it goes quick. It goes quick. It goes quick. And last question three of your favorite films of all time.
Ben Sharrock 57:44
Oh, three of all time. Well, I hate these questions.
Alex Ferrari 57:53
Three that come to mind. Right?
Ben Sharrock 57:54
Yeah, okay, so I'm gonna I'm gonna, I'm gonna do I'm gonna, I'm gonna say those two films I said earlier on, because those were the two films that kind of made me want to make films so at the time that remains by Elliott's element, and the band's visit by Erin Condren. And then I'm going to say, What am I going to say? Great. Okay, I'm not gonna say graceful, but I'm gonna say the film, like a film. I kind of go back to. I was actually probably the first screenplay that I ever read. So actually Good Will Hunting.
Alex Ferrari 58:23
Yeah, I love good. Yeah. Yeah,
Ben Sharrock 58:29
it was the first script that I read that I kind of, like, saw the film. And I was like, I'm gonna read the script. I when I was just kind of like, Did you buy them? Did
Alex Ferrari 58:36
you buy it? Did you buy that? I bought it. Because it was selling a script, they sell the book scripts, that Pulp Fiction as well. So that book book as well, because a handful of those back in the 90s that you could buy them like that. Yes, that was a good script. That was a great script that scene. That scene with Robin Williams on the bench. Oh my god. Yeah. Oh, it's just he won
Ben Sharrock 58:56
the he won the Oscar. And that's the one with Minnie Driver as well. I mean, like, Oh, that was great. It brings me to tears every time like really? Cry, I cry it films all the time. Like,
Alex Ferrari 59:08
at the end the ending, like I gotta go see about a girl like, ah, just like, yeah, so, so, so brilliant. So well put together. But Ben, thank you so much for being on the show, bro. It has been a pleasure talking to you. Thank you again, so much for making Limbo and putting it out to the world. And I hope It changes the conversation a bit. I hope it changes people's perception a little bit about that problem with the refugees in and it's a problem that's not going to go away anytime in the near future. So hopefully, you've done some good in the world as a filmmaker. So thank you, my friend.
Ben Sharrock 59:40
Thank you. pleasure talking to you. Thanks for having me.
Sign up to receive email updates
Enter your name and email address below and I'll send you periodic updates about the podcast.