Bennett Jones (2015) #audio

I am pleased to report that this interview is just as much entertaining as it is informative. Bennett Jones is a force to be reckoned with, and when I saw his feature, I Am a Knife with Legs, all I wanted to do was watch it again and again. I can't tell you how much I enjoyed this feature. I honestly can't, because there are literally no words to describe Jones' labor of love. So, being the hard-working journalist that I am, I continuously reached out to Jones until he had no other choice but to answer my call. It took some time, but between writing, directing and being a badass, Jones was able to step away from the limelight and answer all of the questions that his admirers deserve.

Jessie Hobson: I have a couple questions I'm sure everyone asks, and then I have some other ones that Jason and I, the other gentlemen that works with me, we had been tossing around. So here we go, man. Of course, the very first question, of course, is how did you come up with the character of Bené?

Bennett Jones: Well, I've always liked French cinema and European cinema. I've got a lot of comedic influences including Steve Martin and Monty Python, and there's definitely been a tradition of making fun of various accents or whatever. But back in the '90s a friend of mine asked me to put together an act for a party downtown and I decided to just do a, like a Euro-pop band. And, put it together with my girlfriend and a couple friends. I just came up with, ya know, decided to to with the name Bené and my girlfriend was Baguette. We just did a couple, maybe performed three times total. The band was named Pathetique. After that, I broke up with my girlfriend, and then, but occasionally I'd do the character, again, like solo, and I started to write material for the character. These people would request it at parties, and I designed, I created a costume and it just became more of a solo act after a while and just kinda evolved from there.

JH: Alright, where did the idea of the ab hole come from?

BJ: I can't remember the exact moment when I thought of that, but I bought that t-shirt at a thrift store that says "I love rock and roll" on it... and added it to the costume.... and I just thought it needed something. And, I have bunch of, Bené has a bunch of products. He's got a lot of products, and the ab hole t-shirt is just one of them. Another one of his products is called the ass-pod. It's like, cause Bené, he can't stand museums because he doesn't to read standing up. So, if you go into a museum you wear the ass-pod which is basically like one leg of a tripod that's attached to a little platform that's sewn into your pants, and you can just basically sit down wherever you are. Now ironically, or coincidentally, Chevy Chase's character on Community pretty much came up with the exact same invention years later. I never really implemented the ass-pod, but I was watching Community a couple years ago and Chevy Chase demonstrates the trouser bench, which is a little exploding bench you wear in your pants. I thought wow, that's the ass-pod. So, so much for that product. The ab hole is one of the many products Bené that has.

JH: I watched the movie two more times after we had last talked, and I noticed there were a few jump-cuts as Bené is talking to Beefy. Were those intentional? Were those added later?

BJ: Well, they certainly weren't written into the script, but the jump cuts, I decided as I was editing that my only general rule would be... if it's funny, it's stays. If I lose continuity or it seems to pull you out of a scene or whatever, doesn't matter. The main thing is if it's funny... and also the timing. So, like in the whole concert t-shirts gag there's a bunch of jump-cuts, and that's just to keep it moving. And, if you watch Breathless, Godard's Breathless, there's a lot of jump-cuts in there. And I think he was playing around with cinema, but he also, he didn't care if there was a jump-cut. For him, I think, the main point was the performances and keeping the story going. That kind of being anal about, keeping the fourth wall, and no jump-cuts... he didn't care. And then, in some cases I definitely played with the jump-cuts like when Beefy and Bené are looking out the window... I'll take a bullet for you... I'll take a bigger bullet... that's riddled with jump-cuts. I've eliminated every single pause in the lines so the jump-cuts kinda become part of the joke.

JH: I thought, that part seemed much more intentional, but there were some when you were actually mid-sentence, I assumed maybe you had broke character and then that was just like edited out...

BJ: I don't think I ever cracked up. There's so much pressure when you're also directing. I just didn't really... I don't think I ever got, there were a couple times when Dallas who was shooting it, had to really hold back his laughter but Will and I, neither of us, break very easily. There wasn't a whole of cracking up on the set, plus it was hot as hell in that apartment.

