CFF Interview: Ben’s At Home

A few weeks ago we spoke with Dan Abramovici and Mars Horodski, the creators of the film Ben’s At Home, as they were about to head to the Miami Film Fest where they were being featured as part of the festival’s Canada and Comedy program. They were one of three Canadian films in the program and our piece included select quotes from all the filmmakers, but in anticipation of the film’s Toronto premiere happening at the Canadian Film Fest this weekend, we thought we’d run the great chat we had with these filmmakers in its entirety.

Ben’s at Home is about a guy who, following a break up, realizes he no longer feels like going out, and can actually conduct basically every aspect of his life from the comfort of his apartment.

Dork Shelf: In taking this film around to different festivals and doing press, what’s the most common question you get?

Dan Abramovici: The most common question is have you ever not left your house for an entire month, and the answer to that would be pretty much for the duration of the shoot, I lived on that set. 

Mars Horodski: It’s his house and his dog. 

DS: Where did the idea come from?

MH: Dan and I had collaborated on some shorts and we were trying to come up with a low budget feature film idea, and there was this thing happening in Toronto, the 1k feature film challenge that Ingrid Veninger was running, challenging filmmakers to make a feature for a grand. Dan and I hit it off because we both have this insatiable energy where we’re like ‘let’s go, let’s do the next thing’. When I met him I knew that he was all in, so when Ingrid announced that, I asked him if he’d be interested in coming up with something. We didn’t end up getting it but we had come up with the idea, at that time we were talking a web series that Dan was exploring about being 30 and the kinds of things you’re dealing with, relationships and break ups. And then we started thinking of an idea where all the characters would come to the main character to limit our locations. Aside from a horror or agoraphobic scenario, how could we make this a comedy and make it relatable? We wrote it really quickly, then as we were shooting it and working through it we realized there was a lot of potential for social commentary as well as comedy. It definitely stemmed from trying to come up with a micro budget idea but also create something that was relevant to us and to the times. 

DA: Everybody’s been through a bad break up and when you end a relationship in your late 20s, early 30s, at least for myself and my friends, there’s this feeling  of ‘oh no’… having to go through that whole thing again: getting back into the dating pool, going out… it takes a long time again to get comfortable with that. It was interesting to think well what if this guy with all the technology and everything available to him, decides to just check out and just not re-enter and close himself off but not in an agoraphobic way, more in a ‘let’s make this a personal challenge and let’s make this awesome’ kind of way. 

DS: Is there anything in this film you feel is distinctly Canadian?

MH: We were really inspired by a lot of the American Indie filmmakers, like the Duplass brothers and Lynn Shelton for the tone of the comedy, but definitely there’s so much great comedic talent in Toronto that it was just so wonderful to bring all those people together. I think there’s something distinctly Canadian about that, about that talent that we’re able to bring, I think there’s a certain flavour that comes with that. 

DA: I feel like so much of what makes it Canadian is how it came together. In Canada we don’t have this crazy star system that they do in L.A. which I guess is a double edged sword in some respects but where it benefited us is that we were able to get incredibly talented comedic actors that by every right should be household names, like Inessa Frantowski, Rob Baker and Craig Brown is a two time Canadian Comedy Award winner, Jim Annan…. All these folks that work a lot in Canada but we don’t have the star system so people don’t really know who we are. Everyone came in and pitched in and helped out, so the indie film community in Toronto was absolutely essential in getting this film made and we ended up doing it for about 20k, all in which is kind of unheard of. 

DS: Are you worried people will prejudge your film if they know how much it cost to make?

MH: We’re pretty transparent about it, but it depends. If we’re trying to get people to watch it for the first time, like distributors, we don’t mention that because there’s a possibility they will think it’s low production value and the quote unquote ‘credit card film’ which has a negative connotation. I feel like we were able to really maximize our budget and give it a professional finish.

DA: You’re judging it as a stand alone movie, it’s fine to find out after that the movie had this interesting journey but that’s not front and centre when you’re watching the film. We really tried to make a movie and structure the story such that it would stand alone on its own two feet, regardless of the budget because we knew we were going to have to fund most of it ourselves. We didn’t want to tell an action story with a car chase because we would have been reduced to a unicycle being dragged by a kite.

DS: How have American audiences responded to it?

MH: The American audiences have been really receptive, you can see just by the festival run we’ve had in the U.S. that we were getting a lot of love from there. For me it feels like it takes place in Toronto just because Toronto’s such a vibrant city with so much going on and people who watch it who are from Toronto can relate to that, you’re being pulled in all directions to all the different things that you can do that night and the pressure to do those things, but I think it applies to a lot of different cities too. A lot of people have told us that they really relate to the character, they really relate to Ben’s attitude of “I don’t feel like going out anymore” so that’s been interesting. We’re at the Monarch Tavern at the beginning but because we don’t really venture outside I think the setting and the tone isn’t Canadian-centric. 

DS: What’s on your Dork Shelf? 

DA: Anytime I go anywhere new, any new country, any new city, I’ll find something really random to bring back. On my Dork Shelf I have a pepsi branded Optimus Prime that I got in England when Pepsi did a promotion with Hasbro for the Transformers. From Japan I got a Homer Simpson with Mickey Mouse ears and a duck beak, and I also have a Super Mario Bros Lego set. 

MH: I love poster art. I come from Poland and there’s amazing poster art there. I don’t have enough space to put all the posters up but I have a nice little collection. Even at film festivals you get some really great posters. When I was younger I used to collect Smurf figurines.

Dan and Mars are currently developing Ben’s At Home into a web series. Here’s a trailer they put together that combines new footage with footage from the film, can you spot some of the items on Dan’s Dork Shelf?