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AN INTERVIEW WITH Nicole Benoit, DIRECTOR & WRITER
As a filmmaker, please introduce yourself and let us know why you became a filmmaker?
My name is Nicole Benoit. I’m a Director, Writer and Cinematographer. I also fill the roles of Producer, Ep and Editor.
I have been a creator since I was born. A storytelling chatterbox from the time I could speak. I have been passionate about writing
and telling story through visual mediums from an elementary school age. Later, I went to university to study law, business and psychology. Simultaneously I was also creating story in front of the camera as an actor while raising two little ones as a sole provider single mom.
I have lived in Toronto, Los Angeles and New York over my career eventually doing a post grad in marketing and advertising where I went
on to be a Creative Director. I developed a greater drive to be behind the camera. I felt compelled to tell stories about
human experiences which move and effect audiences on a thought provoking, cerebral and emotional level. I moved from
the corporate arts world to film and began writing and directing films with a humanistic, narrative voice at its core.
I’ve been told by others who have experienced my vision and my works, that I have touched them deeply, and have profoundly affected
the way they view the challenges they face in a positive, impactful way. This response has kept me motivated and hungry to create
more stories that are built from diverse worlds filled with complex characters. Flawed relatable characters who all struggle to strike
a balance between the challenges, failings and fears we all experience as universal human truths.
I explore how these human realities are usually in conflict with our deepest desires.
Give some more information about the films you have made so far?
My second film a feature called ‘A Cry in The Dark,’ is still a work in progress. I began shooting it in 2009 where It originated as a film
exploring the five stages of grief and trauma through a young girl’s experiences with acute loss. Rachel, our hero, is 15.
Her family and closest friends face the hard road and heart wrenching journey that cancer inflicts on Rachel’s beloved mother.
The ravaging destruction a devastating illness like this leaves in its wake can manifest in a multitude of ways. Rachel’s father’s inability to cope with her passing results in his own depression and self-destruction and culminates in his subsequent suicide.
The weight of the family’s emotional and mental survival falls on Rachel and her elder brother, Riley’s, shoulders. The story illuminates the responsibilities placed on her incredibly fragile shoulders in the aftermath of this tragedy. She steps into the role of a step-in
mother figure to her her 8-year-old little brother and surviving family. We witness her ultimate sense of failure at living up to what,
in her mind, is her mother’s expectations of her. Tragedy strikes again with her youngest brother while under her care.
We watch the fragile thread of composure and strength holding Rachels grief together, completely unravel.
She subsequently descends into the darkest spaces a human mind and heart can occupy. I was so compelled by the process of
loss and healing; I turned the film into a 12-year journey following Rachel as she grew up and coped with endless cycles of grief.
The 12-year shooting schedule was strategically constructed as a chronicling of her character’s life’s challenges, mapping her
mental state as a product of that pivotal time in her young life. The unique proposition of this films shooting concept,
was to follow the actual actress as she grew from a teenager into a woman in her 20’s and have her reprise the role multiple
times over 12 years. The film is slated to be completed this summer with the final chapter of Rachel at 26 to be shot in July 2020
and is called A Cry In The Dark – The Journals of Rachel Scott. I made a thriller called ‘Lucky Break’ also in running in this festival.
I grew up in a spooky house and am fascinated and terrified of things that go bump in the night. I am still affected by
the psychological mind games shadows, solitude and sound can rock on one’s psyche. Sometimes they are real fears,
others are imagined. Separating which is which leads to fun film concepts that we as storytellers like to embellish and explore.
I made a comedy once. It was actually my very first professional film. As a dramatically inclined storyteller, I have a side which favours an abundance of laughter in my life. I think I’m funny with the right people. Writing a comedy and having it live as such for everyone is the most daunting of all genres. You are constantly doubting yourself and questioning the work, but wait, was that really funny? Lol.
Tell us a bit on how you got started in the film world. What sparked your interest in visual storytelling?
I have journals filled with writings of romance and comedy; some writings of poetry, some of deep pain and a desire to rise above
some of the hardest hurdles I’ve had to face. Other journals are filled with daydreams of a utopian world. There were other writings
during periods of darker struggles and strife; where I wrote from a deeply reflective and authentic place. I allowed others to read my personal journaling. Surprising to myself at the time, both men and women resonated with the underlying themes in my writings.
I was genuinely taken by surprise at their responses. A raw vulnerability and willingness to be deeply authentic in the depths of
my own joy or grief during different phases of my life, as we all do, was married with an eternally optimistic determination to learn
from and rise from those depths and to always live life to its richest fullness. It illuminated powerful messages to strive to become a stronger, more resilient person and had a deep, meaningful impact on how others viewed their own struggles, their own personal fight to
rise above their circumstances, and to find a meaningful place in their own worlds. I decided then to apply the energy of my creativity,
and my past years of experience in front of the camera, to a higher humanistic calling. To touch people’s lives through the power of
the pen and the picture.
