Amid a career spanning filming The Jacksons on world tours to making videos for Rotten Tomatoes and Fandango, Jared Bentley recently made his first feature film – the action crime comedy Intensive Care.
Made for only $75,000 and with a very tight two week shoot, the film stars hugely successful stuntwoman Tara Macken in her first leading role as an actress.
Macken – who as a stuntwoman has doubled for actors including Tessa Thompson, Winona Ryder and Eva Longoria – plays Alex, a carer for a rich elderly woman. Coming face to face with three burglars after her client’s cash-filled safe, Alex isn’t going to give up lightly, or run away.
I caught up with Jared recently when he was in London. We had a long discussion about making Intensive Care, how they did those stunts, the not-always-friendly indie scene in LA, and why practical effects trump CGI.
Sarah: When I think of independent filmmaking I’m amazed anyone ever starts. First of all there’s the money raising, then making it within budget, trying to be cinematic within that budget, publicising it and getting it out there – and then you’ve got the critics. What’s driving you on? And what got you into it?
Jared Bentley: You summarised the obstacles pretty well there! I always say I never want to know my future because had I known how difficult it was going to be to make this film I might not have done it, you know?
I’m glad that the difficulties presented themselves in stages, and by the time they did I was too far down the road. But I fell in love with movies when I was 8 years old and I saw Raiders Of The Lost Ark, and it blew my mind.
That’s one of my favourite childhood films! My sister and I recorded it off the TV in the 80s and we must have watched it hundreds of times. People our age, they always say Raiders.
I actually wandered into it. This is back when you could just leave your 8 year old at the cinema all day long. My parents would give me $5 and pick me up at 6pm, they would just leave me at the cinema as my babysitter. I’d just go from theatre to theatre. Every now and then they be like “there’s one called Risky Business, don’t see that one!” and I would actually listen to them.
But they didn’t say anything about Raiders Of The Lost Ark. I saw it literally 20 times that summer. I went almost every day.
It’s Harrison Ford at the height of his powers, it’s just a perfect movie. So I fell in love with movies, then my father worked in the business as a special effects person, so I was on movie sets all the time.
He worked on Alien 4, and Jaws 2, so being on a film set has always felt very natural to me. Somewhere around 16 / 17, when it became clear that being a professional baseball player wasn’t going to work out, that’s when I decide I wanted to make films.
It’s been a long road to to making my first feature. I’ve done everything else. Music videos, shorts, commercials, reality, I’ve travelled with The Jacksons, but then finally – my partners and I, we have a production company – I just finally said “this is dumb, let’s get a movie made”.
We’d been trying to get some other project financed and it was a very frustrating process because most of the time people liked the idea but they’d say “well here’s some money. Now go away” and we’d say “no, we want to make it”. They’d want to option the script and then maybe they make it or maybe they don’t, who knows. And we’re like, “no, we actually want to make these movies”.
So finally in June of 2015 I just got my partners together and said let’s finance our own film, put in our own money, we’ll maybe get a couple of other people in. To come up with the rest we got a small business loan through a bank, and we did it.
It started as a smaller budget thing at $50,000, and as often happens it grew and grew. And once we decide to go SAG – Screen Actors Guild – that bumped everything up.
So what does that mean? Do you have to abide by certain rules and insurance with SAG?
It means there’s a certain level you have to pay people, it means you have to get a certain level of insurance, you have to go through a payroll company, you have to form an LLC in order to work with SAG, that costs money.
But it also means you can get a higher calibre of actors. Because when we were first just looking non-Union, the talent just wasn’t there to do what we needed to do.
I mean, you’ve seen what Tara Macken does in this film, I don’t think there’s a non-Union person that could do all that. So we decided to go Union, for the better of the film obviously, but it skyrocketed the budget. Like, instantly.
But you know, we just rolled with it. This was going to cost a bit more than we thought and we just did it.
Did you have a contingency fund? Or was it just, cover it when it happens?
Our contingency fund was our own bank accounts! We felt if something came up in the moment, we would just throw money at it.
