Director’s Cut
Interview with Amber Benson
Dec 7, 2003, Offenbach

6. Reading, Collaborating, Watching & Listening

1. Magic, Multitasking and Motivation
2. Movies, television and the family
3. Being in control
4. "Chance", Sex and Power
5. The Technicalities of Being Inspired

What do you like to read?

Oh God. Well, I like Dostoevsky a lot. I like the whole russian high tragedy. It’s also funny sometimes, and there’s magic and fate. The Double and all that… But I love "The Idiot". It’s the messiah story – he comes forward and is destroyed and has to go down, they’re not ready to accept anything. I love Thomas Hardy and "Look Homeward, Angel" by Thomas Wolfe, it’s a wonderful book, magic and realism yet again. Of course Magical Realism in the narrow sense just applies to this South American group of writers – that stems from catholicism of course, the whole saint thing, where you have the saint who can do these miracles, and it is really a marriage of religion and superstition, the establishment’s idea and the people’s idea of what it’s all about. Hermann Hesse is another favourite. Steppenwolf, Narcissus and Goldmund, Demian. And then of course I love Harry Potter. I love kid’s books: The Chronicles of Narnia, that stuff. Those open the door to worlds upon worlds.

And when you read Lewis, it’s impressive how religion is not… they say it’s apologetic, but it’s really not. It’s story, not propaganda.

It’s allegorical. You take the moral with you, it’s imbedded into you brain but you know… Joseph Campbell was on PBS, they recorded him talking on Skywalker Ranch, it was like six hours and we sat there, watching that and I just thought: I wanna be a mythologist. He talks about the journey of the character, of the hero, and it’s in the Narnia Books of course. But then I realized that it was not the myths that I liked, it was the stories. All the stories are interconnected. There’s really just a handful of stories, and then come the variations, your perceptions of that particular story or this one.

And whatever the medium – well, you did comic books as well, collaborated with Christopher Golden.

Chris, he’s great. I’ve learned so much from him.

How do you collaborate?

Well, we get together and… not literally mostly, because he’s on one end of the United States and I’m on the other, so we talk on the phone or e-mail, and we kind of come up with this flow. He’s very much… He sees ideas. I see minutiae. So we complement each other. Chris will have an idea, or I’ll have an idea, and then we hammer it out. He’ ll help me to get that idea into shape. Like with "Ghosts of Albion", the animated thing on the BBC. Basically, he’ ll write the outline or I’ll write the outline and we go back and forth. I was never one for the outline, I always hated outlining but Chris did show me how to do it in a way that is appealing and not like…

Telling yourself a joke.

Exactly, and then you’re bored, at least after the first fifteen times of looking at it. And then we’ll break it into pieces and he’ll take the first two pieces and I’ll take the second two pieces. We just go back and forth and we give notes on the piece that the other person wrote, strange things, things to fix. We’re writing a script that we’d like to shoot in Ireland next year, a horror film. And we’re doing two Ghosts of Albion novels for Del Rey which I’m really nervous about because the only prose I’d written was these twenty pages for Ghosts of Albion. I love dialogue, I love all of it, descriptions, too, but I’m impatient. I think I was put on this planet to learn patience. So writing novels… it takes, you can’t just do it. When you write screenplays, it’s the one medium where actually my brain is working as fast as my hands. Whereas with novels you have to think about all these descriptive things, you have to ask yourself: how does that sound? I read very quickly and writing it takes so much longer…

And it’s like lying consistently for months. OK, two questions on music. The first one is lame: what do you like to listen to, privately, or when you work?

Well, I love music. When I write, I have to set the tone so when I’m writing something scary, or something science-fictional, I listen to a contemporary composer named Arvo Pärt, he wrote this piece called "Te Deum" and it is just beautiful and scary, I can scare myself listening to it. Then there’s this Gary Jules song, "Mad World", from the "Donnie Darko"-Soundtrack. I love that song. And then Wilco, and I love Jeff Buckley, he’s my all-time favorite.

Second musical question, maybe not so lame. "Buffy" is famous, among other things, for the way that it appropriates, assimilates, even produces musical works. With "Chance", you seem to have put a lot of thought into playing with music’s ubiquitousness in the lives of these people that the film is about. You know, the bits that are like music videos and...

There’s a movie called "A Lucky Man" by Lindsey Anderson, with Malcolm McDowell, great movie, bizarre movie, very odd. Part of that whole sixties, seventies genre of English films, kind of absurdist, "Clockwork Orange" fits in there… and in that film, as transitions, the actually cut into it these musicians playing the soundtrack for the film, and it cuts back and forth between the events and that. It’s one of our favourite movies. That was sort of the inspiration for what we did, because it was not in the script. And so we talked to Grant Langston who wrote the songs for the film, and it was like: we should just have him in it.

And so he becomes sort of an alternate narrator, a counterpoint to Chance’s own voice.

He is narrating and gives you what’s going on, it’s call and answer. It says: let’s think about it. And yet we’re not teaching, we’re expressing it creatively, because we don’t want you to feel like you’re being talked down to, that is specifically to be avoided. When we started editing I realized how much we influence people with music – you realize someone’s going to get killed, someone’s going to have sex because of the music. Spielberg does this a lot. He tells you what you’re supposed to think. It’s like looking at it and saying, my audience is not very bright. I have more faith. I think they’re thoughtful human beings and they should walk away with something. So the music should show not tell. We did not want to tell you what you were supposed to feel. And then this guy Aaron Fruchtman did the soundtrack, it’s so unintrusive.

When you watch it for the first time, you concentrate on the songs and probably don’t even realize that there’s more music there.

That’s the whole point. It doesn’t interfere but it adds something. I mean the claustrophobic a-tonality of the hospital stuff – you don’t even realize it’s there. And then the second time you watch it: what is that? Some bizarre composition, temporary strangeness. And "Chance" is the first thing he scored. He’s twenty-one.

[DB: Now he’s going back to UCLA he’s taking this really intense course on composition.]

He’s a friend’s cousin. And we had these amazing jazz musicians that came in and recorded it. It cost us more money to record that than a lot of other things, it was worth it.

And it’s not artsy Sting jazz as in "Leaving Las Vegas". Not to put anybody down, but…did you see that thing?

I didn’t care for it – the movie or the music.

Oh, thank you very much. It’s pretentious.

Yeah, well, it was interesting, and the thing with the hooker, it’s so stupid. The whole outlook says "let me show you how intelligent I am". Again, I do not want to be talked down to. I can go and pick up some pretentious book if I wanna waste my time. But Mike Figgis is interesting – I’ve never been a fan of his, but then there was this interview… it was on public radio, I didn’t know who it was until they said it afterwards, I just heard the voice, and he was talking about digital video and why things aren’t being shot digitally yet because the thing hasn’t caught up to itself yet and there’s not the one technology that everybody can agree on to use, things are still evolving. So he thinks about his craft in relation to other things, it’s not complete self-indulgence. And then he did "The Browning Version" and it’s good. I liked it. There is something there. Maybe the problem is just that he gets too involved in his A-R-T sometimes.

Interview: Dietmar Dath

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