Why did you decide to tell this specific story in "A Cradle Falls"?
When I was 9 years old, I saw a distressing social documentary in my grade 4 class. I truly didn’t understand the profound impact
that hour would have on me long term. It would eventually change the course of my life. As the film flickered to life on the huge white
pull down screen at the front of the class, I leaned in with all the earnest eagerness of a young mind ready to learn and absorb
the world around her. Though the entire scope of the film is now lost in the recesses of my memory, one indelible visual etched
a lifetimes imprint on my young impressionable mind. A bedraggled woman. Alone. Desperate. Entering a beaten down motel
in the frigid cold desolation of winter, somewhere on the eastern seaboard. In her arms a screaming infant. Next, she sat
on the edge of a worn-out threadbare covering of the bed. Rocking the child in a daze. The child cried on into the night. Finally.
The mother slowly, quietly, gently covered the baby’s face with a pillow, rocking and humming until the crying stopped.
I sat frozen, tears streaming down my face. What was wrong with the woman. Why didn’t anyone help her.
Why didn’t anyone SEE her or hear her cries for help. In that moment a storyteller, a director, a filmmaker was born.
I became a young woman who decided to pick up the mantel to give a voice to the voiceless. To speak for those who couldn’t speak
for themselves. I became a filmmaker and storyteller who specialized in characters in crisis and I became singularly intent on
crafting stories to bring these characters through the deepest depths of broken hearts and broken minds. I push my characters on
a journey to the other side of this experience in all the ways human beings uniquely move through them. I want to share and
connect others to stories that are relatable and speak to everyone. Stories which explore themes grounded in universal human truths.
Themes exposing both our weaknesses and our strengths. Experiences rooted in the pain, trials, tribulations and triumphs of
the human journey. I choose to use the tools of cinema to connect, understand, communicate and entertain.
I explored these themes in ‘A Cradle Falls’. I wanted to push the fragility of a vulnerable, unstable mind, wrestling with betrayal
and confusion, deep into an ominous, dark and terrifying world. ‘A Cradle Falls' ultimately delves into the breaking of a woman’s psyche
under the catalyst of extreme stress. The fallout results in human casualties culminating from a series of consequential dangerous acts.
Can you share how you started and finished this film, what were some of the challenges you encountered while filming and how did you overcome them?
When you have big visions, it can often be challenging as a rising Director to find ways to execute ‘the big dream’ on a small budget.
I spent a lot of time story boarding, shot listing and doing a lot of prep work with the actors and my creative teams. I had one day to shoot
20 pages of this film. Being very prepared in the preproduction process gave us the tools to shoot ‘hard and fast’ as I call it lol.
How did the screenplay shift a lot before/during/after the shoot?
The screenplay actually didn’t shift at all. I was meticulous in the writing process. Once it was locked, we went in and shot it out as is.
What was your casting process like? Did you have any actors in mind while working on the screenplay?
Both Cordelia (Alexandria Benoit) and Isabelle (Iylie Mitchell) were pre-picked based on their talents, sense of social responsibility and passion for the subject and story. They had an acute sense of the pathology, psychology and trauma the characters experienced. Their in depth work in understanding their characters realities was critical to the telling of the film. The lead actress, Avelyn Graye, who played Mary,
was cast one week before we rolled into production to replace our first actress. She walked into our rehearsal to audition
and ended up spending the entire day rehearsing as Mary. She was such a natural she walked out with the role.
How did you work with the cast to achieve such realistic performances? Was there any improve on set, or everything was exactly according to the screenplay?
We did a few pre-shoot rehearsals where we really worked out the blocking and the emotional tensions required of each character.
I had long discussions with all the actors about the psychology of the characters and the story elements, and then I let them loose
with guidance and direction on set where they needed it.
Your film "A Cradle Falls" were officially selected in the "American Golden Picture International Film Festival".
What were some of the challenges you faced in making this film?
We were beyond thrilled to have been recognized for our passion and hard work as an official selection in the
"American Golden Picture International Film Festival”.
Some of the challenges for me was the postproduction process. I have picture edited many films but had not done
sound: mix master, dialogue, foley or score. The budget was expended at this point and so I really gave it a go.
I am definitely a visual artist in terms of the effortless fluidity of the process for me, however I learned as fast as I could.
I think I came out of the process more well-rounded if not a bit beaten up lol. It was a toughie and I certainly look forward
to handing off all audio roles to those who are skilled and gifted in that domain on future films.
How was the movie accepted by audiences so far? What were some of the reactions?
Many people have cried, especially in the context of the backstory. People have expressed that all of the elements combined,
made for a moving and riveting film. Similar personal experiences also made the story even more salient to them.
More-so, people were impressed with the execution of the story elements given the challenge of making the best quality production
we could, under such tight budget constraints, and limited manpower. We have gratefully won a Merit award to the first festival
we submitted to for outstanding achievement and exceptional talent. I am humbled to have received best writer and honorary director
from you as well as best child actress. These awards really make the hard work and sweat worth every moment of the process.