JH: So, speaking of the apartment, do you still live in the apartment?

BJ: Yeah, I'm still there. Yeah, love that place.

JH: And, how's your neighbor?

BJ: Well, the neighbor, the bald guy... he's still, that's my... Tom Bliss, he's still my neighbor. He got a new black cat... cause the cat, Yeti in the movie, died. So he replaced Yeti with another exactly, exactly the same. If we need to do re-shoots we've got another cat. That'd be better for a prequel.

JH: Actually, I have a question about that, is it safe to say there is a sequel or prequel in the works?

BJ: It would definitely be a sequel because we shot the movie so long ago. I think it'd be hard, it would be a big mega budget to make me look younger than I was when we shot it. Yeah, I've been playing around. I'm working on a another, a much more involved script, a science fiction screenplay, but the timeline of Legs sequel... we'll see how it does once I get distribution and all that. It might be a lot of fun to do a follow-up.

JH: Who was responsible for the animated sequences?

BJ: I did all that stuff too. Well, rather than give myself... like fifty credits at the end. I just put music and post-production, Bennett Jones. But, the idea behind the animation was anything that in the script that was difficult to shoot, I figured well we could just do something with drawings... and that kinda went from there and that kind of evolved quite a bit from there. It was a lot of fun to add that stuff in. Real simple. I just used final cut, movement to give the animation or motion... and kept it real simple.

JH: Before settling on A Knife with Legs, did you have any other titles in mind for the film?

BJ:  No, I really didn't. It was when I first wrote that song, I wrote the scene where Beefy is telling Bené, you gotta get ready for this assassin, and that evolved to the lyrics of that song which is sort of like a "Eye of the Tiger" kind of montage-ish training sequence song, but it just came out, once I finished the song I was like that's the perfect title and nothing else really ever came up.

JH: Was it always intended to be a musical or have as many songs that it does have? Or was that something steadily evolved?

BJ: A few of those songs were written for my live show, so I had those ready to go. And, so I was definitely going to have these musical numbers. I added more music and wrote tunes for the movie and then, sort of the background music as well started to develop a little bit. I would say that it's a little more than I expected in terms of how many songs and it was a hell of a lot more work than I expected to put all that music together, but that was definitely the idea to get a lot of music in there.

JH: Taking a little bit of turn here, what acting experience you have prior to the film?

BJ:  I went to Cal Arts for theater and for film directing and acting. So I got a lot of training there, I did Shakespeare and movement classes, stage, combat, voice, voice, all that stuff. After Cal Arts I worked a few TV jobs, some sort of, I don't know if you've ever heard of The New Adventures of Robin Hood. So, Saturday morning, Saturday afternoon show, late '90s, they shot it in Lithuania because back then you can work with union actors and not pay them union rates if you went to Eastern Europe. So we shot it over there, I played a few characters over there. I played couple commercials here and there... a lot of stage work. A lot of improv, I trained at Bang Improv Theater. It's no longer around, and then Improv Olympic West in Hollywood. I did musicals in Colorado for while, so you know I had a fair amount, it certainly wasn't, I had something of a career going on.

JH: So you were typically either in front of the camera or on stage, what about your directing? I heard you say went to school for some directing. Was this project a learn as you go type of project or was it something you had been prepared for as well?

