"Filmmaking is basically all we do. It's our life... pretty much."
Review by: MiamiMovieCritic
Added: 4 years ago
FilmNet is so excited to feature the work of FetusFilmsInc. Not only are these some really ambitious and creative filmmakers, but they’re also a tremendous inspiration. Most of their movies were completed when they were still in high school, and it’s remarkable how much they were able to achieve with no formal training. The level of filmmaking is nothing short of extraordinary.
Fetus Films consists of Justin Benefiel, Andrew Shafer and Aaron and Austin Keeling. At 18, the Keelings have already completed a feature-length film. It’s called I.Q., an ambitious, Jacob’s Ladder-style horror movie about a teacher who gives his students an experimental drug to help boost their grades. It took more than a year to complete. You can buy the DVD here.
The majority of this interview was conducted with Aaron Keeling in January 2009. Recently, we caught up with Aaron again to discuss I.Q. and how school is going. You can read portions of that interview at the bottom of this page.
How did you guys start making movies together?
It was kind of a gradual process. Justin met Austin and me in a community theater production about six years ago and we hit it off instantly. It was around that time that my brother and I found our parents' camera and began tinkering with it, making silly short movies just to pass the time. Justin was interested and we soon became “movie-making friends,” and since then we've just... never stopped. We met Andrew about two years ago and he started making some movies with us. Justin moved away, but we're still really close friends and we all make films on our own as well as together over vacations and such. It's weird how it happened. Our personalities just sort of clicked.
Your productivity level is amazing, especially when you consider how much care went into the making of each film. How do you stay so productive?
Well, thank you! Um... I guess the reason we've been so productive is because filmmaking is basically all we do. It's our life... pretty much. When we started making movies back when we were in the sixth grade we were just doing it for fun and, to be honest, none of them were really that good. But as time went by we got more serious about our films and pretty soon it became not only a hobby, but also a passion. Now it seems like we never stop making new movies. We're just always coming up with new ideas and making more shorts: both for school and for fun. We're really passionate about what we do, and for us, there's nothing better than working on a new film.
A lot of your films were shot at Lansing High. Talk about filming at school.
Contrary to how it may appear, filming at school isn't really that fun of an experience. There're always so many schedules and obstacles to work around and more often than not it turns out to be a pretty stressful situation. But the students and staff couldn't be better. It's surprising how supportive and cooperative they are, and we're never at a shortage of kids and teachers willing to be in our films. It really is great to have such strong support not only from our friends and families, but also from our school.
I’m a Wichita native, so I know how flat and boring the Midwest can be – which is why I’m so impressed by the exteriors in your movies. How do you find good locations, and how are you able to make the Sunflower State look so bright and colorful?
You got it spot on: very flat and very boring. There was a large time span when all we seemed to do was mope around complaining about how we wished we lived somewhere else so that we could have access to “prettier” places to shoot. But when we finally stopped whining and actually looked around, we happened to find quite a few good locations. Plus, some of the movies were filmed in Oklahoma (also flat and boring, from what I hear) when Justin lived there for a short time. I can't recall how we found each and every location; in fact, most of them seemed to just show up. Some places we weren't even supposed to film at. In the middle of shooting Mr. Carnival Man some people approached us and let us know that we were on private property and that we weren't allowed to be there. Fortunately for us, the nice people didn't care much and let us finish filming (thank you!). And while filming Through the Hole in the Fence, Justin was threatened by a group of rather intimidating people, all sporting shotguns. Good thing for Justin they were nice as well and let him continue filming. As for the bright, vibrant colors, these are usually the result of filters. We've been lucky enough to have access to some pretty good cameras and editing software, which have really improved the aesthetics of our work.
Talk about your production arsenal. What cameras and editing equipment do you use?
Most of our films have been shot with a Sony HDR SR7, but recently we've had access to a Canon XHA1 and a Canon XL2 that are amazing. All of our films are edited with a mixture of Ulead Video Studio Pro 8, Adobe Premier Pro CS3, and Final Cut Pro.
One of things that’s notable about your work is how complex the sound design is. Why is sound so important?
For our movies, we view the visuals as 49 percent of the final product, and the sound as 51 percent. Sound is a hugely important part of our films, and all movies in general, for that matter. It's what carries most movies along. If you watched any one of our films with the sound muted, I'm pretty sure you'd lose interest rather quickly. We spend a great deal of time editing the film, but the majority of editing time is spent on the sound. And yes, it is often very complex. We get really excited when editing with sounds: we always look for the weirdest sounds that we can find and then add them in somewhere. It's a really fun part, but also the hardest. A movie's feel can completely change based on the sound alone.
