|INTERVIEW with BEN ROBERTS|
|Mar. 2, 2009|
|Having worked with Ben Roberts on a project and hoping to work on a many more with him, I can safely say he is one of the few people in Hollywood driven by passion and individual good taste and not by what others say is the current trend. Ben started off in the business as Director of Development at Eriq La Salle’s company, Humble Journey Films. He quickly cultivated a reputation as being one of the few Hollywood executives with an in-depth knowledge of comic books and its industry. That eventually led to Ben’s current position as a creative executive at Valhalla Pictures. Valhalla Pictures is the production company of Gale Anne Hurd, producer of such films as TERMINATOR 1 – 3, ALIENS, ARMAGEDDON, THE INCREDIBLE HULK (both Eric Bana and Ed Norton versions), THE PUNISHER, and my favorite movie about Watergate, DICK starring Kirsten Dunst and Michelle Williams. Needless to say, working for one of the most powerful producers in Hollywood makes Ben a very busy man, so I’m grateful he took time to do this quick interview.|
OKAY BEN, WHERE ARE YOU FROM AND WHERE DID YOU GO TO SCHOOL?
Born and raised in the city by the bay, San Francisco. Fantastic city, you ever been?
YES, BUT ONLY AS A KID. HONESTLY, MY MEMORIES OF SAN FRANCISCO REALLY DERIVES FROM HITCHCOCK’S VERTIGO.
I couldn’t get enough of it so I went to college at San Francisco State in their film program.
BEING SUCH A LIFE-LONG COMIC BOOK FAN, YOU MUST HAVE BEEN A BIG GEEK IN SCHOOL, RIGHT? COME ON, ADMIT IT.
I definitely wasn’t one of the cool kids, but wasn’t a big geek either. I would say I was kind of in the middle. It was an awkward time, for sure, but I have some great memories.
DO YOU REMEMBER THAT MOMENT OF REALIZATION WHEN YOU DECIDED TO PURSUE A LIFE IN THE FILM BUSINESS?
The one that did it for me, that really clicked was when I saw BOOGIE NIGHTS for the first time. There was something about what Paul Thomas Anderson crafted that made a light bulb go off in my head, telling me that I should be doing what he does. From that point on, I focused my energies on making every effort to learn about film and how to break into the business.
I HAD A SIMILAR EXPERIECE WITH BOOGIE NIGHTS. IT WAS THE FIRST MOVIE I SAW AFTER I MOVED TO LA. I SAW IT AT THE OLD GALAXY THEATRE ON HOLLYWOOD BLVD., WHICH IS LONG GONE AND NOW OCCUPIED BY AN LA FITNESS. BOOGIE NIGHTS ROCKED MY WORLD AND AFFIRMED WHY I CAME TO LA. LIKE YOU, I ALSO THOUGHT, ‘I WANT TO DO THAT TOO!’ SINCE WE’RE ON THE TOPIC OF MOVIES, WHAT ARE SOME OF YOUR FAVORITES?
I hate this question. I really do…because the list could go on and on. So we already established BOOGIE NIGHTS. The others that I consider highly influential are THE GODFATHER 1 & 2, PULP FICTION, GOODFELLAS, ALIENS, BUTCH CASSIDY & THE SUNDANCE KID, and THE GREAT ESCAPE. I still can’t shake THE DARK KNIGHT, so that has moved up on the list. And for all the wrong reasons, I enjoy MAC & ME and TROLL 2. I am putting a double feature viewing party together for both.
SOUNDS LIKE FUN. I’LL BRING THE DIP. SO LET’S TALK SOME SHOP. EXPLAIN WHAT A CREATIVE EXECUTIVE DOES?
I think it varies from company to company, but I will explain what I do. My job is all about opportunity. I seek out new ideas, concepts, scripts, comic books, what have you and determine if there is a way to turn those into movies or TV shows. In addition to that, I actively shape all ideas and create and implement plans to move the projects from development into production. This takes a lot of thought in finding writers and directors to shaping the project in a way that will appeal to buyers. Furthermore, I read a shitload of scripts, comics and books. It’s a never ending cycle. I could go on and on, but I think this encompasses the broad strokes.
SO WHAT MAKES A GOOD HOLLYWOOD EXECUTIVE AND WHAT MAKES A BAD HOLLYWOOD EXECUTIVE?