Batteries cost far more than we thought they would. Hundreds of dollars on batteries! We didn’t perceive that happening, but you’re in the moment and on set and you can’t afford to lose time.
And you don’t know what you don’t know. Until you’re there, even if you’ve been on sets all your life there will be bits that you’ve missed.
Exactly. We had done shorts before – shorts, it’s like a sprint compared to a marathon, you know? You train for one, it doesn’t mean you can do the other.
This was much longer duration, and over time things come up that you didn’t prepare for. So we were always saying “there’s going to be a reckoning after the filming is done, but during the filming we want to protect the film so it’s fine, pay it, let’s go. Worry about it in a couple of weeks”.
Well, a half-finished film is useful to no one, and you’ve spent loads of money already.
That’s a great point because I have known filmmakers who’ve made 75% of the film and are now trying to raise finishing funds and it’s impossible. Like, who wants to do that? I need to have a finished film when I’m done, even if it’s imperfect. It has to be finished. And that’s what we have! An imperfect, finished film.
It’s also a stepping stone to later films, isn’t it. And it is entertaining, and Tara is really good. How did you find her? Did you have a casting director?
We had a co-producer who is also a casting director, and had worked as a talent manager for years – so she had inroads in there, and we put out a listing for it and had a lot of responses.
But no one was the complete package; either they were a great actor but they couldn’t do the fights, or they could do the fights but their acting wasn’t quite there.
We were actually starting to get really worried because we were about five weeks away from filming and we still didn’t have our lead. Kevin Sizemore, who plays Seth in the film, knew about her so he sent me her sub-reel one day. I said “it’s perfect but can she act?”
So we brought her in to read and she was a really great actress as well. I was so relieved, and she was game for everything that we wanted to do.
It’s a short list of people who have the acting skills, the fighting skills, are available and want to work on a low budget movie from an unproven production company!
It’s like a Venn diagram and there’s Tara in the middle where everything crosses over!
You know, there’s not a lot of people in Hollywood who can do what she does. She’s working all the time but she also wants to do more in front of the camera stuff because I think she knows that as a stunt performer there’s a shelf life once you hit 40. It’s kind of hard to keep doing it because the body just can’t take the abuse.
I grew up with a lot of stuntmen because of my father being in special effects. They were always over at the house and yeah, after 40 they just look like somebody hit them with a truck. They literally have been hit by a truck, a hundred times in their life and that takes its toll!
She was a marvel to watch. And her work ethic is fantastic as well – she came to set every day very, very prepared. That’s so important on a film like this because that sets the tone of the whole movie. If the lead isn’t prepared or isn’t taking it seriously, the rest of the cast won’t.
And in films you can tell. One of the things I liked about it was that she’s so experienced that you have confidence in her and you have confidence in the film.
I think it took her a day or two to feel comfortable with us. Beforehand I told her “this isn’t a Marvel film, you’re not going to have a trailer, there’s not going to be a lot of amenities, it’s just going to be down and dirty”.
She’s like, “it’s fine, I’ve done that too” but I think working with a new production company, the first couple of days she’s probably like, “is this a real movie?” and then after a couple of days “okay it’s a real movie, right, fine!”.
So I don’t blame her for being a little hesitant after coming from that world to something so small. It’s hard to even compare them.
There’s that one stunt that I particularly liked, being pulled along on the ground by a car – was that your idea? Because you had a stunt coordinator as well, didn’t you?
We had a stunt coordinator named Pete Porteous who’s known me since I was a little boy. He was friends with my dad. He’s old school so he knows all about practical effects – and everything you want to do, he’s got ten different ways you can do it.
I came up with the idea and talked with Pete: “how do we drag a person behind a car?” Well, you need to have this much space, and the ground needs to be like this, and you have this little sled that you put underneath. Fortunately the actor had a jacket with a hood so the sled was easy to hide.
The trick was, if you recall there’s the dummy sitting in the front of the car? And Pete’s like, “well you’re gonna see someone’s driving the car unless you build a special apparatus for the car”.
