Benson on filmmaking: ‘You have to learn how to do it right’

A fleece jacket casually layered over a T-shirt, hair pulled back into a ponytail, Robby Benson became progressively more intense while lecturing his filmmaking students in a nondescript classroom in the bowels of the Radio and TV building on IU’s Bloomington campus this month.

His point? It’s important to follow the rules for good filmmaking at all times, especially when you’re still learning the ropes.

“Film is going to continue here at Indiana University and so are you in the film business, so you have to learn how to do it right,” the telecommunications professor told the pin-drop-quiet classroom. “‘Run and gun’ is not the way to do it. Get a location agreement, saying it’s OK for you to shoot there. That way, as long as you’re doing everything you said you’d do, they can’t throw you out. Get personal releases if there are people in your back shot. You don’t want them showing up later, saying they want to be blurred out, or have to ruin your framing by cropping the shot.

He continued, “When you go out there in the world, and you get a meeting with Jerry Bruckheimer and you send out an email and you spell somebody’s name wrong, guess what? Your meeting just got canceled. It’s not just about the shooting. It comes down to being very specific with the smallest things.”

class photo

Students in Benson’s filmmaking class are making their own short films that will premiere at IU Cinema in April.

This level of detail, as well as Benson’s personal history as an actor, director and producer, is what drew senior Nathan Erdel to the class.

“Robby is the best professor, hands down, that I’ve had at IU,” Erdel said. “His resources, his familiarity with the industry, his contacts — he’s not at all guarded with us in terms of sharing his knowledge. Like, in one of our first classes, we Skyped with Jeffrey Katzenberg, the former Disney chairman who is now CEO at DreamWorks. It’s ridiculously exciting for me to be involved in this project, and I feel very lucky.”

Shooting starts Nov. 1 on Erdel’s horror film, titled “Unwelcome.” The film follows a young couple who move into their new home, only to see strange things begin to happen — but for those of you who think you’ve already guessed the denouement, don’t be too hasty.

The film even has a role played by Victor Miller, the original “Friday the 13th” screenwriter, whom Erdel met through his work with Bloomington’s Dark Carnival Film Festival.

Benson’s insistence that his students follow real-world policies has led to some very real-world experiences.

That includes Nick Jaicomo, a senior majoring in telecommunications/design and production with dreams of becoming a director in Los Angeles. His film for class, a drama titled “Caligo,” revolves around people affected during a school shooting.

Jaicomo’s initial vision included filming at a specific location on campus, but officials were concerned about the potential for negative attention due to his film’s subject matter and asked he modify his request so the space would not be recognizable to movie-goers.

IU professor Robby Benson

IU professor Robby Benson.

“Professor Benson went with me to my meeting, where we negotiated use of space,” he said. “That experience was the single most real-world experience related to film I’ve ever had. This class is perfect for that. We’ve talked about going through all the steps, talking to campus police, putting up signs when you’re filming, thinking about what people might think they’re seeing if they see you filming. I’m just taking it all in.”

Want to help? Benson’s class has launched an online campaign for financial backing, which ends Saturday, Nov. 2. Films will premiere at IU Cinema in April.

In March, Indiana University announced it had hired Benson as professor of practice in the College of Arts and Sciences’ Department of Telecommunications.

Benson is star of films such as “Ice Castles,” “Ode to Billy Joe,” “The Chosen” and “Harry and Son,” as well as the voice of the Beast in Disney’s Academy Award-nominated film “Beauty and the Beast.” He previously taught at UCLA, The University of South Carolina, The University of Utah and the California Institute for the Arts.

In recent years he has taught at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts in the Maurice Kanbar Institute of Film and Television, where he was nominated for both New York University’s Distinguished Teaching Award (2006) and the David Payne-Carter Award for Teaching Excellence (2010).

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,