BACKSTAGE with Director Donald Flaherty and Actor Morgan Benoit

6 09 2012

Today on CSReview, we’re talking to film director Donald Flaherty and actor Morgan Benoit, and the highlight  of our conversation is the newest and very promising science fiction movie project BRUTAL.

CS: Welcome to CSReview, Donald and Morgan. I am glad to see you both here. Donald, my first question is for you – why science fiction? What appeals to you in this genre?

Donald Flaherty: Science fiction allows you to heighten reality and tell stories that might not necessarily work in any other genre. Sci-fi also allows you to make bold statements and do things that are often impossible at this moment in time. It really allows you push the creative envelope.

CS: Morgan, how does it feel to be on a set of a sci fi movie? Is it any different from any other set?

Morgan Benoit: It feels great! I am a big science fiction fan, I read a lot of fantasy and science fiction (George R.R. Martin, Robert Jordan, C.S. Lewis), so having the opportunity to do a science fiction film was a real pleasure. The Brutal set was quite different from other sets I have worked on. My scenes take place in a cage and in a cell; because of the lighting and how they are set up both sets have a very otherworldly feel to them so that helped me get into character and it was a lot of fun to work in that environment.

CS: What I always wanted to know – is it harder to shoot a sci fi film? Why?

Donald Flaherty: Yes and no. I believe the best sci-fi works when it’s based in reality that the audience can relate to. Creating a world that is both believable and somehow unique and exciting for the audience to discover is the real challenge of the genre. Sci-fi allows for a tremendous amount of freedom when creating your own screen world, unlike a period film where you are constrained by the time period of the story. You can’t have a tank roll through Gone With The Wind. But if you did Gone With The Wind as a sci-fi film, that tank might just be the perfect device to help tell your story.

CS: Interesting perspective there, Donald. I love Gone With The Wind… don’t know if a tank will make it better, but I do hear you about using whatever devices necessary to further the story, to ensure it’s clarity for the audience’s sake. What was the ultimate challenge in producing Brutal? What makes Brutal different from any other sci fi production?

Donald Flaherty: The challenge of producing Brutal was creating and executing the fight sequences in a believable, exciting, and fresh way. Colin Follenweider, the second unit director, and Chris Torres, the stunt coordinator, did an amazing job bringing the fights to the screen. Morgan Benoit and Jeff Hatch, the two lead actors also put blood, sweat and tears into making the fights happen on screen. I can’t express how exciting these sequences are going to be. I think the whole team has raised the bar on fight footage in a film.

CS: I can’t wait to see! Morgan, you have to film against a green screen, does it make you uncomfortable? How do you get past that?

Morgan Benoit: I have never had a problem working with a green screen, I’ve always had a very over active imagination, I think that helps when there isn’t any scenery or props to work with.

CS: It’s great to be able to channel your natural abilities into your profession, Morgan. Donald, are you nervous about Brutal’s upcoming screening? Does it feel like you’re about to set a baby into the world?

Donald Flaherty: I think whenever you do creative work, be it film, painting, music, etc., it is always nerve-racking to put it out in the world. But it’s part of the process and dealing with both the positive and negative reviews is something artists must contend and come to terms with. To be honest, I’m not quite there yet. Maybe someday it will get easier, but right now it still gives me big butterflies.

CS: I’ll be certainly holding my fists for Brutal. OK, tell me this – what was the most remarkable, most memorable event on the set?

Donald Flaherty: The most memorable event, believe it or not, was how easy it was to shoot this film. The team from the top down was amazing. Everyone showed up everyday and brought their “A” game. It was the most trouble-free, low-stress production I’ve ever been associated with. Great people doing great work. I couldn’t have asked for a better experience.

CS: Morgan, you worked with Jackie Chan and David Carradine. What did you learn from these ultimate martial arts masters?

Morgan Benoit: What I’ve learned from Jackie is to be humble, be grateful, never forget where you come from and to work very, very hard. Jackie is always the first one up, he is never late to set even though he could get away with it because he is such a big star and when there is down time you will never find him idle. When he is not in front of the camera he is either working out, or working on the project in some other way. I’ve always tried to emulate Jackie’s work ethic when it comes to establishing my career. David Carradine was also a very talented and hard working individual but it was Jackie who really made a lasting impression on me.

CS: Special lessons come from special people… Having spent so much time in China, what would you say was your ultimate lesson there, what did you take with you when you left?

Morgan Benoit: The most important thing I learned in China is perseverance. When I first started training martial arts in China I couldn’t find a teacher, coaches said I was too tall, too inflexible, started too late, but I worked really hard, I fought through the pain and molded my body and mind into what I wanted to become. I proved to them – and to myself – that I could succeed in Wushu. It was the same when I moved from Beijing to Los Angeles, it was during the writers’ strike, it was difficult to find an agent, a manager, to get any kind of audition at all, but instead of giving up and returning to China I stuck it out, worked hard and found a way forward.

CS: Kung-Fu is am amazing discipline. I am only amateur, but I love every part of it, I think it brings the best of the person who practices it genuinely. Tell me about doing martial arts stunts on the set. Do you always remember where the camera is? Do you get carried away?

Morgan Benoit: I have been doing it so long that I have a good understanding of camera angles, after a while you start to sense the camera and you instinctively know what direction is best and how to angel your body. At first it can be a daunting process, but like anything the more you do it the more familiar it becomes. I have never gotten carried away while working, it’s not a fight, it’s choreography, it’s more like a dance. The choreography has to flow, it has to have rhythm, and intention. I look at fight choreography like a professional pianist playing Beethoven or Mozart, the tempo is always changing, fast, then slow, too hard – then soft. Compare that to someone who isn’t trained just banging on the keys. If that gets carried away and is just fast and hard without rhythm, it doesn’t translate to screen well, and ends up looking slow and awkward.

CS: Where do you envision yourself in five years after Brutal?

Morgan Benoit: In five years I see myself as an extremely successful action actor who can also cross over into serious drama.

CS: And Donald, would you do a sci fi film again?

Donald Flaherty: In a heartbeat. I love the genre.

CS: Thank you for stepping by and talking about Brutal, Donald and Morgan. Wishing you best of luck rounding up production and successful screening!

Copyright Camilla Stein ©2012. All rights reserved.

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