That dummy is sort of a running gag; so what if it just pops up there? But then in the end no one’s really looking at the car to see if someone’s driving it. They’re looking at the people on the ground. But that stunt went off really well.
Some were more difficult than others. The hanging stuff was actually more difficult than the car drag. The car drag went smoothly. But hanging is tricky!
Yes how do you hang someone safely?
Giving away trade secrets here! The house when she gets hung, that stairwell was very delicate. That house was very delicate. We had to be very careful in there, and we had people doing gunfighting and stuff and so we couldn’t build an apparatus to hang her from in that stairwell without damaging the property.
So I just asked some of my crew. I said “guys do you think you could just lift her on a pole and hold her there for a minute?”. And so instead of trying to build some apparatus that holds her I had my gaffer, 2 PAs [production assistants] and my key grip just hoist her up.
She’s just hanging there and they’d be holding her for like a minute and by the end of the minute their arms are going and Kevin [Sizemore], the actor, is doing his big monologue about hanging.
“Hurry up! talk faster!”
Yeah well then he’d flub a line and have to go back, and they’re up there like “ugh!!!” and then I’d say “cut!” and they’d be “arhhhh” and put her down. But that was so much easier than trying to build some kind of apparatus to hang her by. Let’s just use manpower! Because we had 70 shots that day – it was ridiculous.
It was a really tight schedule wasn’t it?
Yeah, 14 days. And no days off in between, just 14 straight.
So how long were the days?
Honestly we only had a couple of days which went over 12 hours. We were pretty good about keeping it at 12. Because I knew you can go over 12 hours a couple of times but you’re gonna burn people out and then you’re gonna pay for it down the road.
You get the law of diminishing returns if you start doing 18-hour days. What you’re getting isn’t going to be quality because everyone’s just burnt out and they’re not sharp any more. Our last day was 18 hours. It was “let’s just get through it and we can all sleep tomorrow” – we did get through it but that was rough.
With a low budget film, I guess the more you can do in advance the better?
Exactly, especially with fight scenes. Fortunately our fight choreographer, a guy named Mark Parra, owns a boxing gym in LA and he allowed us to do fight choreography rehearsals there. We got together six or seven times with the cast and just went over everything.
So by the time we got to set everyone knew everything. It was just a matter of setting up the lights, the actors knew exactly what they needed to do so no time was lost. And they would practice on their own, they’re all just super pros and everyone came to set very prepared.
Not to compare my film to John Wick but when I was approaching the action scenes it was a big inspiration for it.
I loved that John Wick shoots in medium [distance], we’re all used to that Bourne style where everything’s shot like right here and you just see arms, and it’s cut cut cut cut cut. Whereas John Wick was medium and you could actually see the actions play out.
I wanted to do that because I found that it makes it more exciting. But that meant we couldn’t use stunt doubles, because if you use stunt doubles, half of the way you’re shooting is because you need to mask that it’s a stunt double.
So the way I wanted to shoot, we needed the real people doing the stunt and they had to know what they were doing. I’m not going to be able to hide it with camera tricks, I need to see it how it really is.
Obviously Tara knew exactly what she was doing, but what does that mean for your other stars, who are actors first and foremost?
Jose Rosete who plays Rudy, and Kevin Sizemore who plays Seth, they had done fights before, usually a punch here and a punch there. But they were both just game to get in fighting shape for it.
Rudy is brutal, he’s vicious.
Yes, he’s great, he was my favourite character. And Jose’s portrayal of him, I was laughing so much looking at the monitor, because his facial expressions would just crack me up even though in the movie he’s a brutal psychopath.
Rudy was more understated, Seth is more over the top – Kevin plays everything at 11. He’s constantly at 11, in real life he’s always at 11. He doesn’t have a dial. They learned the stunts and practised a lot and got hurt a little bit.
You know, usually in movies if you’re going to get hit with a shovel you have a prop shovel or a fake shovel? We had a real shovel. So when Tara is swinging a real shovel, she’s missing them by about two feet because of the way the angle is, but still you should have a fake shovel just in case something goes wrong.
