Tel Benjamin is an AACTA award winning Actor, Screenwriter and Director based in Sydney, Australia.
TV credits include After The Verdict (Nine) Les Norton (ABC), Growing up Gracefully (ABC) and Dead Scientists (Beyond Productions). Feature and short film credits include The Great Gatsby (Bazmark) The Greenhouse (Everyone We Know Films), Miss! (Flying Man Films), Dad to the Bone (Tropfest 2019), The Passenger (St Kilda Film Festival 2015), Noah (Official Selection LA Comedy Festival 2015), The Milky Pop Kid (Sydney Film Festival 2017), Granny (Fantasia Film Festival 2018), Baby (Cinefest Oz 2020) and Rat Rap (Best Dark Comedy Winner Independent Short Awards 2018).
Theatre credits include Beyond Therapy (Epicentre Theatre), School for Scandal (New Theatre), Fracture (New Ghosts Productions), Taming of the Shrew (Montague Basement), GR8 Skin (Darlinghurst Theatre Company), Osama the Hero (Tooth and Sinew), The Telescope (Red Line Productions), Air (Old 505 Theatre), Extinction of the Learned Response (Belvoir), Marriage of Figaro and Whitely (Opera Australia).
In 2014 Tel started his production company Chekhov’s Gun Pictures with his debut short film Noah premiering at the LA Comedy Festival 2015. Tel ‘s follow up films are: Ladylike, (AACTA #socialshorts Winner, Audience Award Winner at Sydney Underground Film Festival 2017, Audience & Best Performance Award Winner at Freshflix Film Festival 2018, Best International Film Award at Canadian International Comedy Film Festival, Australia’s Funniest Shorts 2017, Flickerfest International Short Film Festival 2018) and Setaceous (Fantastic Fest 2017, A Night of Horror Film Festival 2017, Horror Show Hotdog Film Festival 2017, Portland International Film Festival 2018, Chattanooga Film Festival 2018, Way Down Film Festival 2018) Setaceous was distributed through prestigious horror streaming platform ALTER this year.
Tel has a slate of television and feature projects currently in development and in 2018 completed an ABC & Create NSW funded pilot for his Virtual Reality Mini-Series, The Obscure.
He has also written and directed commercial content through Chekhov’s Gun for high profile clients such as Netflix and Urban Walkabout.
Tel holds and Advanced Diploma of Performing Arts (Actors Centre Australia 2014)
Q & A
Name a Horror character you relate to on a spiritual/personal level?
I recently watched the original 1992 Candyman for the first time and found myself really empathizing and relating to Candyman. Coming from a very poor working class background, there was something oddly satisfying about the bucking back against upper class gentrification being personified by a romantic giant with a hook for a hand.
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’m not sure if there are such things as “bad” ideas because any idea is useful and all will lead to stronger work at some point. Even the kernel of an idea can grow into something excellent that’s part of another project. I think feedback from the right people is important and you can’t be afraid of getting notes and feedback from colleagues (and people not in the industry at all for a very fresh perspective) whose opinions you trust because it can lead to really unique perspectives of your work and serve its growth. I had an exciting opportunity to pitch a horror short idea to a really prolific production company in the states for an anthology series they were doing for TV. When I pitched one of my ideas to a writer friend of mine, only then did I realize it was trying to be a time travel, doppelganger and creature feature horror all in one and it was just super muddy. Realizing that, I was able to really focus on the idea that was most exciting to me and integral to the story to write something way leaner and concise. But I wouldn’t have got to that point without trying all the other stuff!
Do you consider yourself part of a horror community?
Hell yeah! I was brought up on Evil Dead and John Carpenter from a super young age and it’s always been a genre I’ve been really inspired and excited by. I’ll definitely pay the ticket fee to go see a good horror at the cinemas, especially an indie. There’s a cute little gang of younger horror filmmakers in Australia and most of us are pals which is nice too.
When you’re building the world of your film, where do you look for inspiration?
It depends on the film but thinking about what I’ve written to date it’s mostly inspired by real-life experiences. I think horror especially is at its strongest when you can twist the knife on a seemingly very ordinary set of circumstances that you and your audience can empathize with on a deeply personal level. When you take a regular situation or set of relatable givens and ask ‘what if..?’
What would you do if you woke up inside of your film?
Love Bites is set in the 80s so I feel like I’d need to take advantage of the situation and try out some Marty Mcfly Sports Almanac scheme. Or find the Prom halls fire exit.
Who would be on your ultimate horror villain squad?
Spicy. I guess it depends on our ultimate goal right? If we’re going for worldwide domination, you’re gonna want some Kaiju on your side but if the objective is a little more domestic you want some sneaky, silent killers. I’m overthinking this aren’t I. Let’s go with Asami Yamazaki, Leatherface, Pinhead and let’s thrown in a giant Judas bug from Mimic for good measure.
Lightning round: Freddy or Jason? Stephen King or H.P. Lovecraft? Practical or CGI? Post Apocalypse or Pre Apocalypse?
Freddy, he’s just so charismatic and awful. H.P cos praise the Great Old One. Practical ALWAYS and FOREVER. Pre! I want to see how it went down though, you know?
How do you go about creating the props and sets for your film? How do you create objects that are relatable but unfamiliar?
I wish I could take credit for the creation of the props and sets on Love Bites but that was done by our wonderful production designer Anna and Make up FX artist Amber. We really lent into the practical gore effects of the 80s on this one, I definitely wanted the deaths to make you go ick but also make you laugh. My favorite prop is for sure the crushed head.
What scares you, and does it inspire your storytelling?
Most of my fears are pretty internalized and existential and so they probably find their way into my writing without me even realizing! Being buried alive is probably my biggest fear. Yuck. Terrifying. I don’t think I’ll ever make a film about that; how do you top Buried?!
And finally, Ghostface would like to know ‘What’s your favourite scary movie?’
That’s SO hard. If I had to pick one, I think it’s gotta be Se7en. Or The Thing. Or Don’t Look Now. Or Get Out. Or Evil Dead. Or It Follows. Or The Fog. This is a hard question.