I AM A KNIFE WITH LEGS

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Enter Bené – a zen-tempered European pop star in the middle of a crisis. Bené must figure out the age old question: what to do while waiting for an assassin who is out to assassinate you? For Bené, this means hiding out in an apartment and pondering some of life’s most important/inane questions, with occasional (extremely catchy) musical interludes.

LA-based actor and comedian Bennett Jones is the writer, director and star of I AM A KNIFE WITH LEGS. In his feature directorial debut, Jones acts, draws and sings his way into the hearts of unsuspecting viewers. At the film’s world premiere at Montreal’s Fantasia Film Festival, it’s safe to say that the audience was not quite expecting to witness such an overload of absurdity, and the buzz surrounding the film resulted in a most deserved second screening being added at the last minute.

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Esinam Beckley: The comedy style of I AM A KNIFE WITH LEGS is pretty abstract. Where and how did it come to be?

Bennett Jones: There are actually several styles of comedy in the movie I suppose, but you could say that yeah, it’s kind of a lot of wordplay. A lot of abstract.  A lot of very clean comedy, most of it. As for my influences, I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of Bob and Ray? Bob Elliot and Ray Goulding were a comedy duo back in the ’50s, ’60s, ’70s. Bob Elliot’s son, Chris Elliot you may of heard of. He had some TV shows, and his daughter Abby Elliot was on Saturday Night Live.  She’s in her twenties now, so it’s a comedy family. Bob and Ray did these really funny interview sketches for radio and TV where they did hardly any character work. It was extremely deadpan. Just comedy boiled down to its’ essence. Really funny stuff. Steve Martin also, his early stuff is very deadpan, absurdist. Mr. Show, and Monty Python. All of these influenced me a lot. So I’ve been fairly funny since I was about 12. This isn’t really new to me. A lot of the material I developed, I had done on stage as part of a stand up act. So most of it was fairly well known, but the main thing is that you start with a point of view. Bené’s characters’ point of view allowed for all of these jokes. A joke like “ studies show and when I say studies show it’s just an expression, and like as I was saying.”  basically completely eliminates the point of saying ‘’studies show’’ it’s very unbalanced, but you still make your point.  A lot of bait and switch is part of it. I’m not sure exactly how to frame it, but I’ve always been interested in that kind of comedy.

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EB: Where did the idea for the character Bené first come from?

BJ: Back in the ’90s a friend of mine was having a big loft party. He asked me hey could you put together some sort of act? I thought about it, and decided out of nowhere, I’d put together a French pop band, and that we’d call it Pathetique. So I enlisted my girlfriend at the time, and my buddy Ryan on guitar. We put together this little band. We did three gigs, then I broke up with my girlfriend, and that was that, but I liked the character Bené. I decided to make him European instead of French, just generally European. Over the years I started doing solo gigs. It was just me with some jokes. It got me into playing guitar, singing, and writing songs. At some point, I realized I had been doing it for a while, and decided I wanted to make a feature.  Actually, the apartment itself really inspired me. It has these beautiful views, and incredible light. It’s such a great place just to shoot anything.  There’s a hilltop you see in the movie when I’m looking out my window.  The hilltop with that road going up it.  On the way over to my apartment people used to get lost. They’d call me from the hill, and they’d say hey, how do I get to your place? I’d say well I can see you.  A mile away I could see their car coming over the hill.  I’d tell them to keep driving. Then I’d watch them drive. One day I thought, what if that was somebody coming to kill me? And I’m just standing there watching them slowly make their way. I thought it was so cinematic. So that was the inspiration for the germ of the story. That someone is in their apartment, waiting for an assassin. Why not make it Bené? Then it went from there.

EB: What did you think of your first Fantasia experience of the world premiere with an audience?

BJ: I had previously seen it with a very small group of people. About a dozen or two dozen people that were the cast and crew.  I knew the jokes in it worked overall. What was most interesting to me was seeing the more subtle stuff. Like how there’s a dream sequence where this guy played by me (obviously not the same character) comes in the apartment, and he’s walking around. I could hear people realize it was supposed to be Harrison Ford, but not everyone. One guy could tell that I was doing Harrison Ford. You can just see the faint scar, and I’m doing the face, and he was just cracking up.  He knew, and then you find out later. So, it was interesting to see how not everybody gets every joke the first time or you know, no matter how many times you see it. It was also really good to see how the pacing works.  There’s a bit of a lull in the movie where something needs to happen.  I could feel it.  I could feel the audience feeling it. I thought okay this is crazy this is nutty but right at that point you see the China Airlines shot taking us out of the apartment and back into the main plot. I felt like oh good that was just right. Just in time.

EB: Is it not terrifying when you are working with such particular comedy? Do you wonder if people are going to “get” the comedy you created/that you believe is funny? Or, if it may be a huge flop?

BJ: I’ve been on stage a lot and I’ve done a lot of improv. My favourite improv to see is where the improvisers make a move that assumes that the audience is paying attention. That the audience will fill in that blank, and get the laugh without hitting it on the head.  Sometimes they don’t, but those kinds of laughs when they work, always have a delay. It happens that people are like ……ohhhh and then they get it, and there’s a lot of that. I was pretty confident going into the screening that it worked. I’d watched it with many friends, and we’ve gone over these jokes many, many, times.  However, it worked way better than I expected! The Fantasia audience is pretty hip.  If maybe not everyone were in on it, you’d still get pockets of laughter.

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EB: Did you have previous writing, directing, acting experience?