And when she picks up a piece of the chair in the first fight scene that really is a piece of the chair, you could club someone to death with that thing. You’re supposed to get a plastic one! We had fake knives, at least.
In retrospect we should have got some fake plastic props for some of those fight scenes. It did create more tension though, as you could get really hurt.
And the big question, did you enjoy making it? It wasn’t just something you enjoyed in retrospect?
Oh yes I did. Honestly, the parts of this process that haven’t been enjoyable have been later, like the distribution process and all that stuff.
But the actual filmmaking portion I was very happy – like a kid in a candy store. Every picture of me on set I just have a big smile because it was a dream come true to finally make my first feature film.
We had fun and also the people we were working with, my production company, I’ve known these guys for 25, 30 years. We started making movies together in high school and we just grew together.
Kevin Sizemore, I’ve known him for almost 20 years now. I met him on my first job in LA, my first job out of film school, on a Billy Baldwin movie. I was a PA and he was Billy’s stand-in.
So it was great to be able to work with him. His career has been going great the last ten years [his filmography includes Fear The Walking Dead: Flight 462 and Prison Break], he’s just working constantly, and we’ve always just been great cheerleaders for one another. So being able to work together on something like this was a lot of fun.
So Day 1 when you turned up on set, excited or scared or just wanting to get going?
Terrified. I had a lot of anxiety dreams about not making our day – every dream I had we were ten hours into our day and we hadn’t even got one shot yet and the sun was going down.
And then after Day 1, I relaxed because “oh we’re going to be able to do this”. My partners didn’t relax until after Day 5 because that was our first big stunt day. They hadn’t seen the fight rehearsals. I’d been at the fight rehearsals every time so I knew they were great.
Someone in indie film once said to me you have your budget but actually you should have a marketing budget that’s twice the size. Did you have any money set aside for that?
It’s funny, I’ve heard that too – people say “you should set aside $25,000 for marketing” and I’m like “if I have another $25,000 I’m going to put that into the film, I’m gonna put that on the screen”.
But I understand because at the level that I’m at, no one’s going to do marketing for me. Our distributor and overseas agent have done a little bit in terms of press and getting it out there, but a lot of it does fall on the shoulders of the filmmaker to market themselves.
How have you done that – and how did you find me!
You wrote a review of Hunter Killer, and you liked it. And I liked it too! And on your website you said “Gerard Butler apologist” and that’s how I feel because I love him! And people are just so hard on him, and I don’t know why it is!
I thought if somebody likes Hunter Killer they might appreciate my movie because it’s not a perfect movie, it’s a fun movie, it has its flaws. So I went on Rotten Tomatoes and looked for people who gave it good reviews.
And there was maybe one red tomato among the green splats?!
Yeah it was pretty rotten. But I knew it was better to target that than people who liked Moonlight or something, if you liked Moonlight that’s not going to correlate to my film. And you were easy to find! Sometimes critics don’t really have contact information and yours was easy to find.
So in terms of distribution, what do you have to do?
It’s a couple of things. We have a sales agent called High Octane Pictures who have been working on our behalf to sell it internationally, as well as domestically in America. So there have been some foreign sales: Scandinavia has it, Spain, Portugal has it, the UK doesn’t have it yet unfortunately. Japan does, Taiwan, New Zealand, so it’s sort of this hodgepodge around the globe right now.
In America, Screen Media Films is the domestic distributor so they released it on digital on November 6th. Amazon, iTunes, plus a bunch of other platforms I’ve never used. And then the DVD came out in all the major retailers like Target, Walmart, Amazon.
And Red Box. Do you have Red Box over here?
We may! I don’t know! [Note: we don’t]
If you go to the grocery store there’s a kiosk with movies, you get a physical DVD, and you put your credit card in and pay your $4 to rent it. And then you’re supposed to return it in 48 hours and if you don’t you get charged.
So it’s like a tiny Blockbuster?
Yeah it’s like a tiny Blockbuster! And I bet they love it when you don’t return it because then they just keep charging you.
At least nowadays you don’t have to rewind it.
You’d go to Blockbuster and didn’t rewind it and they gave you a lecture.
