Ben Robins, The Edge‘s Film Editor for 2015/16 and one of the founders of our beloved Student Film Festival, is making his film debut tonight with the short film Losing It as part of the Sky Arts scheme shortFLIX. Ahead of his very special night, we caught up with him and chatted about the journey towards Losing It , his time with The Edge, and his advice for our future filmmakers.
Hi Ben! Congratulations on your debut! Just to start us off, tell us a bit about yourself and how you got into filmmaking!
Thanks so much – there’s not a lot to tell so far to be honest. I graduated from uni in Southampton a few years back, and I’d always been a bit of a dabbler. I grew up on a lot of weird TV and films, pretty much all genre stuff. A couple of my friends and I would shoot really basic, silly sketches, like rockumentaries and kung-fu spoofs, in our gardens as teenagers, and I also co-wrote and directed our Sixth Form play just before I left for uni, so they were no doubt the foundations.
Writing came easy, but I’m fairly useless when it comes to anything technical and messing around with cameras just freaked the hell out of me, so I disappeared into scripts for a long time. But you reach a point where you realise the words aren’t really going to do anything just sat there, and I had the visuals floating around somewhere in my head, so I decided to find some talented technical people who did know what they were doing, and see if they’d help me.
What is shortFLIX and how did you get involved with it?
It’s a scheme set up by Creative England, Sky, and the National Youth Theatre to help filmmakers with no industry training or background actually get something made. Which has been a total godsend because a lot of the time, if you’re not rich or technically minded or haven’t been interning for free since you were 12, you just hit a lot of brick-walls. At the beginning of 2017 I wasn’t in the best place. I was crashing in my girlfriend’s student flat with no money and on the brink of giving up on everything film-wise, and I filled in an application on a whim after I wrote Losing It just to amuse myself one night.
They liked my idea and I was invited to pitch a few times, was taken through a couple of rounds of workshops where I met a lot of incredible young filmmakers, and then I pitched at Sky and they gave me the green-light. Suddenly I had a budget, and producers, and a crew, and it all came together super quickly. At the risk of sounding like an advert, they really did bend over backwards to make sure it was accessible to everyone, looking all over the country and paying train fares for people far away from the hubs like London. I learned everything I needed to learn while in active production, and it ended up being the best, most condensed film school imaginable!
Now tell us what Losing It is about! What inspired you to make it?
Losing It is a very dark, sort-of silly comedy about sex and one-night-stands and how weird that whole area is. I’m a big fan of simple set-ups that kind of balloon into big ideas, so it’s incredibly small – all in one room – and then it goes to some pretty far-out places from there narratively. It’s like a nastier, 21st-century version of one of Roald Dahl’s Tales of the Unexpected, crossed with a very cheap and seedy Gaspar Noe film. My DoP Adam and I saw it as Enter the Void in Peckham.
The aim was to flip the whole gender dynamic in sex – show how much pressure so many young men put on themselves to lose their virginity, and how much pressure so many young women feel when their sexual tastes are a bit more unusual. Then we just threw as many comedic spanners in a long the way as possible. I think I just got fed up seeing all these clean and perfectly prissy versions of sex on screen, when it’s nothing like that at all. To a lot of people, a one night stand is sort of like a horror film.
How long did the whole filmmaking process take?
From when I applied to shortFLIX, to the premiere this week, it’s been just over a year, but quite a bit of that was waiting for feedback or confirmations. The script was a lot longer originally, so we spent a few months refining it, and pre-production takes a while too – there were a lot of trips in and out of London, hunting down abandoned houses and we spent a few afternoons auditioning 50-odd actors in one go. Shooting the whole thing though was only 2 days, and editing was very relaxed. All-in, it’s been a bit of a marathon, but I had the best time.
Now that Losing It is about to air, what are your plans for the future?
Part of me just wants to curl up into a ball under my bed for a bit, but I know it’s best to hit the ground running. I’ve got my head in a bunch of different film festival submissions at the moment, so the plan is to take Losing It around the country (or maybe even the globe) over the summer and the rest of 2018, and show it to as many people as possible.
Since we hit post-production I’ve been writing a lot more too, and I have two fairly developed shorts that I’d love to get cracking on. One’s a straight-up ’70s-style body horror, and the other is a simple, but much more absurd comedy, so I’ll see which one gains some traction first. I’ve made so many great friends through the whole process of making Losing It, I just want to find a way to collaborate with them all again.
Obviously, you were The Edge‘s Film Editor in 2015/16 and you also wrote for us quite a lot. Did this role nudge you in the direction of filmmaking? What did it mean to you?
Here’s where we get a little sappy – writing for The Edge was the best thing I did while at university. Writing about film gave me this much bigger education in it all, it meant I saw a whole bunch of really diverse and interesting movies (pretty much all for free too), and on quite a few occasions, I got to actually sit down and ask filmmakers themselves about their take on things too. You can’t beat that!
My work with The Edge helped me to set up the Student Film Festival too, and meet so many ridiculously clever and inspiring young filmmakers who all did so much with so little. Part of me definitely wishes I had made more films while at uni (aside from the Halloween atrocity I made with Wessex Films in freshers), but I think I just wasn’t there confidence wise. I really looked up to the people who were, and they’re kind of the reason Losing It exists.
Finally, do you have any advice for our writers/aspiring filmmakers hoping to follow in your steps?
Get your head out of your arse and for God’s sake make something. I sat around waiting for signs, or making excuses for way too long. Even if it’s terrible, just make something on your phone or borrow a camera from a society, and then you can review it and learn how to do better.
So much of filmmaking is just putting yourself out there. Asking for help, or feedback, or showing other people what you’ve done – it all helps build confidence and makes you identify as a filmmaker. Make stuff that’s 100% you and that only you could make. Be patient, stay positive and just keep chasing whatever opportunities you can find. And be aware that there’s not a lot of money in it either, so you’re working for yourself.
Catch Losing It and the other shortFLIX finalists on Sky Arts tonight at 10:30pm, and afterwards on Sky On Demand.