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Categories: Interviews

The Spread interviews Benjamin Cleary, director of the Oscar-shortlisted live action short “Stutterer”.

Benjamin Cleary - Head Shot

Benjamin Cleary is the Irish-born writer/director of Stutterer, an acclaimed new short that’s recently made its way onto the shortlist for the Best Live Action Short Oscar. An MA graduate in screenwriting from the London Film School, Ben first found success through writing the Oscar long-listed short Love Is a Sting, directed by Vincent Gallagher.

Cleary makes his directorial debut with Stutterer, which depicts the romantic struggles of a man, Greenwood, who suffers from a stutter. Gripping, affecting and incredibly modern in its portrayal of social media, Stutterer has won the hearts of countless audiences around the world, winning many awards including Best Foreign Film at the LA Shorts Fest. With the possibility of an Oscar nod on the horizon (for more info on the other nominees, read Thomas Humphrey’s review), Ben has announced himself as a director to watch.

Congrats on your inclusion in the Oscar shortlist! When you first set out to make the film, could you ever imagine making it this far? 

Thanks very much! It has all been quite surreal really, still don’t know if it has quite sunk in yet to be honest. Getting shortlisted has far surpassed any expectations we had when we set out to make this film. A nomination would obviously be amazing and if it happens we’ll go nuts, but if it doesn’t, we’ll still be very happy to have gotten this far. 

A friend of yours suffered from a stutter growing up. How did you translate their experiences into the character we see on screen? 

Well yeah when I was growing up one of my pals had a pretty severe stutter so I got to see what it was like firsthand. It’s tough. Especially when you’re growing up and it’s already hard enough to deal with everything else you’re going through on a daily basis. And kids can be cruel, y’know. But anyway, yeah when you’ve seen something firsthand it puts you in a position where it’s stored away in your memory and when an idea like this springs to mind years down the road, I guess you feel like you have a personal connection to it more so than something you haven’t witnessed firsthand. And some of that emotion finds its way into the script, but nothing specific, all of the events in the film are imagined situations. 

How about your own experiences ­ in what ways does your life and personality shape Greenwood’s character? 

Well, I guess parts of your personality can sometimes find their way into your characters, even on a subconscious level. I hope people can empathize with the things Greenwood is experiencing because to me, some of it is pretty universal. Well, at least that’s what I was going for!

TheStutterer

An important motif in the film is the use of social media. How does social media influence your own life, and how does it influence your filmmaking?

Well that’s a good question, because I’m in a position where I grew up without any Internet until I was about 15 or 16, then suddenly we had Internet. So I got to experience both things during my teens, no Internet, then Internet. I think that’s given me a pretty interesting perspective on it. And I think that’s one of the reasons why I’m so interested in how the Internet has changed things, and dramatically changed how we communicate with one another. And that seems to be finding its way into a lot of the stuff I’m writing, which I’m enjoying. It feels like something people of my generation are in a pretty good position to talk about. 

The film was your directorial debut. Was this a scary prospect, or did your experience in screenwriting help make the transition easy? 

More exciting than scary I would say! I was dying to direct something for a long time so I felt pretty ready and the background in screenwriting definitely helped all aspects of it. A lot of directing is preparation so knowing the script in depth and the elements of film narrative quite well really helped me to prepare. 

Did you find yourself prioritizing different things on set than you had focused on while writing the film? 

I try to be as economical as possible when I write. Ideally, any scene that can be dropped gets dropped. That said, some scenes are naturally more important than others and this is reflected in the time you spend on them while shooting. 

stutterer_image

This was a very low-­budget film, and you seem to have made some sacrifices to your personal comfort so that you could get it made. Could you go into a bit more detail about how you saved up for the film? 

Initially I had a few grand saved from a writing fee for something and a few commercial shoots I assisted on. I was working nights in a friend’s pop up burger restaurant, too, which was great because I could do film stuff during the day then work late at the pop up. But as we progressed, we needed more cash to finish the film so I sublet my room for two months and just couch surfed on friends’ couches. And I put my rent money into the film. The generosity and support of so many of my friends was pretty amazing and in the end, it was worth doing because we needed that extra money to get over the finish line.

How do you think this affected you as a filmmaker? 

Well, I was pretty exhausted at the end of it! But I think it all added to the whole ‘baptism of fire’ nature of my experience making the film. There were a lot of really tough days where I just wanted to give up, but luckily I kept going and I think it was good training to go through something like that. 

Do you have any other ideas or projects lined up for the future?

Yeah, I’m editing something I shot with a friend at the moment and trying to raise finance for another short. I’m also developing a feature.

Just for fun:­ what were your favorite films of 2015, and your most anticipated of 2016? 

Room by Lenny Abrahamson was my favorite picture of the year. What a film. I loved The Tribe too. Birdman was immense. Whiplash. Inside Out. Foxcatcher…so many great films this year. For next year, I can’t wait for The Hateful Eight and The Revenant

Read more about Ben’s work in Thomas Humphrey’s review of Stutterer

Cameron Johnson

Cameron Johnson is a writer and filmmaker born in England, based in Michigan, USA, and currently living in Enniscrone, Ireland. He writes about all things entertainment with a speciality in film criticism. He has been working on films ever since middle school, when his shorts "Moving Stateside" and "The Random News" competed in the West Branch Children's Film Festival. Since then he's written and directed a number of his own films and worked in many different crew jobs. Follow him on Twitter @GambasUK and look at his daily film diary at letterboxd.com/gambasUK.

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Posted on Jan 11, 2016

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