Some of your films seem inspired by David Lynch. For instance, take this very Lynchian dialogue exchange in Postmortem:
"You know, there was a bird in my car today."
"Was it red?"
"No, it was a blue bird."
What is it about David Lynch that inspires you, and what are some of your favorite David Lynch films?
I'm glad that you noticed. We happen to really, really like David Lynch. I think what inspires us most about him is the fact that he does what he wants, how he wants, and doesn't seem to mind if others don't like it or disagree. He is completely original and his films are unlike anything we've ever seen. One of our favorite movies is Mulholland Drive. We love it. It's so complex, so confusing, and strange, and beautiful all at once. It's hard to describe. INLAND EMPIRE is up there too, but it's definitely the Lynch film that we understand the least. We also love Eraserhead and are huge fans of the Twin Peaks series. Some of his earlier short films are also wonderful (The Alphabet and The Grandmother, for example.) He has this really cool way of blending comedy and the bizarre into something completely unique. He's definitely one of our biggest influences. And there's actually a strange little story about that bit of dialogue. Austin and I were riding in an Airport bus to be taken back to our car when I overheard the driver discussing with another driver over their walkie-talkies. They were talking about birds. Red birds and blues birds and birds in their cars. We thought it was funny. We thought it was sad. The perfect material for a strange little film.
Pop Spoon represents a real step forward for Fetus Films. Talk about how you came up with this character, and how you got Chase Horseman to do the score.
Pop Spoon is actually based on a true story. Sort of. One of Austin's teachers told the class once that when she was little, she had an imaginary friend named Pop Spoon who looked exactly like her. Austin thought the name was creepy and mentioned it to me and before long, I had written a script and we had made the movie. Of course we embellished the story a bit. I don't think Austin's teacher's imaginary friend was homicidal. We're really proud of Pop Spoon and we agree that it's a step forward in our films. I think what really sets it apart from our other movies is Chase Horseman's score. Chase goes to school with us and has expressed interest in making music for us for quite some time. At the beginning of the school year, Austin, Andrew, and I began working on a full-length movie called I.Q. for our Video Productions Class and we asked Chase to score the film. So he's been working on that for a while now and recently asked if we had any side projects he could help with. We gave him Pop Spoon and let him do whatever with it and when he brought it back, Austin and I were so excited. We couldn't be happier with what he did for the film. We plan on working closely with Chase in the future. He's really great at what he does.
If Pop Spoon and the evil Posse dolls got into a fight, who would win?
I think the Posse dolls would win. As cool and creepy as Pop Spoon is, he's really sensitive at heart. He just wants to be accepted. The Posse dolls, on the other hand, are really mad about what happened to them and they're going to do whatever it takes to get revenge. While they're out making lonely girls go crazy, Pop Spoon's probably sitting in the corner complaining about how no one believes in him. Then again, it could go the other way. That would be an interesting fight indeed.
The immediate future: film school. Justin has already finished the first semester of his freshman year at NYU film school. Austin, Andrew, and I have applied to quite a few film schools including USC, NYU, and UCLA. We plan to learn as much as we can and build our knowledge of cinema arts at these schools in hopes to perhaps “make it” someday. But I think that each of us knows that, in the end, whether we “make it” or not, we'll continue making movies. Filmmaking is who we are. It's what we do. And there's nothing we want more than to make movies for the rest of our lives. We just want to keep doing what we do, and we can't wait to see what comes next.
When we last spoke, we discussed your future plans. Can you give us an update?
Justin just started his sophomore year at NYU Film School and he's really loving it. Andrew is attending Webster University in St. Louis majoring in Film Production and Austin and I are attending USC School of Cinematic Arts, both of us majoring in Cinema-Television Production. We love it. It's so amazing. We're learning so much and having such a great time and we couldn't be happier.
Tell us about I.Q.
It's an hour and twenty minutes long, we worked on it for 344 consecutive days (including the entirety of our senior year and most of the following summer), and we premiered it at a local movie theater for all of our friends and family. It was pretty amazing. Austin and I directed it, I wrote and filmed it, Austin edited it, and Chase Horseman did the original score. It was quite an experience. A very stressful, very long experience, but we're really proud of the final product and we learned a lot from making it. We're also selling DVD’s online with full-length commentary, deleted scenes, and bloopers.