BJ: Well, my first feature. I had done a few shorts in the past and I had directed a significant amount of theater including a science fiction musical comedy that I wrote and starred in. I had experience writing, acting in and directing my own stuff. But this was definitely the first feature, the biggest challenge for the feature film, is sustaining the audiences interest in the movie because a five minute sketch is one thing, but a full feature... I mean, you look at Mr. Show, Bob Odenkirk and David Cross and how brilliant their show Mr. Show was, but then look at their feature films and it's real hit or miss. It's much more difficult to keep the laughs coming and keep the story interesting. So, that was, I had, going into it, the learn as you go part would be just finding out how much much of my material... how far it would go in post. How long these scenes would be funny, we have a version of the concert t-shirt gag that's almost twice as long. It's still funny, more jokes in there, but how long can people hang with that before they want to get back to some sort of narrative? And, a lot of that, you learn that in post production because you have all of this material now, but now you have to make it all make sense. So, the first, cut was 97 minutes, and what you saw is about 83, much leaner. Still, long enough, it's not like when you see it, the feature film and it's 63 minutes long and you're like... whoa... they didn't have enough material.

JH: So, that leads me to my next question perfectly, I can't wait for the ridiculously extended director's cut. Are you planning on doing both cuts? I'm sure there's a ton of deleted scenes, like you just mentioned, will it be released in two formats...

BJ: Yeah, once I get done with this tour and get back in L.A. and get back to work on all the distribution and everything, and have some time. It would be fun to work all those missing scenes in, because some of them are very funny. The 97/98 minute version, the stuff I pulled out is still pretty damn funny, the narrative momentum wasn't quite there. So, yeah, I'd love to do a longer cut or at least have the scenes available, once the movie's available on demand. There's a whole, just a ton of scenes in the bathroom, involving a cassette tape that Bené is reading right before he sings... Give it Up to the Dude. He's just sitting there on the toilet reading an Echo and the Bunnymen cassette tape, and there's a whole bit about that, for example.

JH: That, yeah, sounds great, man. That's really funny. Projected on screen the footage looks lo-res at times, is it gonna go that same route whenever it does come out on demand? Or on video?

BJ: Yeah, the, some of the, I did a lot of zooming into the image, in various scenes it gets really grainy. Everything was shot on standard-def on Mini DV, but what I did was, I ran all that footage through a Teranex, which is this amazing machine developed by the United States military to enhance satellite video. And it actually can increase the amount of information in a standard-def video, and bump it up to, from 480 to 1080. It's still not hi-def, but it looks significantly better without getting really, without looking processed. So what you saw, was taken from the, essentially the HD cut after I blew it up. Anytime they're gonna blow up standard-def and show it in a theater, you run it through this process and it's really quite amazing. It looked really lo-def, but imagine if had I not run it through that process, it really would have looked crappy.

JH: Ultimately it looked good, but like you said, there a couple of scenes where you zoomed in, and you touched on it earlier. It kinda added to the novelty or the whole ordeal as like, I don't know, it just worked, overall.

BJ: Yeah, I think it does. It becomes... a teacher once told me that style is the result of compromise... and a lot of times if you have limited resources, you take that and turn it into the look of the project, and as long as it's unified, people will forgive that. Imagine somebody posts some hilarious video taken from the security camera at a 7-11. A terrible angle. Bad quality. Bad lighting. But, it's a video of some ridiculous, a cat jumping on guy's face, whatever. It doesn't really matter. In some ways that lo-res quality adds to the reality.

JH: Speaking of reality, you mentioned at our screening that you didn't know that some dude walking down the street. I'm assuming you guys approached him later, is that true? How did that work out?

BJ: The guy walking over the hill top? We just get him from the back and then he does a little dance?

JH: Yeah.

BJ: Yeah, that guy has no idea he's in the movie. I just grabbed that footage when I was testing the camera on my own and ended up using it, but I figured, you know what? His face is not, you never see his face, you never see the woman behind him. I don't know who these people are. So, I can't imagine anyone will watch the movie and say... oh my God, that's David... my neighbor! I can't imagine that will happen, so, but the... I think, the, when we ran through Chinatown I didn't blur out faces. We did one shot going through that mall. So yes, there are a lot of people who don't know they're in a movie. I'm gonna just roll with and take my chances that no one's going to be offended. I think in some cases, it could be, I don't think anyone was ridiculed with their image. The guy we're talking about, since you can't see his face, I think is fair game. I think, ya know, I suppose in some ways you can say we we're making fun of him, but we we're certainly messing with him without his permission. We can't see his face, but I figured we're fine.