BJ: I went to grad school for acting and filmmaking. I kind of combined the two majors at Cal Arts, so I have very serious acting training.  Hardcore mask work.  five-hour classes where you don’t say a word all class.  Really getting to the point where you’re willing to do anything on stage. I leaned toward comedy, but I’ve done serious acting. I did some Shakespeare this year for the high schools in Los Angeles. I played Juliette’s dad.  Not a funny character.

EB: Have you made other films?

BJ: I’ve done a lot of shorts before, and since working on this. While I was working on this, I took breaks, and did a web series called “The Basic Rights of Man” that never really got finished unfortunately, and I did another series called “The History of the World of Building Stuff” which is a sort of educational show.  I go back in time as a reporter from the future. I interview people working on the pyramids, working on the Eiffel tower, always played by my friend Mitchell Roché. It was a lot of fun. We learned a lot about these buildings. In the Eiffel Tower episode, I actually ride up the elevator with him. It’s green-screened using footage from the Lumiere brothers, a few years after the Eiffel tower was built. It’s really fun to do that sort of thing. There’s comedy in there but it’s also educational.

EB: The visuals in the film are very particular. Where did you come up with the idea for the film’s aesthetic?

BJ: In starting the process of writing the script, a lot of the ideas I had just seemed to work with the film. One of my rules was that I did not want to leave the apartment unless I had to. The chase scene definitely, we’d go all over the place, but we’d shoot it without a sound crew. It’ll be easy. No lighting crew. Just really fast. As far as scenes, dialogue scenes, all that stuff, the music video sequences, I wanted to stay within the apartment compound.  So, if I wrote something that was more difficult, I decided well, I know how to draw. I went to art school. I’ll just draw it.  I’ll do a bunch of drawings, mess around with them in final cut, and do the animation. As a result, you end up with a style.  I can actually draw better then the drawings that are in the film, but it takes more time. You find a middle ground somewhere between stick figures, and the Mona Lisa and you go with that. Then, that becomes the look of the drawing. It’s very colorful, fast, and dynamic, almost like fashion drawings. You know really beautiful but they’re drawn in seconds. So, a lot of the style is a result of that. Just compromises, and working with what I had. Then I started playing with filters, and all the things you can do with digital editing. Trying to give the movie more of a look. We shot it on 24p so it looks more like film, not the interlaced video which looks more like video. Each music video sequence has a bit of a theme/style. Like the final one is more James Bondy, the rolling dice, green card table background, and the music. But, a lot of it is just you fumbling around, and you end up being kind of like this is my style I guess.

EB: Did you get to see any films at the Fantasia Festival?

BJ: I got to see a film by an almost-classmate of mine, Kurando Mitsutake. A movie called GUNWOMAN, which premiered a night or two before mine. He went to Cal Arts a few years after me. It was intense. The actress was amazing. This Japanese woman who just had no fear. There’s a scene where she’s completely naked covered in her own blood, beating the crap out of some bad guys. It was pretty impressive. I also saw the prequel to the JU-ON film. I always like these films. They’re so elegantly shot. They’re just hypnotic, but it’s not my favourite of the bunch. Then I saw WELCOME TO NEW YORK, which Depardieu was hilarious in. It was an interesting movie.

EB: Before the screening you mentioned your mom was attending, and some friends?

BJ: Yeah! My mom’s seen my comedy over the years since I was 12.  Also, my friend Liam was there who’s in the movie. There’s that footage in the film where the couple is adopting the baby from Beijing. That’s real footage of my friend Liam and Kelly. It’s the first time they see their baby who is now seven.

EB: How did you discover the little girl who plays the trained killer in the film?

BJ: She is my friend Lillian’s daughter Ashley.  She’s 12 now, and is writing vampire fiction online. She’s a very creative kid. I’ve known her since she was two. When I was writing the script at first, there was going to be this story about an assassin, who is a beautiful woman from some far off place. She’s sent to kill me and somehow we convince her not to, or Bené falls in love with her or something.  I thought well that’s alright but I don’t know who I’d cast, and I’d then have to go through a casting process. Then, I somehow just thought, Ashley is adorable. She’s also so young that she couldn’t possibly be a bad actor yet.  She just is who she is. It would be very funny if she were in a high status position. I talked to her and her mom about it. They both agreed, but Ashley insisted she play a good guy. So, I had to make sure she was written as a good guy. We went shopping for costumes, and put together this crazy super hero-ish costume. We shot all her scenes, and then got back to editing. Next thing I know, I had to re-shoot with her, because she had grown so much in one year. We had to re-shoot her scenes, and give her a different costume.  The much more commando style costume. We rewrote her backstory, but by this time she was a much better actor. She really understood it. At age 6, she got that she couldn’t smile. She got that she had to be serious, and it wasn’t a joke. She became so professional, that in the fight with Tommy where she beats the crap out of him in the hallway, she was telling him the choreography. She was like okay, you duck here…. Then, I kick you. She’s six years old, reminding him. It was great!

EB: You mentioned the apartment used in the film was/is your actual apartment?

BJ: I still live in the same apartment that was used in the movie. Kind of funny that apartment was used for the film in 2007, then, a friend of mine heard the lighting was really good. He shot a feature in there. His didn’t go anywhere. He got a job working on THE FUTURE Miranda July’s movie.  Her producer came by, looked at the apartment, and decided to use it for THE FUTURE.  So just my bedroom is used in that. Then at some point my neighbors called me up, and said hey my friend is shooting a porno in my apartment can she use your kitchen for makeup?  You could have a film festival with all the films shot in there.

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Official trailer (BELOW):

About the author:

Esinam Beckley

Esinam Beckley is a student at the Miskatonic Institute of Horror Studies.

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