Two American agents are hired to retrieve military chips containing top-secret content. Their plan goes awry when an unexpected political prisoner enters the picture.
Get to know this up-and-coming director and screenwriter Brando Benetton, he has already made such films as Tumbili and American bullet. Nightfire is his latest project and it comes out on May 1 via Hewes on VOD, including Hulu and Amazon. So, chill for a minute or two, and take this time to get to know this gifted director and screenwriter.
1. First off, what are your thoughts about the coronavirus pandemic, especially in Italy, and how are you dealing with it?
Thank you for asking. I'm in contact with my entire family who's still in Italy, and the country seems to have witnessed a "head-start" on this entire situation compared to the United States. Italy's population is only 1/5 of the U.S., and yet their rigid quarantine may have been the only reason they painfully succeeded in containing their situation, a rigid quarantine which many in the U.S. seem reluctant to embrace on a large-scale level. I feel so much gratitude towards all doctors and workers who are on the front lines to keep us safer.
2. What drew you to write and direct a spy thriller instead of a horror film?
I feel like filmmakers tend to be inspired by the films they respond to most on an emotional level. I grew up as a kid of the '90s in Italy, and what I loved about the spy-action genre (like the James Bond films) was this sense of globe-throttling adventure that allowed you to visit the Caribbean, a ski mountain in Austria and the bays of San Francisco within a single story. It was like an agreement filmmakers were making with audiences, promising larger-than-life stunts and transforming them along with locations into a storytelling device. For Nightfire, we knew how much Italy had to offer on a production value level - and recognized that Verona as a city had just as spectacular bridges and piazzas as any Bond movie could wish for.
I've grown to love horror films in the last years but felt it was my responsibility to create a movie within a genre that I myself would have most loved to experience on the big screen. And for us, that just happened to be action.
3. What is the genesis of the spy thriller short Nightfire?
As film students, we sat every year in the final thesis screening at Ithaca College and dreamt of making a movie that, as audience members, would have inspired us. We wanted to dream big but also needed to have a practical sense of deliver large scope on a limited budget. We set out to make a list of all the assets we already had at our disposal - starting from locations - and weaved around this a script that felt inspired by cinema we had grown up to love, but still emotionally relevant. When we set out to write this in the spring of 2014, Ukraine was navigating a desperate civil revolution, and though much has changed since, the U.S. - Ukraine relationship seems just as relevant today.
4. What was your writing habit when you and your co-writer Los Silva wrote Nightfire?
It's different for every writing duo. I wrote the original outline and sent it to Los, who did an amazing job not only grounding the story in a political reality but writing amazing dialogue. We'd trade drafts back and forth, re-writing one another's, until the very last minute. The entire time he was in New York while I was in pre-production from Los Angeles, despite the entire movie was about to begin shooting in northern Italy.
5. Were there other titles you came up with before Nightfire? If so, what were they?
I believe the original title was 'Codename: Nightfire.' After the third person who suggested I drop the first part of the title, I figured maybe I should listen.
6. Did you know how Nightfire would end or did it come to you or Los Silva while writing the story?
If I remember correctly, this was always the ending. Endings are hard, and most times I've found it easier to engineer your narrative structure so that, if you know how the story ends, you can work your way backward. Without giving out any spoilers, we wanted to let audiences loose on an emotional roller coaster, and allow the story to reach the lowest low but also experience the highest high.
7. Which scene was the most challenging to shoot and why?
The opening military escape happened to be the last two days of principal photography, and I feel like they were the hardest simply because we had been filming without a break and were exhausted. The movie deserves to open with a sense of energy infused in the sequence, and while we had a lot of cozy interiors beforehand, now we were dealing with two full night shoots where we set off multiple explosions in a single night and had stunt performers dive in lake water than was 40 degrees at most. You curse yourself for having written a sequence this ambitious - and feared we had gone too big - but credit goes to the incredible special effects and stunt crews of professionals who delivered on every moment as we shot our way chronologically through the sequence.
8. How many days did it took to film the chasing scene toward the end of the film?
The car chase that involves cars, motorcycles and the military truck was filmed over 5/6 different nights throughout our schedule. As you can imagine, sometimes an entire dialogue scene can take only a morning to shoot and take up 10% of the final movie, but when it comes to action - everything moves a lot slower. Vehicles have to drive back to their starting marks for each take. Crowds of curious have to be moved out of the frame. Police must block traffic and pedestrians who are trying to go home. We would sometimes spend 6 hours shooting a single moment from the car chase that only lasts 35 seconds in the final movie.