JH: Yeah, from what I remember from Media Law and Ethics I think you're beyond safe in that situation. So, aside from getting more victims on film, is there anything that you would like to change about the finished product?

BJ: I would love to have had the money or the, I would have loved to have handed the whole, done my whole preliminary mix, sound mix, and then sat down with a pro and just made it. If there are mistakes in it, make sure that they're all intentional. I mean there are some jokes in the sound mix for sure, but the... just in terms of the joy of listening to it, it would be great to have just a nice dolby mix for these festivals. I think the music, I did a good job with the music, but for the most part... a few songs I had help with the mastering, but with more experience... a real pro knows how to make those tunes really really work. Especially when played back in the movie theater. I'd say the sound mix is an area where I did as good as I could without losing my mind, but a pro could really make that work. Apart from that, I think... I became a much faster editor, but when I started editing I was pretty impatient. If I'd have just sat down, just spent a week just reading the manual for Final Cut, instead of stumbling around, you save so much time. I'm sure you know, when you get the shortcuts down and all that. But as far as the film itself and the scenes, I think it's... I still like watching the movie. There's nothing in it that makes me cringe. That's.... oh man, if only we had that shot or this shot. I think I spent so much time in the editing, that what's in there, I made sure it works... at least works for me and I took out the things that were questionable. I'm pretty happy with it. Those are my two regrets, I'd say.

JH: At the screenings, what's it like, from your perspective, the audience reaction, to see, to show your passion project to a group of strangers? I just can't imagine the feeling that you go through when you walk out and people have just seen this thing that you have labored over for so much time.

BJ: It's not that different from when I did stuff in Undergrad. I made these ridiculous short videos, we would, this is going way back. We would take episodes of Scooby Doo and re-dub them, dub in different voices. We would change the storyline and add in Stravinsky music, and then we'd show them at these parties. I won't tell you how long ago, this is long ago. And you would show it and people would laugh, and this is pretty much the same, it's just a much more complete and controlled, and more involved process. When I watch, if I sit in with the audience, I can usually tell within about fifteen seconds if they're gonna dig the movie because the very first line, the very first line of the movie is a joke already, because, it's like, obviously... by the title of the film and what they've read they know this is a comedy, and the first line... here I am waiting for death is such a heavy existential obvious reference to, existential camus, whatever and this guy wearing a shirt with a hole in it and the eclair. The comedy is so clear it's, I think the only time it didn't immediately get laughs was in Germany and that's, a lot of that was, it's just not quite their humor. Got a language barrier a little bit, they did dig it, but much much quieter audience. But when I sit down, if there's any worry in me it goes away immediately in those first three or four lines, that succession of jokes. Because, I think the, I kind of went out of my way to have the movie start immediately, with no dead air. Like sometimes you go see a comedy and there's the title sequence in the first minute, like when is this going to start getting funny? Ya know? I wanted to make sure it came out immediately in the very first couple of lines. But no, it's really, it's a great feeling to watch it with an audience and to see how some people get, like the one big test id going to be... who's going to figure out that that's Harrison Ford in the dream sequence first. Some people get it immediately. As soon as I walk in the door, there's somebody laughing. They just know and then other people don't get it until I mention it in the bathtub. So, that's always fun to hear people react. 

JH: I can definitely say that, when I went to see this, because we didn't know what we were going to be shown... Robert, he announced it, and it still didn't click with me, I had only heard a couple things from South By and I think it was Fantastic Fest, and I remember reading his review and I was, and it didn't click until it started. But I was immediately hooked, just like you said, within those first couple jokes. For me, and for a lot of the people I spoke to afterward, they said it was so unexpected that it worked for us that much more because, like you said, it hit the ground running, and we can definitely appreciate that as an audience. If that means anything to you, it was a great experience for everyone...

