'Bye Bye Benji' is December 2019's Film of the Month

23 Dec 2019 in Film of the Month

9 mins
'Bye Bye Benji' is December 2019's Film of the Month

We are delighted to announce that the latest winner of our Film of the Month competition is Bye Bye Benji, made by Miles aged 18, from North Yorkshire. See the winning film above!

Bye Bye Benji (Engaging for 11+) depicts a day in the life of two best friends as they go to band practice, play rugby and talk about their relationships. But is there something more going on underneath the surface?

A refreshingly honest reflection of the theme of loss. The use of the different locations as a way to structure the narrative added to the poignancy of the film. The continuation and camera positioning to achieve this was very well executed.

Film of the Month Judge on Bye Bye Benji

We get in touch with Miles to find out more about his winning film.

Congratulations on winning Film of the Month. How long have you been making films?

Thank you! Filmmaking's always been a massive part of my life, right from the age of 7 when I'd pick up my dad's camera and make stop-motion films using my Doctor Who toys! It's never stopped since; a massive boost was forming my school's media group with fellow collaborator, Richard Lloyd (who operated the camera and composed the music for Bye Bye Benji), having the endless support and encouragement from our English teacher, Mrs Peacock.

You know, I really can't think of a time when I haven't wanted to make films. As cheesy as it sounds, it's part of my DNA!

Where did the idea for Bye Bye Benji come from?

During my second year of sixth form, one of my teachers, who I'd known for much of my older years, sadly passed away. It was the first time (that I could remember, at least) that I'd properly experienced grief and having someone drop out of your life. Similarly, I had a relationship break up around the same time both these experiences made me question the idea of loss and having to move on. I would celebrate each moment spent with those I'd lost and never forget them, but I'd also not let those recollections stop me from moving forward.

It was that idea of celebrating those memories that gave me the premise of our central character reliving moments from the past as if they were happening right before their eyes. The seed of an idea was planted and it thankfully grew!

Your film has very believable, natural acting. How did you achieve that?

I think a lot of that naturalism came from the dialogue; it was carefully written so as not to be overly refined or specific, making it flow well when spoken. In fact, much of the dialogue was taken straight from everyday chats between myself and my best friend Wil (who played Benji in the film). Having real words previously spoken by us meant that to perform them was merely like recreating past conversations, thus what came across on screen felt all the more genuine and, hopefully, relatable to those watching.

Bye Bye Benji moves from one time period to another very smoothly. How did you make this work so fluidly?

The smooth movement between present day and flashback relied heavily on the transition between the two, and it was these transitions that became the starting point for each scene. Sequences weren't fully planned until the transition had been thought of. For example, one of my very first ideas was the shot of Ozzy walking along before being hit in the side of the head by a rugby ball. Such a moment is shocking and out-of-nowhere, thus making the flashback blend into events happening in the present.

Storyboarding was very key in ensuring this came across in the correct way. I had to make sure movements were blocked very carefully and precisely, so that between shots when Ozzy changed costume (from present day clothing to flashback clothing), he was positioned in the exact same place as he was previously, as if it were the next shot in the sequence. Something as simple as the head turn Ozzy makes at the end of the scene sat on the bench showcases just how effective this can be, almost masking the join, as opposed to drawing the audiences' attention to the time shift as a traditional flashback would.

How do you think films that deal with the loss of a friend or family member can help audiences that have experienced this kind of tragedy?

I think films which approach this heavy topic can allow those going through a bereavement or loss to feel like such an experience is a shared one. Everyone can go through it, and films like Bye Bye Benji may even offer those audience members a way of dealing with these complicated emotions that spring from these tragedies. Not only that; I think these films also give people an insight into what others may be going through, helping them understand what grief can be like through this visual medium of storytelling. That's the real power of film; it doesn't just entertain, it educates.

Are there any films or filmmakers that influenced Bye Bye Benji?

Currently one of my biggest inspirations is short-film maker, Bertie Gilbert, whose work can be found on YouTube. His style is often warm and casual, but most important of all in my opinion, it's real and honest. I often empathise with a lot of his characters, and finish each of his films with a desire to create such personalities that people feel they could meet on a street corner. My favourite film of his, Let It Be, also deals with similar themes to Bye Bye Benji, and the way it was shot was something I really strove for in terms of its relaxed handheld camera movements. 

The anthology series on BBC Two, Inside No. 9, also proved to give me great inspiration for Bye Bye Benji's twists and turns. I drew particular stimulus from The Twelve Days of Christine, which sparked many of my ideas of how to transition from the past to the present day, given its rather trippy concept.

If you could make Bye Bye Benji again what would you do differently and why?

I would certainly pay much closer attention to sound when filming, as this is what I believe to be the film's biggest shortcoming! Investing in proper audio recording equipment would be my first port of call, as well as finding someone to be solely responsible for this on the day of shooting. This could also stretch to lighting as well, as we were totally reliant on natural light throughout the shoot which, whilst allowing for a natural colour pallet, meant we had little control over its intensity.

What three tips would you give to a young filmmaker about to make their first short film?

It's very hard to shorten it down to just three! But if I were just going off the experience of making Bye Bye Benji, I would say…

  1. Scripts. They're very important! Don't rush it or dismiss it. Draft and redraft, get others to read it, have a read-through with others to see how it sounds, how it flows dedicate much of your pre-production to getting your script into the best shape it can possibly be!
  2. Storyboard and have a plan of action! When it comes to shooting your film, storyboarding can be vital in not only guaranteeing you get everything you need to filmed, but also in making the day run smoothly. Planning in advance will save you lots of thinking time on the day you begin filming!
  3. No idea is ever too small! Always write down every single one that comes to you; I've had a notebook by my bed for years so that whenever an idea pops into my head, I write it down in there straight away. Plot lines, title ideas, sketches, quotes all of these can be seeds that will grow into an even larger concept. You might not come back to them for months but having them all to hand will mean that you'll never be short of ideas! Remember: A moment's insight is sometimes worth a life's experience…

Miles' film will now be showcased to over 300,000 film club members online and all of our Film of the Month films are now on the Into Film YouTube channel, and he has also secured a £100 Amazon voucher to help further develop his future films. Think you could win Film of the Month? Find out more about how you can enter our ongoing Film of the Month competition.

If you've been inspired by Bye Bye Benji then make sure to check out the following films:

  • A Monster Calls (2016, 12, 108mins) Recommended for ages 11-16
    A boy struggling to cope with his mother's illness finds himself visited by a fantastical monster.
  • The Peanut Butter Falcon (2019, 12A, 97mins) Recommended for ages 11+
    A young man with Down syndrome teams up with a grieving fisherman to pursue his dream of becoming a professional wrestler.
  • When Marnie Was There (2014, U, 103mins) Recommended for ages 7-14
    A shy girl sent to the country to recover from asthma discovers an abandoned mansion and begins to explore its mysteries with her new friend Marnie.
  • Pete's Dragon (2016, PG, 103mins) Recommended  for ages 7-14
    A live-action remake of the 1977 children's classic which sees a boy living in a North American forest with his only friend: a big green dragon.

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