Years ago I lived in the countryside and I got out Dog Soldiers from Blockbuster. It’s a werewolf movie and though I like werewolf films I was so scared that I had to take it back the same night as I couldn’t bear to have it in the house. It’s really worth watching though. Some soldiers on exercises in Scotland come across this family of werewolves in a glen.
I love werewolf stuff. I feel that werewolves don’t get enough attention, it’s all about zombies.
Whenever I see a werewolf film I start googling werewolves in Britain, all these weird sightings. There’s a place in Staffordshire called Cannock Chase, with all these stories of real werewolves. All these legends going back years and years.
I have a script for a werewolf film that I want to get made. It’s a very big budget thing, though it’s a romantic comedy.
The girl is a werewolf so she can’t find love – once guys find out she’s a werewolf then they’re out.
In this world they know a werewolf exists but they don’t really do anything about it, but then she finds a guy and he’s like the perfect guy and she wants to hide the fact that she’s a werewolf from him for as long as she can.
But he starts thinking she’s secretive, maybe she’s really married, so eventually she can’t hide it any more. Her ex-boyfriend comes back, he’s the one who turned her into a werewolf.
I cannot think of another movie where the lead female is a werwolf. Maybe there’s something smaller I’ve never heard of…
Your werewolf is trying to live the dream!
She’s just a normal werewolf, she has a career. She can communicate with other dogs as she’s a werewolf so she runs a doggie daycare.
You should make that. I’d watch it. The American Werewolf In London transformation scene is still absolutely incredible.
It still works because they used physical effects, and my partners and I always go back to this. We love to use physical and practical effects whenever we can.
In Raiders Of The Lost Ark where the face melts, they built a wax thing and with a lot of trial and error eventually they got it done. They did a time-lapse with hot wax melting.
What’s so sad is that Crystal Skull was on the other day, the last Indiana Jones movie, and there’s another face melt in it but they did it with CGI and it just doesn’t look anywhere near as good as really melting this hot wax.
The thing with American Werewolf In London, his hand stretching out, they built something to stretch out. And it still holds up today doing it that way, because it’s real.
So we try to do practical whenever we can. We don’t have the budget for CGI anyway but I’m just a big fan of practical when you can do it.
Because CGI takes me out of the moment – as soon as I know it’s CGI happening I don’t feel tension anymore because I’m like, they’re in a green studio and all this stuff.
And your dad was in special effects.
He would do pyrotechnics, rain, fog, bullet hits, blowing up stuff – he loved to blow things up. So you need to blow up a house, blow up a car, he was your guy for that.
In the UK the indie filmmaking scene seems to be quite close-knit. Is that the same situation in LA? Someone said to me the other day the studios are trying to take over the indie label in a way. Is there a network or an indie scene, or are you all tying to do your own thing separately?
It feels like everyone for themselves. When I go to a festival in say, New Orleans or Atlanta, it’s much more of a filmmaking community because there is this bonding, we’re not in LA, we need to stick together. Those LA people have it easy.
But it might be even harder in LA because everyone is just looking out for themselves and everyone is cagy about their connections. You know, “hey can I get that number for that location you used?” “No because I might want to use it and if you go and use it they won’t let me use it”, or things like that. Everyone’s very protective of the little piece that they have especially at the film festivals I go to in LA. The filmmakers I see there are not very friendly because everyone’s so protective.
I went to a festival in Omaha and everyone there was just so great and open and collaborative. And you could talk afterwards: “so how’d you do that thing in your film?” “Oh I used such and such, here’s their number if you wanna call them”. It’s much more of a camaraderie in the smaller towns, but in LA not so much.
You touched on something in your question about big studios encroaching on the indie scene; that’s happening a lot. You take something like South By Southwest (SXSW), which started as an independent film festival. Now Star Wars is there. Marvel is there.
And what happened to indie films? I mean maybe they still show them but all the attention is going to these huge blockbuster movies and it’s annoying as an indie filmmaker because that was all we had. Fantastic Fest in Austin, I had a film accepted in 2012; there’s no way I could get into that now because the next Tim Burton movie is going to be premiering there.
