Ben Carland is a commercial, music video and feature filmmaker. His feature film Shadows on the Wall was completed and released in 2016 after its festival run, including Roswell Sci-Fi and a nomination for Best Sci-Fi at the Burbank International Film Festival. It’s now available on most major VOD networks. Possession was finished in 2017 and picked up after a festival run for a similar release, with Luma completed in 2019 and released on global VOD.
Ben is currently in post production on the off-world sci-fi feature Sol Invictus as well as post on his third feature, an apocalyptic survival film titled Survive. When those aren’t keeping him busy, he’s also wrapping up a short film and feature script of his next project: Leap of Faith, his first venture into the supernatural horror genre.
In addition to features, Ben has produced, directed and edited dozens of commercial and documentary projects for clients and companies across the country – with some other shorts and miscellaneous creative projects thrown in the mix as well. When he’s not working, he can be found at his home in NC, trail-running, biking, or enjoying a gin and tonic with his wife, daughter, and Saint Bernard.
Q & A
If the world you created in your film became a reality, is that a world you would want to live in?
No way! There are monsters running around, flashlights blasting out clouds of radiation, and the sun is going dim. Monsters aside, I like beaches too much to live in a world where the sun is going dim.
Is there a Sci-Fi world you’d buy a one-way ticket to?
Most of them no, just watching a few hours of them in a film is enough for me. Since so many sci-fi films are explorations of the worst or scariest parts of what our future may be, it’s nice to be able to return to some degree of normalcy after a few hours. Hitchhikers Guide could be a lot of fun as long as I’d get an infinite improbability drive to mess around with.
Name a Sci-Fi character you relate to on a spiritual level? Who is your Sci-Fi spirit animal/spirit alien?
Q from Star Trek. Not that I have anything in common with him (hopefully not anyway) but his exchange with Picard at the end of TNG “All Good Things” essentially sums up why I love filmmaking, especially sci-fi.
Friend or Foe: humanoid robots with advanced artificial intelligence? What if robots start making their own Sci-Fi films? Will you support them in their endeavors?
Friend, definitely friend. Look where NOT having them has gotten us. Robots with AI will probably be making films if they haven’t already. But if the Google AI art projects are any indicator, then I can’t wait to see how their films turn out.
In 1996, Bugs Bunny recruited Michael Jordan and Bill Murray to form the greatest basketball squad of all-time, the Tune Squad; you’re Bugs, who’s on your Sci-Fi Tune Squad?
Do we still have to play basketball? Because if so then I choose Data and his brother, Lore. No team could compete with that.
You’ve gotta go through some bad ideas to get to the good ones. Tell us one of your bad ideas. How do you get past the bad ones to find your spark?
I probably go through 5-10 bad ideas for every good one. I think the only way to get past the bad ones is to keep working on them, keep writing. Almost every idea seems awesome when it’s just a spark in your imagination, it’s only once you flesh it out into something more developed that you can actually see if it’s working or not. Then I think one of the best ways to tell if something is great (or at least great enough to keep working on) is if you can’t NOT work on it. If I feel like I must keep writing something because it’s pulling me back, then it’s a good one. If I feel like I’m working on something because I feel obligated to finish it or if it’s tedious to keep working on it then it’s probably not that great to begin with. If you can lose your excitement on it when you’re still just in the writing stage (if it’s something you’re planning to produce) then it’s probably better to let it go. Stick to stuff you love every step of the way.
Do you consider yourself part of a sci-fi community? Or when your brain is in the future and your body’s in the present, is that isolating?
Part of a sci-fi community? No not really, but definitely part of a filmmaker community – many of whom happen to love sci-fi. I have a lot of filmmaker friends that work in all kinds of genres and we’re always discussing ideas or giving feedback on edits, etc. But I write alone and I only tell people about a project when it’s something I’m seriously considering making or when it’s to the point that it’s ready for feedback. I have so many ideas bouncing around in my head at a given moment that I’d never get anything done if I talked about them all. So I try to be more productive or efficient with my time and only chat about the ones that pass the “is it good enough” test. To answer the other part of that question: is it isolating having my imagination somewhere else? Not at all! I love having my head in the clouds and I try to keep it there most of the time. Half the fun is taking the ideas you get from that and trying to turn them into something fun that you’d want to share with other people and maybe even try to bring to life.
Do you consider yourself more of an analog or digital person? What kind of balance do strike between the two? Is there a disconnect between the technology you make films about and the technology that you make films with?
Digital all the way. I actually love the technology we can use in filmmaking these days and even the experience of using it can be inspirational or reflected in your work. We worked with film when I was in school and I’m glad to have had that experience and I definitely appreciate where things have come from. But a huge part of seeing how much things have changed just makes me appreciate how much more can be done with a smaller budget or how much simpler things can be now versus where they were 10, 20 years ago. I love all the advancements in digital cameras and software; I can’t wait to see where they go and what else it allows us to do.
When you’re creating the props and sets that make a new world, where do you look for inspiration? How do you create objects that are relatable but unfamiliar?
I love going through concept art. Depending on the project, I’ll often get some pieces made for my own films to help flesh ideas out. Top priority is of course function, I think any prop or object can be believable no matter how far fetched its purpose is as long as people see it and think “yeah that’s probably how that thing would feel to use”. The second would be to give some backstory or history behind any prop. Nothing should ever feel brand new unless it’s literally brand new in the story.
Lightning round: Star Wars or Star Trek? Philip K. Dick or William S. Burroughs? Practical or CGI? Dystopia or Utopia? Post Apocalypse or Pre Apocalypse?
Star Trek! Star Wars is certainly richer and more cinematic but I think it’s about as sci-fi as Lord of the Rings so I’m disqualifying it. Sci-fi (at least to me) is about who are we and where are we going (or where might we be going). Also definitely PKD; practical (can’t beat having the real deal on camera); dystopia; and definitely post apocalypse.