BJ: Thanks. I appreciate that. I've done enough comedy to know how important it is to get to the point. And one of my teachers at Cal Arts was Alexander Mackendrick. He directed The Sweet Smell of Success, and a... The Man in the White Suit, The Ladykillers... worked with Peter Sellers, Burt Lancaster, Alec Guinness. An eighty year old Scottish film maker and he had all these phrases on the wall of his office and one of them was.... SOONER... you think that needs happen on page whatever? Make it happen sooner. Sooner! There's a lot of film-makers that take a lot of time to get to the damn point and there's time for that. There's time to let things breathe, but in comedy it's really helpful to get to it quickly and brief, and be brief.

JH: Do you feel like, at the screenings, the realization for the audience that you're not really Bené, but just really a regular guy ruins the mystique a bit for the audience?

BJ: I realized after, a couple times I've introduced the film as me and then the film happens then I do a Q&A, I realized that I shouldn't come out before the movie. And, we can save that for the Q&A. As far as whether, if they see the movie not knowing who I am, and they watch it, I suppose there are some people who really think I talk like that. That has happened, they're like... wow... you don't have an accent... no! I take that as a big compliment because I tried to, I'm not an absolute master of doing accents, so I just tried to take this accent and water it down to the point to where you couldn't really place it. And I think a lot of, if you meet someone from another country and often times, the accent is really subtle and it makes it much more real. You'll see an actor, like Sacha Baron Cohen does amazing accents, but they're very obviously heightened. They're very obviously a bit cartoonish, but if you water it down enough, yeah, people might actually think... and I've performed live as Bené and I've had people come up to me afterwards and say, so where are exactly are you from? And I'll say I'm from Massachusetts, wait a minute! Where's your accent? I just think... but then again, there's a guy on YouTube... I forget his name, but he has an accent, he does these funny bits, but he's really from Austria or somewhere. He could easily be a guy faking that accent. I forgive them, I would have been fooled just as well. But as far as if it ruin the mystique, I don't know, that's a good questions. I've thought of doing these festivals and never breaking character, but I thought that would be cheating the audience a little bit because if they legitimately want to know about the movie and want to talk to the director, and they only get to talk to Bené then they aren't getting their money's worth, I felt.

JH: It's funny to me, because a lot of people thought, especially in Houston, from what I saw, people thought he was a real character until you came out waving, but... you could definitely do a Larry Kaufman. No, not Kaufman. Yeah, Kaufman, right?

BJ: Andy Kaufman?

JH: Andy Kaufman, yeah. He kinda did that same thing with Tony Clifton, and they portrayed that as two different people.

BJ: Well, that gives me an idea. I'm going to Florida tomorrow. Maybe I'll switch it and when they, when I come out for the Q&A, I'm come out in full Bené outfit and take the questions as Bené and then drop the character... completely and see what kind of reaction I get. If I just suddenly switch into Bennett Jones...

JH: Yeah, that would be pretty entertaining. If you showed up with the ab hole...

BJ: Right.

JH: You'll have to shoot me an e-mail and let me know how that goes.

BJ: Yeah, the screening's tomorrow night, maybe I'll try that. That might be funny.

JH: I found your SNL audition tape online, are you still actively pursuing the cast or is this kinda taking up your time now?

BJ: I think I had my one shot. They saw me perform last summer. They sent scouts out and, saw a few of us perform at Improv Olympics. They liked what they saw, and they asked my agent for a video and if they had dug it, if they wanted to see me, then that would have... the next step would have been an audition in New York. They liked it, but I wasn't what they were looking for. So, I think, at this stage, I don't see an audition happening in the future. I mean, I'm way older than their cast, generally. Although, Leslie Jones is in her 40s. Yeah, but... usually if you give them your best and you don't even get an audition chances are, maybe I'm on their radar, maybe they'll contact me. But, I don't think it necessarily be worth it to pursue, but it was great to get that close, ya know? It's very competitive. 

JH: Do you think that Bené is marketable enough for that primetime audience that SNL provides? Or if you made it to that point would you kinda save Bené for yourself?