I do get it though, if you’re running these festivals that’s more revenue for you.
It’s taking away some of the steps on the staircase that you all need to move up.
And those were viable steps in the’ 90s and even maybe even five years ago. But the industry has changed a lot even in the last five years. I think my film would have fared better five years ago but now a lot of people did what I did so the market is very saturated with a lot of films.
I think a large part too is technology being cheaper and more accessible.
But it’s annoying when Star Wars comes to SXSW because they want that street cred too. It’s not enough that they’re going make a billion dollars. There’s quite a chasm in the industry now – the huge tentpole franchises and the indies scrounging for scraps and not much in the middle.
Though John Wick was a mid-budget movie, $35 million.
What really throws me is that I read than John Wick was originally meant to be an older guy going for vengeance, it would’ve been a completely different movie.
Keanu was just perfect. And I loved Atomic Blonde. That’s such a “me” movie because: strong female lead, 80s, the the soundtrack.
With that movie I loved the beginning and the end, but the middle bit dragged and dragged. But that whole Cold War setting, trying to explain it to younger people: “USSR, what?”
“There used to be a wall in Berlin, what?”
“Every day we thought we were going to die in a nuclear explosion, a bit like now.”
Anyway, Reign of Fire.
That’s a really great one.
Everyone hated that movie. It had rubbish reviews. I love it.
Christian Bale, Matthew McConaughey, dragons…
Gerard Butler, with terrible British teeth. Now he’s got American teeth. Proper Scottish in it as well. I mean, he’s always Scottish in movies.
I don’t think he can do an American accent so they always have to work into the script his Scottish roots. I like Gerard Butler, I’m an apologist!
We can just talk about Gerard Butler the whole time.
The whole interview, just Gerard Butler.
Have you seen Geostorm?
Yes, that’s terrible.
I gave it quite a good review. Everyone said it was the worst film ever made. But because I have small children, I’ve actually sat through some of the worst films ever made. Home Alone 4 – my children have no critical faculties so I’ve watched that numerous times. I thought Geostorm just wasn’t stupid enough, they should have had more horrendous deaths. Because it’s all been done before.
Also The Meg suffered because I think they cut a lot of gore out to get the rating down. I took my son and he thought it was great, but I took him knowing there weren’t going to be people being ripped to shreds. It would probably have been a better film if it had.
The fun of watching people get mauled… One of the things we did at Rotten Tomatoes was a mash-up where we took all the death-by-shark scenes for Shark Week. It was so much fun to work on because watching people getting mauled by sharks is entertaining! Jaws is a great movie and tense and serious. But if you can’t do that then go the fun route, and that’s what The Meg should have done.
You grew up on film sets, so growing up who were your film heroes?
It’s not what you think. Its not Fellini or whoever. I grew up on silly stuff. My favourite movie as a kid besides Raiders was Naked Gun.
To this day I could watch Naked Gun and just laugh my ass off like an idiot, even though I wasn’t really familiar with the stuff they were lampooning, like film noir from the 1940s. As a teenager I really hadn’t watched any of that. Then after going to film school and watching Double Indemnity and all these film noir movies, all of a sudden I got it on a different level.
As kid of the 80s I loved Star Wars, then as I got a little older I discovered Stanley Kubrick. I was really into him for a long time, even though I don’t think my style is anything like his. But I love all his films: Dr Strangelove is probably my second favourite movie after Raiders Of The Lost Ark.
I loved Tony Scott, stylistically. And David Fincher because he makes dark films that are kind of funny as well.
Quentin Tarantino: Pulp Fiction was a big influence, that was an event when it came out. I remember leaving, feeling like after a rock concert or something, just feeling energised and excited.
Like when you know change is coming.
And it did! A lot of knock-offs came afterwards. Then he came out with Inglorious Basterds and for me that was like a huge comeback for him – I didn’t really like the Kill Bill stuff and then Inglorious Basterds came out I was like “oh my god this guy’s great again, I love it”.
So Tarantino, he’s an influence. Yeah that’s it!