A good exec cares about what they do and trusts their instincts. I see many who push projects out of fear or losing out on something, which eventually turns into a shitty movie. I think a good exec builds a reputation for being selective about material and what they present to their bosses and also use caution when papering the town with something that doesn’t represent their company well.
WHAT IS THE MOST DIFFICULT THING ABOUT BEING A CREATIVE EXECUTIVE?
I’d say the hardest thing is sometimes dealing with how long the development process takes. You might have something you’re very excited about, run with it and then it’s held up, hit the brakes for any number of reasons. It can be very frustrating and can actually make you lose your enthusiasm, which can be tough to combat.
IS IT IMPORTANT FOR A HOLLYWOOD EXECUTIVE TO HAVE SIMILAR TASTE WITH HIS OR HER BOSS? OR IS IT BETTER TO HAVE DIFFERENT TASTE TO BALANCE OUT HIS OR HER BOSS’ SENSIBILITES?
I think you definitely need your own taste and opinions to survive in the business. You should definitely know your boss’ taste, and respect that, but in the end it’s all about what you can bring to the table and that can never be identical to what your boss brings to the table.
WHAT DO YOU LOOK FOR IN A GOOD SCRIPT?
So much. For me it’s about character, stakes, plot. I want to be drawn into a world and I find that a very small amount of scripts actually can do this.
WHAT SCRIPTS HAVE YOU READ RECENTLY THAT REALLY IMPRESSED YOU AND MADE YOU TAKE NOTICE OF THE WRITER?
SEQUELS, REMAKES AND ADAPTATIONS by Sam Esmail, ATLAS by Ben Magid, and KAMIKAZE LOVE by Chad Damiani & JP Levin. I’m sure there are more, but these come to mind.
WHAT ADVICE DO YOU HAVE FOR ASPIRING SCREENWRITERS WHO WANT TO WRITE BIG BUDGET, HIGH-CONCEPT STUDIO FILMS?
If you write it, they will come. Don’t try to pitch or outline for first script. Hammer it out and do the work. If you can make it work, people will read it. Get your script noticed in the right way and the sky’s the limit.
WHAT’S IT LIKE WORKING WITH GALE ANN HURD, ONE OF THE MOST POWERFUL PRODUCERS IN HOLLYWOOD?
Amazing. Gale is not only a legend in this business, but she’s a fantastic collaborator and really cares about what she produces. She is 100% hands on with every aspect of development and production.
GALE HAS PRODUCED EVERY SINGLE TERMINATOR MOVIE EXCEPT FOR THE MOST RECENT ONE, TERMINATOR: SALVATION. HYPOTHETICALLY SPEAKING, IF GALE WAS A PRODUCER ON TERMINATOR: SALVATION, AND SHE WAS ON THE SET WHEN CHRISTIAN BALE INFAMOUSLY BLEW UP, HOW WOULD GALE HAVE HANDLED THAT SITUATION?
I won’t even try to answer this one. Nice try!!
ALRIGHT, ALRIGHT. FAIR ENOUGH. HERE’S AN EASY ONE: WILL THERE BE ANOTHER PUNISHER MOVIE?
All I will say is, you never know and buy lots of those PUNISHER WAR ZONE DVD’s!!!
WHAT ARE SOME OF YOUR FAVORITE COMIC BOOK TITLES?
PREACHER is one of the best things I have ever read. I love that book and hope, hope hope the movie comes together. I think that Ed Brubaker’s run on CAPTAIN AMERICA has been amazing. Anything by Brian Michael Bendis. KICK ASS by Mark Millar is the genuine article too.
WHERE DO YOU DO YOUR COMIC BOOK SHOPPING?
DJ’s Universal Comics. Kat is the man and gives a BIG discount on books. Truly the best.
YOU ARE THE BUSIEST GUY I KNOW DURING COMIC-CON. HOW MUCH OF THE CON IS WORK, AND HOW MUCH IS FUN?
Comic-Con is fun? Here’s the thing. I truly love comics and for me, no matter how exhausted I am at Comic-Con, it’s all fun.
IT CERTAINLY SEEMED LIKE YOU WERE HAVING FUN CAUSE YOU WERE VERY DRUNK WITH THE REST OF US. DO YOU INTEND ON GETTING AS DRUNK AT THE NEXT COMIC-CON?
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