An interview with director Ben Wydeven

Ben Wydeven on the set of "Quantum of Vengeance" (Photo by Heidi E. Johnson)

Ben Wydeven on the set of “Quantum of Vengeance” (Photo by Heidi E. Johnson)

As we’ve been keen to point out here on, Ben Wydeven’s time travel short film Quantum of Vengeance debuts this Sunday at the High Noon Saloon. A native of Shawano, Ben’s experience in television production, journalism and news photography eventually saw him founding his own Madison-based production company, Makeshift Media Group.

This past week, Ben was gracious enough to let me ask him an annoying number of questions in anticipation of his new film:

David Klein: First of all, I really dug the film. It’s a unique blend of genre that isn’t afraid to explore hard consequences with its characters and premise. I have to ask about the peculiar title choice, though. Why “Quantum” of Vengeance? Are you guys just really big fans of Marc Forster’s James Bond movie?

Ben Wydeven: Max Blaska wrote the story, and his original title was “A Time to Hate.” When I came on, I suggested “Quantum of Spite” to give the film a more cryptic name. A few weeks into production, someone suggested “Quantum of Vengeance” and it stuck.

DK: I don’t think it’s spoiling much to say that QoV is definitely a time travel movie. Your time machine’s effects are fantastic and have a rusty, “used” kind of flavor. What was the thought process behind the smoke and the wind? Was there a particular feeling you were going for with this interpretation of time travel?

BW: My favorite movie of all time is Back to the Future, so a lot of elements were inspired by that. That’s also what drew me to Max’s original story. The time machine was nothing more than an old, broken tanning bed that we found. We did a lot to make our time machine look fancy but homemade, attaching pieces of electronics to it and putting black electrical tape along the frame to cover up some of the rust. If you look carefully, you can see the cable of an old car phone on the lid.

As for the smoke and wind, because time travel theoretically requires such a huge power source, I wanted to have a lot of practical effects that made the time machine look… epic.

DK: And I definitely got a whiff of Back to the Future from this. You’ve got a dog named after a famous scientist; the Professor’s name is Scott Lloyd and sports a certain Hawaiian shirt. Were these conscious elements you and Max worked into the story? I’m just weird, right?

BW: The great Doug Gordon, with whom I wrote and directed “The Zombeatles: All You Need is Brains” in 2009, played the doctor. When I read the script, I immediately pictured him in a Hawaiian shirt and goggles rambling off about time travel and its many complicated theories. As for the dog, in the script it was a cat, but we found out the hard way that cats don’t act so we changed it. Coincidentally, Halley is Doug’s dog in real life.

DK: I dug Professor Lloyd’s goofy aloofness. What went into that characterization?

BW: My influence was Doc Brown, but that’s more of Max’s department. My thinking was that if someone were crazy enough to actually try and invent time travel, they’re going to have a very strange personality. If you think about Back to the Future, Doc Brown is a very silly character from the beginning, and his mannerisms and personality are slightly out of touch with the rest of the film.

DK: I shouldn’t just play up the fun stuff, because there are some dark elements in QoV, too. I appreciated the cyclical nature of actions and their consequences. It reminded me a lot of Nacho Vigalondo’s Timecrimes in its premise and basic structure. Did you go into this conscious of the fact that things like string theory and loose threads tend to get conveniently ignored in time travel stories?

BW: There are so many theories about time travel that it’s impossible to acknowledge all of them. I think most time travel movies have to ignore certain things to be able to tell the story without boring the audience with the technical stuff. At the end of Back to the Future Part III Doc comes back with this steam-powered flying train machine that creates more questions than it answers. How the hell does he make a train fly and travel through time on only steam when he had to use plutonium in a tiny DeLorean? If you think too hard about those inconsistencies of time travel, your brain will hurt.

DK: Alissa plays two different characters, or at least two versions of one, in QoV. Was it difficult to direct an actor for this kind of role?

BW: I loved seeing Alissa’s range in this film, and I think for an actor, it’s fun too because you get to be two completely different people of parallel universes. It wasn’t too difficult directing Alissa in these two roles because she’s such a dedicated and passionate actress that she understood both sides of the character. Once Max and I told her what we were going for, she pretty much got it right away.

DK: I mentioned Max, who in addition to story and screenwriting credits served as a producer. What’s it like having this local cadre of cast and crew members at your fingertips?

BW: It’s very exciting. I grew up in small towns, so I’m used to being the writer, director, DP, editor, and more often than I want, actor. Having so many people involved on set made the shooting process a lot easier. I still did a lot of that stuff [writing, directing, editing, shooting] for QoV, but I had a great crew helping me make the shoot go smoothly.

DK: Had you worked with anyone involved in this project before?

BW: Robin James [script supervisor], Nathan Lowe [assistant director], and Joseph Schurian [sound recordist] were all people I had worked with previously. We enjoyed working together on previous projects so it was easy to collaborate again.

DK: How did you get in touch with the musicians and composers who contribute to QoV?

BW: Max found Laura Stone but Shawn Pierce is a friend of mine. This was Shawn’s first time composing a score and I think he did a great job. Once he saw a rough cut of the film with his score, he told me he wanted to redo it. He’s a perfectionist.

I’ve known the band Planet of 9 [based out of Wausau] since 2004 when I was looking for music for my film The Knight and The Maestro. We had used several songs from their first album for that film which was released that year. Since then, I’ve used their music in almost every film I’ve made — the only exception being “The Zombeatles,” which has all Zombeatles music. For QoV, I used their song “A Different Plane” which is off their album “Abduction… From The World Below.” The lyrics were perfect.

Stereo Side Effect actually contacted us. One night shortly after I had finished shooting, they left a message on our Facebook page telling us we were welcome to use their music in our films. I immediately looked them up and chose the second or third song that I heard.

DK: Is Tim Towne as swell of a chap in person as he comes off in Film Reels?

BW: He is an awesome guy. And a great wide receiver. He and I play football together on Sundays.

DK: Last question. I caught Film Reels host Justin Schober’s name as a production assistant in the credits. Did he wear his now iconic black shirt/red tie combo on set? What’s with his affinity for kicking people’s faces?

BW: I don’t remember if Justin wore his shirt and tie. He likes to get his hands dirty with the Madison film industry, although he doesn’t consider himself a filmmaker. I think that’s why he was such a great host for Film Reels. He knows everyone and everyone knows him. He’s our very own James Lipton.

  • Quantum of Vengeance debuts this Sunday June 23, 2013 at the High Noon Saloon at 1:00p. Head over to the event’s Facebook page for all the details.