We just started our festival release and have received a few official selections to some wonderful festivals so far.
We are hoping it will continue to be well received everywhere.
For you what was the biggest lesson you had to learn?
This is coming from the culmination of all films I have worked on. Pick your tribe and team carefully. Make sure that you have the right chemistry personally and professionally with your entire team and cast. Pay attention that you all have the same work ethic, vision and commitment to excellence on any project with which you collaborate. Second, don’t do so many jobs yourself. Delegation to those you have absolute faith and trust in to execute their respective jobs at the professional standard of excellence you hold yourself to, is the absolute holy grail of a successful team and production. Partnering with the right team collaborators takes the toll off of any one person from having to carry the film professionally and personally and creates a positive rewarding experience for everyone.
The most important part is distributing the film. What did you do so far for distributing your film?
Right now we are working our way through the festival circuit. We are interested in looking at short form distribution platforms.
Filmmaking is so hard full of stress, What keeps you inspired to continue filmmaking?
Filmmaking is like breathing for me. I can’t NOT create. However, when I go into burn out, I take time off for self-care, meditate and find new adventures to excite my soul with those I care for. New experiences breathe new life into you and give you fertile soil for new stories. I also kick-box, row, spin and run outdoors in beautiful nature trails all year. A commitment to these core activities, for me, brings me back to a state of zen, relieves stress, and gets my creative brain flowing.
If you could speak to a younger version of yourself, what advice would you have for them?
Is there a certain quality that you feel is essential to success?
Oh boy. Would I EVER like to talk to my younger self, lol. I would be more thorough in weighing every decision I made more critically. I would warn her to guard her heart more, be more thoughtful in all relationships you enter into (family, friendship, peer and romantic). Never take the good relationship’s and people in your life you are blessed to have for granted, and never give up your dreams for another person’s idea of what normal is. The most important of all - never stop laughing, not for even one moment.
I think the ability to reinvent yourself is a very powerful attribute to have. Being able to close chapters and even books on your life as you outgrow people and relationships and even versions of yourself is the most empowering growth strategy I have ever employed. I would say don’t be afraid to experience rebirth multiple times throughout your life and learn to shed old skin, relationships and habits.
The most important quality a person should possess, which is essential to success, is to have the ability to always fail forward. Every failure you feel you are in, is just one more way you have learned how not to do something. Learn from it, reflect on it, pick yourself up, dust yourself off and keep on moving forward. Learn from the lessons from every single experience; the good the bad and the ugly.
What are your filmmaking goals?
I am focused on shooting dramatic features but am also excited by the action genre as a person who thrives on adrenaline.
I truly believed I was Wonder Woman in grade one and proceeded to effectively convince my entire class of this as an irrefutable truth.
A few years later, in grade 4, a cute boy I had a crush on saw a poster on our class wall of Wonder Woman. He teased me mercilessly
and called me out in front of everyone! Though I almost died of embarrassment and wished the floor would open up and swallow me
whole, many others have since countered that perhaps I have embodied her spirit as I grew up. I have always stood up for those who
couldn’t stand up for themselves. I fought with everything I had, to the very core of my being, to overcome every single challenge
I have ever faced. I am passionate about creating content which often gives a voice to the voiceless. It also makes me muse, albeit humorously,
that maybe there was a Wonder Woman living within me all these years after all. It would really be such a wonderful coming
full circle moment for me, if one day I had the opportunity to shoot an instalment of the Wonder Woman franchise.
What are you currently working on and what can you tell us about your next project?
I am adapting and directing a film based on a Stephen King story. The team that is building around me is truly blowing my mind.
They are the best of the best in their respective fields and I’m excited by what we will achieve together.
I am working on a feature about a broken family moving through specific social groups who are in crisis. It centers around high school girls
who are groomed and lured into sex trafficking rings by gangs. A family struggling with an absentee father. A frontline working mother
trying to be everything for everyone. A daughter trapped in the pitfalls of peers and social pressure and a son seemingly participating
in gang culture. The story culminates to a cataclysmic crossroad where all characters must face the irredeemable consequence of actions
born of choice and whose futures hang on the balance of where each must choose their ultimate fates. My producing partners
and I are also currently in the works to adapt a feature film. The film will be based on a true-life biography from a published book
to the screen. All I can reveal for now, is that the original biography has already had a book run. It is based on a specific person deep
in the MOB for over 6 decades and has significant FBI undercover elements to it. I am currently adapting the book into a screenplay
and then directing it. It’s really an exciting time; to be developing such exciting projects. They fulfills the deepest desires in me
to tell a cross section of such powerful stories. To be surrounded by such incredible people and talent, telling these stories together.
Scripts which harness a lot of my past experiences and pulls that body of knowledge into the foundations of the key story
beats and elements on these incredible productions.
GOOD LUCK Nicole
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