9. Where, in Italy, did you shoot most of the film?
The movie was entirely shot in Verona - which was also featured in 2010's Letters to Juliet. That said, the city hall refused to let us blow up a vehicle, so for the film's factory climax, we traveled to the outskirts of Treviso, nearby Venice.
10. Which filmmakers/screenwriters do you admire?
Christopher McQuarrie's approach to story has deeply inspired me over the last few years, because of the way he and his team work around the clock to maximize emotion for audiences, even if nobody expects it of them. Brad Bird also has a way of making his cinema "playful," and his use of camera movement is one of the aspects that I study the most. Both Bird and McQ understand that you are there to serve the audience and their emotional experience.
11. Could you give any interesting, fun fact about your experience working with Dylan Baker, Becky Ann Baker, Bradley Stryker, and/or any other cast members in Nightfire?
All of them were wonderful, and such troopers in braving the cold and relentless night shoots. Dylan performed his opening scene in the cage in 30-degree weather with a t-shirt, as just feet from him were dozens of crew members in winter coats and scarfs. Becky has an amazing energy that radiates throughout the set and was there to support even when she didn't need to be. Greg Hadley, who plays Agent Ross, was cast just a week away from shooting: though a last-minute replacement at the time, now I can't picture anyone else playing the part.
12. You lived in Italy in the past, what meal or restaurant would you consider everyone to try if he or she visits there?
When I have a train layover in Florence, I always run off and try to make a stop for lunch at Coco Lezzone in Via Parioncino. Siena and Tuscany overall have the best food. Oh, and when in doubt - always, always ask a local.
13. What was your favorite movie when you were a kid? Do you have a favorite movie now?
I think Spielberg movies had a profound influence on me, in teaching me that great directors are master storytellers who transcend genre. Spielberg can go from Munich (2005) to Ready Player One (2018) and make it feel effortless, and though I didn't recognize why I responded to his work so much then - I do now. At the moment, I'd say that David Fincher's Zodiac, Stanley Donen's Singin' in the Rain or Chris McQuarrie's Mission: Impossible - Fallout may all qualify as some of my favorite films for different reasons.
14. If you could write and direct a film-adaptation of any novel/novella/short story, which one would you like to do?
Great question! I honestly feel like filmmakers shouldn't be as reluctant to adapt previously-existing material (especially public domain stories) because often the best stories have already been written. While developing a project recently, I did a deep dive re-reading the short stories of authors Sheridan Le Fanu and Edgar Allan Poe. Another movie we recently completed, Tumbili, borrowed heavily from the sensibility of gothic fairytales, and I've always found it way more interesting for a movie to feel more creepy than scary.
15. Are you thinking or planning on filming a movie in France someday?
You know what? Absolutely! I was born in Paris and think the city has immense visual scope - I think European locations lend themselves to the cinematic overall. There are beautiful locations all across Normandy and castles in the Loire Valley which I was lucky enough to be introduced to by my mother at a young age. Now I step into a location and instantly ask myself: "What sequence could we write that takes place here?"
16. Last question, did you watch the 92nd Academy Awards (Oscars)? If so, what was your favorite and least favorite moment?
I did watch it, we have a tradition of hosting a screening party every year. My favorite part was the overall selection of Best Picture movies, knowing that - despite no female directors had been nominated, unfortunately - 2019 was a strong year for cinema and that is something to collectively celebrate. My least favorite moment was discovering during the "In Memoriam" tribute that one of my USC teachers, Gene Warre Jr., had passed away just a few months before. The man was an incredible ball of energy and stories, and I instantly felt lucky to have learned from him during what became his last semester of teaching before passing.
I strongly want to express my appreciation for Brando Benetton for doing this interview. Again, it comes out on May 1 on VOD, including Amazon and Hulu. Don't miss out on this spy thriller that is up to par with James Bond and Jason Bourne movie series. Thank you, readers, for taking your time to get to know Brando Benetton. I hope you keep coming here to read more interviews. Take care and I hope the rest of your day goes great for you.