Q&A with Oscar Winner & Shore Script Alumni, Ben Cleary

Dave Beazley spoke with Shore Scripts Alumni Winner, Ben Cleary, about his recent Best Live Short OSCAR Win for Stutterer. image

Dave: What would be great is if you could talk a little bit about ‘Stutterer’ and just where you came up with the idea and what the short is about?

Ben: So the short is about a guy who has a pretty severe speech impediment and finds it difficult to communicate with anyone face-to-face. He has this one window to the world which is an online relationship with a girl that has been going on for quite a while. Early on in the film he gets a surprise message from her saying she has come all the way to London and would he like to meet in person for the first time. And this sort of throws his world into chaos as he’s really overwhelmed to meet her. Various twists and turns come from this, which I won’t spoil for people who haven’t seen it.

The idea initially came from something I saw something online: this gentleman was talking about his severe stutter and how he had gotten to the point where he was able to communicate fairly well face-to-face with people, but once he got on the phone it would kind of come flooding back. He just found phone-calls incredibly difficult because his voice was the main thing that was on show. This stayed with me and struck a bit of a chord. I started thinking about what it might be like for someone navigating through life with a speech difficulty, and that was where the character initially emerged from.

Dave: How long did it take you to write?

Ben: The first draft was quite quick actually. It all sort of fell into place. I think I had the first draft in about a week and then from there was a bit of back and forth with my producers, tweaking things, but the first draft and shooting script weren’t massively different which was nice.

Dave: When will the film be online for people to see?

Ben: It’s going to be a little while before it’s online for free. It’s actually available now on I-Tunes. People can buy it for a couple of quid there. It was online for free in Ireland for 30 days following the Oscars, but now we are hoping to potentially make a little bit of money on it which would be great going forward to the next projects.

Dave: It is notoriously difficult to get any sort of funding for shorts. How did you guys go about doing that? Did you have a producer/a team in place beforehand? How did you get  funding?

Ben: I actually self-funded it. I had a few grand saved up, and luckily I got two mates of mine who are producers to get on board early on. Shan Christopher Ogilvie and Serena Amritage. They were just great in getting a lot of the team together and making very little go quite a long way and stretch the budget. Self financing it obviously brought with it it’s own challenges, but luckily I surrounded myself with good people and that can help you go along way.

Dave: Have you always wanted to direct?

Ben: Yeah, that has always been the plan but I thought to try and come at it from a writing point-of-view. I did a screen writing masters a number of years ago at London Film School and I just tried to understand film narrative and get a good grip on that whole writing side of it before going near a camera or deciding to make anything. That felt like the natural way to do things for me. 

Dave: It obviously worked amazingly well, but when you were directing was there anything which came up which was unexpected? What did you learn from the process?

Ben: I think you learn every minute you are on set and before and even after it as well. It was definitely like film school for me. But I think a huge part of screenwriting is thinking about a lot of the same things you think about when you are directing. You are thinking about what the shots are going to be, about the characters and how the actors will take on those roles, and little ways you could try to help to mould the performances. You are really thinking about a lot of that in script stage. And then a huge amount of it is preparation. There were of course surprises and things that I was learning on set that I had never thought about, but I think you do go into it quite prepared. I’ve been thinking about all this stuff for years in a way. I just tried to bring as much of that in as I could.

Dave: Just to talk a little bit about your Oscar win. I imagine when you heard about the nomination it was a huge surprise, and then obviously the win must have been quite a surreal moment?

Ben: Surreal is probably the best word to describe it. We had absolutely no aspirations as high as getting shortlisted for the Oscars, let alone winning it. It has been a magical few months but a pretty surreal one. When we heard about the shortlist first of all before Christmas, that was an incredible shock, and then getting the nomination was equally amazing. So yeah, quite hard to put into words what it all feels like really.

Dave: What after party did you go to!

Ben: We went to the Vanity Fair. It was actually nice, we weren’t there for too long. We went back to a friends house. A couple of my best mates came over and my brother traveled from New York, and various members of the cast and crew were there who I am really close with now. So it was actually just really nice to get the ten or fifteen of us back there and celebrate together. It was a pretty special night.

Dave: And what has it been like post Oscars? I imagine lots of meetings with agents and production companies. Were you in LA for a while after or did you come straight back?

Ben: We were over there for six weeks. Five weeks beforehand and about a week after. Some of the meetings have been really, really good. It’s opening a lot of doors in terms of agents, managers and all that kind of stuff. So I am just trying to learn about all of that and take advantage of it.

Dave: We are running a short film fund this year to finance one short winning script. Do you have any advice for first time writer/directors or film makers in general who are looking to make shorts?

Ben: I think script is key. That is something that I have always tried to get right. I am only really starting my career as well, but I think if the script isn’t good, it is going to be really hard to make a decent film. If you start with a really strong script, it is like the blueprint that you are going to follow. So I think just making sure that the script is as tight as possible before going into production is something that is a good general rule to follow.

Dave: What’s next for you? Have you got any other shorts or a feature in the pipeline?

Ben: I am developing a feature at the moment and I am hoping to make a short that I have been wanting to make for years. So I am kind of determined to make that. We are looking at ways to try and raise funding because it’s a little bit of a bigger budget than ‘Stutterer”. By little I mean way bigger! So we are just trying to look at ways to make that work and get that going. 

Cheers Ben! We wish you every success with your new projects.  

Stutterer can be bought on Itunes HERE