When you think of 'award-winning director,' you might think of Martin Scorsese, Peter Jackson, Quentin Tarantino - but they all had to start somewhere, right? Meet Ben Kadie, a 16-year-old award-winning director (not to mention screen writer, producer, editor and the list goes on...), and you can say you 'knew' him before he was famous.
Ben has been making movies since he was in the third grade at Seattle Country Day School, when most of us were still learning how to tie our shoelaces. Now, seven years later, Ben’s got nine films under his belt – from Shakespearean interpretations to period pieces to dark comedies – and he’s not stopping there. One look at any of Ben’s films and it’s clear he has the kind of story writing skills one can only be born with, knowing how to expertly weave humor in with darkness or make the old fresh and new again – and he’s only getting better with each movie he makes.
Ben’s latest film, Alone Together, takes a somewhat different direction than his mysteries, abandoning the green screens of the past for real scenery and placing a deeper emphasis on the emotions and developments of the characters, Brendan and Eloise. What emerges is the tale of shipwrecks and unrequited love, when Brendan finds himself washed up on a deserted island with Eloise, the girl of his dreams, the two of them hundreds of miles from their families and real life. When Brendan discovers the radio transmitter that could lead to their rescue, he must decide whether or not to tell Eloise, and choose between selfish and selfless love.
Starring Seattle-based actors Asher Jordan and Bria Lynn Massie and shot in breathtaking Pacific Northwest locations including Whidbey Island and Cougar Mountain, and on the 100-year-old tugboat Arthur Foss, Alone Together is set to release this spring and with luck will be featured in multiple film festivals. As for Ben, his next big project is applying to university film programs, which involves creating a five-minute audition film. We have no doubt he’ll be receiving quite a few acceptance letters. We recently spoke with Ben to get the lowdown on his life as a young moviemaker.
You started making movies at a very young age – what inspired you to get into filmmaking?
Growing up, my dad and I would make little novelty and special effects videos together. They have titles such as “Whoopee Cushion Concert” and “Speed of Light Boy.” As I got a little older, I wanted to make videos that told a story. In sixth grade, my friend Noah and I made Perilous Skies, a WWI comedy. The film got into the Seattle International Film Festival via a newspaper contest. A month later it screened at NFFTY, which has since grown to be the largest youth festival in the world. Seeing the audiences enjoying the film was wonderful and encouraged me to keep making movies.
How did you handle the challenges there are to making movies at such a young age?
Two film books greatly influence me: Rebel Without a Crew and DV Rebel. Both say that you don’t need a lot of people and resources to make a film; you just need to use what you have. For example, between seventh and eighth grade I wanted to tell a story set in the Egypt of 1897. I filmed Murder at the Pharaoh’s Grave in my backyard, with a green screen, a tent made from cheap fabric, and 100 pounds of sand. By replacing the green with my digital matte paintings, I was able to tell a big story with little resources.
As a director with a specific vision in mind, do you find it difficult to manage actors in order to make sure your movies turn out as planned?
I love working with actors. In most of my films, the actors are friends who I know from school plays. I think it helped that my early films were small, with just two or four actors, and very collaborative. The film Molly and the Masked Storm was a bit of turning point. With five actors playing 12 roles in a 24-minute film, I had to get more organized. The actors seemed to appreciate me really leading the production while still letting them interpret their roles.
Finding the right actors to translate your story properly can be tricky. What was the casting process like for Alone Together?
This was my first film with auditions. I posted to several Seattle-area actors’ callboards on the Internet. The response was wonderful, but the two weeks of auditions were new and stressful. It felt strange to judge adults, in my basement, on how well they could pretend they were on a sinking ship. For the two lead roles, 30 young actors auditioned. I found two great 18 year olds. Asher Jordon, who is now studying acting at New York University, played Brendan. Bria Lynn Massie plays Eloise; she’s now pursuing acting professionally in Portland.
Alone Together is 24-minutes long. What was your production timeline?
After drafting the script, preproduction took about four months off-and-on (because of school). It included many camera and effects tests, script revisions, and then making storyboards. Production was seven shooting days in the middle-to-late summer. Post-production, including editing, special effects and music, took about six months. I finished Alone Together on New Year’s Day.
At every step, I tried to put on a new hat (screenwriter, then director, then editor) and be tough. Sometimes as editor, I had to kill a scene that I loved as screenwriter.
Alone Together was set in Chile – how did you find Seattle locations to portray a deserted Chilean island?
The Seattle area has many beaches, but most have views of houses and other land. To find close beaches with open water, I used Bing maps and “discovered” the Strait of Juan de Fuca. I scouted twice by car, even getting some of my Driver’s Ed miles in. At Deception Pass State Park, on the Straight, I fell in love with a certain cliff and its rocky beach.
For the boat, I expected to use green screen. But then I visited the Northwest Seaport and saw their wonderful ships. They generously gave me permission to shoot for a day on their 100-year-old tugboat Arthur Foss.
With both the cliff and the tugboat, I updated the script to highlight the locations.
Did you write the script for this movie and other movies you’ve made?
Yes, I’m very interested in writing and have attended programs such as TheFilmSchool’s Prodigy Camp that emphasize storytelling. Knowing that I am going to produce what I write helps me write. For example, Mack is a Macbeth-like story of a painter whose ambition is tragically larger than his talent. I knew I could buy inexpensive landscape paintings at Goodwill and that I could paint my own abstracts, so I wrote the script around those two art styles.
Filmmaking sounds like a huge part of your life – do you have time for anything else?!
I’m in the International Baccalaureate program at my high school, so academics keep me pretty busy. My high school doesn’t actually have a film program, but I take fine art classes and theater classes. After school, I’ve also been in all the school plays and I’m co-president of Improv Club.
What role does DualEyes play in the production of your movies?
I filmed Alone Together a total of six days, spanning from August 7th to August 18th. Using a dual audio set up and DualEyes, I was able to cut together a teaser trailer immediately and post it to YouTube on the last day of shooting. This was only possible because DualEyes allowed me to sync the sound with the video immediately without any hassles.
Before DualEyes, I was not able to use a dual audio set up. It would take too long to manually sync the material. Instead, my microphone was tethered to my camera. This was a bit of a challenge as we would get tangled up, and the recording quality was often not what I wanted.
With DualEyes, I can have the microphone go with the actors. This gives better sound and simplifies shooting. For example, in Alone Together, it allowed me to film the actors from the other side of a cliff while the microphone was next to them, hidden behind a rock. DualEyes synced the video and audio correctly. It works so smoothly, giving me one less thing to worry about.
What did you use to shoot the footage, record the audio, and edit?
My last three films have been shot on a Canon T2i DSLR. For audio there is a VideoMic Pro microphone on a homemade boompole recorded to a Zoom H2 recorder. For editing and effects, I use Sony Vegas, Magic Bullet Looks, DualEyes, Cinema 4D, and After Effects.
Watch the Alone Together trailer