BJ: Bené would definitely be mine and mine alone. SNL is very clear if you bring in a character and you do that character on the show, they own it. Yeah, the public knows that as well at this point. Mike Myers famously did not do Austin Powers on SNL, he withheld that character. And, I think that was a good move, just because if you really want it to be yours... I mean, I already made, and if I were to get on that show, and did Bené on that show, actually, since I've already done it as a movie I don't think they could have any ownership of it. So, that would probably would be a moot point. I don't know, honestly. I'm sure it would be an absolute blast to be on SNL, but I've been been making my own things since I was twelve, thirteen... I was making some great films then. That's really what I'm about, doing my own thing, ya know?

JH: So, that makes perfect sense. I just saw the video and I had to ask. Keeping all of that in mind, what's your goal as an actor? From your stat sheet, you've already wrote, you directed, you've stared. Where does it go from here? As far as Bennett Jones.

BJ: Well, I'd like to make that science fiction film. I just finished the first draft this Spring, that would be a lot of money. It would be a matter of getting a polished draft and getting investors. I mean, it's a pretty big budget deal. That would be great, and I don't know if I would end up being on camera at all, but I would be certainly writing possibly directing and then working on music for it. There's a big, also an element of music in that one. Outside of that, I have, once you make one film it seems like you start getting ideas. So I do have two or three other story-lines that I think would be fun to get down on paper and then a sequel toKnife with Legs which would be a blast. It would be great to get the same actors together. Ashley is now thirteen, the little girl, and a real sweetheart and she's totally down to do the sequel. And she's not really pursuing acting, and in some ways I think there is a charm in non-actors actings, sometimes, if their own personalities are interesting. Like Tom who chases me through L.A. he's not an actor at all and he's perfect in that movie. He's just a bro, totally laid-back confident dude who's not trying to be funny. He doesn't... he's just doing his thing, and that's hard to find. He can handle the physical stuff. It would be great to get the same gang together and do another movie and see where it goes. 

JH: Is your new sci-fi project that you're working on, is it connected to the one you have worked on previously or is this something totally different?

BJ: Can't comment on that at this stage, you'll just have to keep checking the trades.

JH: For sure man, definitely. What about a Bené tour? Has anyone approached you for that or have you thought about opening for somebody to help promote the movie?

BJ: Yeah, it's come up here and there. It's a tough one, because right now I'm still hitting these festivals, and I had a deadline for that script that we were talking about. A really hard deadline in March, and that was a massive ton of work. Got that sent out, and I've been in Cleveland, Boston, New York, and back in Boston now, then I'm going to Florida, I'll be in North Carolina again in June. So, really haven't had time to do anything but this business. And, in a way, this tour Bené performs a little bit at these things. But as far as putting together a more organized tour, it's just a matter of deciding if I've got the time and the interest trying to make it happen. These things, that just take a butt-load of planning to make it work, but it would be fun. It would be fun. I don't think I've ever done Bené and had him bomb. He's basically completely bulletproof. He doesn't care if you find him entertaining at all, he doesn't care. And that makes him bombproof.

JH: Before I let you go is there anything else you'd like to mention or plug? Anything that needs to be on my radar?

BJ: Let's see, well the release of the film, I'm talking to distributors now, I'm hoping to have some sort of theatrical release in the Fall. And should be followed very shortly by the VOD release. But, beyond that, no, I appreciate the chance to ramble.

I can't stress this enough, seek this movie out. I can honestly say there's just something about experiencing all the awkwardness in a cinema. I've posted a bunch of screenings on our calendar HERE, and Bennett updates his calendar regularly HERE. This movie is fun, a breathe of fresh air, and just something that needs to be appreciated. I Am a Knife with Legs will be available online 11/22, but if you pre-order today you get the soundtrack for free. Speaking of free stuff, if you see me out and about ask me for an eclair button. Bennett was gracious enough to send me a truck load of these things. So, if you want one, you may have one. Just ask.