“Nightfire” is a new movie by former USC student Brando Benetton. Brandon really lucked out when seasoned thesps Dylan Baker (“The Good Wife”) and Becky Ann Baker (“Girls”) agreed to star in his ambitious short film “Nightwatch”. Originally conceived as a thesis project, the spy film quickly grew larger than expected and before he knew it, Benetton, his star cast and a talented crew were in Italy filming a bigger-than-life action movie. “Nightwatch” screens on Hulu and Amazon May 1. He recently discussed this via an exclusive interview.
Meagan Meehan (MM): Brando, thanks for chatting. I believe you’re still at college? Is that right? or fresh-outta?
Brando Benetton (BB): I graduated from the Grad program at the USC School of Cinematic Arts, here in Los Angeles, last May. So “kind of” fresh.
MM: Was the short film part originally conceived as a college project?
BB: That’s right, yes! We created it as a thesis project back when we were at Ithaca, in upstate NY.
MM: And besides the stars – who we’ll get to – most of the production team consists of fellow students?
BB: We were extremely lucky to get a crew of 30/40 amazing students who volunteered their time to be a part of this experience. The only two departments where we needed the experience of veteran professionals were of course the stunt team and special effects (meaning practical explosions, guns, etc.). Safety first!
MM: Now, how do a few college kids entice Dylan Baker – who, of course, has starred in all these huge films and TV shows- into their 15-minute short film!?
BB: Well, luckily the film was a little more than 15 minutes—our first cut was nearly a full hour and there was a weight and massive time-commitment (from all of us) to the project. We came to him truly believing that he was the only one who could have brought to life such an emotionally-layered character. He knew we were ready to have fun with the project, and he was too. Plus, who wants to go make a spy movie in Italy?
MM: What kind of things did the production have to furnish Mr. Baker with? Accommodation? Trailer? Any particular requests?
BB: He’s as humble and dedicated as they come. We barely had a trailer (more of a RV space for make-up and hair) and most of us were way too excited to ever step away from set to go “take a break.” Every day was a mixture of car stunts, complex camera moves and hundreds of spectators crowding the street to catch a glimpse of the action.
MM: Becky Ann Baker – who I believe is married to Dylan – is also in the film. Was that Dylan’s suggestion that you cast her?
BB: You kidding? Absolutely not, anyone would be lucky to have Becky in their project! Her role isn’t nearly as big as I wish for it to have been, but over the years Becky has become a wonderful friend and her presence on set lit a fire of enthusiasm throughout the shoot. It’s astounding to watch her so committed to every scene, and turn a line or a moment into a creative opportunity. So much goes into every scene no matter what—when you’re shooting it if feels like a matter of life and death regardless of where it fits within the larger movie.
MM: How was it to work with two seasoned pros, like the Bakers?
BB: Their theater experience really shows – they’re masters at adapting their acting knowing the kind of scene we’re shooting or how close the camera lens is. The entire cast was there because they loved the project. This was not an easy project to make, and it absolutely helps when your cast is patient, supportive and committed to go for that extra take if the scene needs it—no matter the cold the weather or late the hours. Watching the cast work, I observed how they could take any dialogue and breathe life into it. That’s how you know you’re working with incredible actors.
MM: But the short is ‘anchored’ by a newcomer. Can you tell me how you found the other key players?
BB: I firmly believe that everything happens for a reason. A number of other cast members I became familiar with over the years preceding shooting. I went to a film screening and remember seeing Bradley Stryker. The creative side of your brain seems to make a mental note, so that 18 months later when you’re making a cast list, his face appears in your head. Same goes for Lorenzo Pisoni, who plays our hero Agent Carter. A friend took me to see a one-man show of his in San Francisco and his physicality is something I couldn’t shake off in the best possible way.
The world is full of incredibly actors, and it’s up to you to connect the right performer with the right role.
MM: And now that you’ve done the short, is there any interest, either from your team or the distributor of the short – to do a feature-length version of “Nightfire”?
BB: If the industry’s interested, they know where to find us. There are a lot of potential new storylines and developments that the film offers, and we’d be eager to bring audiences to spend a lot more time with these characters.
MM: Where can folks watch “Nightfire”?
BB: The film will be available May 1 on streaming platforms like Amazon Prime and Hulu. I hope people will screen the film on as large a screen as possible, ready to experience action with a scope that feels intimate yet spectacular at the same time. Buckle your seatbelts, folks!