A sci-fi romance genre?
For filmmaker Ben Griffin, founder of Prime Zero Productions, this is a natural and delightful meld that he hopes to bring to film-loving audiences. Ben had directed commercial and promotional videos for major record-labels and brands, but he recently entered the indie film world with his narrative directorial debut, the sci-fi romantic short film JI, which stars Lewis Tan and Eva De Dominici.
Here, Picture This Post (PTP) asks Ben Griffin (BG) to expand on his background and what led him to create JI.
(PTP)Please tell Picture This Post readers about your background as a director and creator.
(BG) I’ve been filming things ever since I was in high school. I went to Academy of Art University in San Francisco and started working on independent films while still in school. I would work as PA or just whatever job I could get on set. I then moved onto editing a few independent features. I was based in the Bay Area at the time and there just wasn’t enough work and things kind of weren’t working for me. I started another business and did that for a while but after a few years made my way back to filming through music videos. It started to work for me but I saw some of the same issues I had with working on films in the Bay Area and decided to make the move to LA. I believe it really made all the difference for me. My career really took off in LA as music video director, producer and DP. It’s really helped me gain enough experience and knowledge to move on to now larger narrative projects.
What made you choose a science-fiction romance for your first narrative film?
I made that decision because I love sci fi and I love romance films. I’d never really seen the two put together before and wanted to try something that I thought would be unique. There’s tons of sci fi films where there is a love story but completely based around the romance there’s not many. My whole pitch was crossing THE NOTEBOOK with a sci-fi action film.
In “Ji,” the Earth has split into two halves due to environmental degradation. Where did this idea come from?
The idea of the film was from a conversation with a friend about Morocco. She was telling me how old everything was and how certain places were exactly like they were 500 years ago, that it was kind of like being able to travel to the past. So it got my brain twirling on the idea of "what would it be like for a future human to come back to an earth that hadn’t really progressed in many centuries?" From there I started going into the scientific side of it. Basically, we move forward because we work towards making things newer and better. So if that effort isn’t put forward things actually go backwards. That is where the regressed state of the Earth comes from in the film. And then just extrapolating out the other side of that to where humanity is reaching the ultimate peak of being masters of their own existence. And then seeing what happens when those two worlds collide through emotions that are universal.
Were your visions of what Nilo and Earth look like in the film based on issues we are currently struggling with -- for example: climate change and resistance to advances in genetic engineering?
Yes, everything in the film is based on solid science of where I think we could eventually be headed in the future. Obviously climate change that could ruin the earth because of what we are doing to it. What would an alternate future or planet look like where genetic engineering is allowed on a massive scale with no restrictions?
How do you create a thorough, believable environment for audiences to dive into—world building?
For world-building I like to start with a top-down approach. I start with an overview of the world, then a breakdown of the society and how it came to be. The backstory of the world is very important. I think the backstory really informs why the characters are who they are. Once we have a grasp on all of that then I can really dig down into the granular details. The details must all have a reason to be and or exist in this world.
What message are you hoping viewers take away from Ji?
Love is important and healing and universal across all spectrums of life. I think in the fast-paced society we live in now love has kind of taken a backseat to career and money. And if we keep along this path we can very much end up like the characters from Nilo. No matter how far it seems like we moved from certain aspects of our natural humanity we can always come back to it.
How does your experience as a music video director inform your narrative filmmaking?
I think it helps from a production standpoint. Ninety-percent of the departments and tools we use on a music video we use in narrative filming as well. I know all of those things very well. So it allows me to really focus on that 10% which is different like dealing with actors and story and emotion.
Do you already have an idea for your next narrative project … and will it be a feature-length film?
Yes I have several projects in motion and many things written already. I have a graphic novel releasing soon called “Hero For A Day.” We are also working on a series for JI and several feature length projects as well.