Q&A with Tel Benjamin, Director of SETACEOUS
Name a Horror character you relate to on a spiritual/personal level?
Okay, this is going to make me sound like a maniac but: Patrick Bateman. Stay with me on this! I saw an excellent production of American Psycho the musical in Sydney last year and it was the first time I empathized with Bateman on a human level. It’s very easy to separate yourself from that character when you read the book or watch the movie but in this stage production, I truly understood the kind of world that creates someone like Bateman. This totally superficial and exhaustingly privileged society that completely suffocates him, breaking him down and depersonalizing him until he loses it. Obviously, Patrick Bateman’s reactions to the pressures of his life are, to say the very least, disproportionately awful but I think everyone is capable of having some version of that glint in their eye.
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 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?
GO BACK TO BED.
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?
Our main prop for Setaceous is a car. It’s also the antagonist of the film so we needed to find a car that we could make menacing but also domestic and familiar, like you could see it on your street and not take a second look. Our cinematographer’s brother had the perfect little black car and the menace definitely came through the edit. It’s how our characters give the car a real presence that really builds the tension and that story was told by our wonderful actors and our editing.
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.