Interview with Filmmaker Benedict Kasulis (TOUCH THE BOULDER)

TOUCH THE BOULDER was the winner of BEST FEATURE FILM at the May 2021 POLITICAL Film Festival.

1. What motivated you to make this film?

I was a fan of DJ’s writing from his time as a sports blogger, and when he said he was quitting his job to run for office, I looked into his campaign. He had a boid platform in a conservative district, and that was intriguing. When I saw his opponent, Jena, was a first time candidate, and younger than DJ, I thought it could be a really interesting race to follow. Either DJ would win as a massive underdog, or Jena would win and become Ohio’s youngest state representative. With that race as a backdrop, it seemed like an engaging way to examine state politics, which I regrettably didn’t follow very closely despite knowing they are very important. So I reached out to DJ and Jena and asked if they would be interested in letting us follow them on their respective campaigns. DJ said yes immediately, and was incredibly accommodating. Jena showed interest, but was a little hesitant, so we decided to proceed and see what we could capture on a limited budget and schedule.

2. From the idea to the finished product, how long did it take for you to make this short?

The project from start to finish took about two years. We contacted the candidates about 100 days before the election, filmed sporadically through the campaign and on the election, and then spent about a year-and-a-half in post. The editing process took a while because I had to keep working full-time and was finding time to work on nights and weekends. There were times when it was a joy and I had to force myself to stop at 3am because I’d have to get up in a few hours, and there were other times when it was a slog. So it took longer than we’d hoped, but in hindsight, with everything we had going on, we’re happy we were able to finish it.

3. How would you describe your short film in two words!?

Cynically quixotic

4. What was the biggest obstacle you faced in completing this film?

The biggest obstacles we faced making this film were time and money. When I wanted to make it, my first call was to my wife, Sandra, to ask if I was an idiot (yes, but not more so than usual), and if she could put up with me trying to do this (couldn’t get any worse). So once she was on board, I called my friends Ryan Dismukes and Filipe Besa, who are both very talented, but also very busy, Producer/DPs. I told them about the project, and said obviously there was no money, but I’d pay for travel, lodging, meals, expendables, whatever else they could think of, if they were able to find time in their schedules. They were both enthusiastic about it, but unsure about their schedules, so we had to just wing it and see what we could shoot. Working around their schedules, they were able to shoot about 25 days between them. I was in the middle of a long editing run for a Netflix series, and I couldn’t afford to leave the job, so I was only able to make it out to Ohio for six days right at the end of the campaign. I asked Nick Schwartz if he could come help produce on that last stint, so that we could have two full crews. Ryan and Nick followed DJ, Filipe and I did interviews, followed Jena when possible, and shot stuff around town. We all stayed in a (provably haunted) airbnb together and had an exhausting blast. Then in post, time was always hard to come by, but Sandra and I were able to find the time we needed to get done.

5. What were your initial reactions when watching the audience talking about your film in the feedback video?

Watching the feedback video was a unique joy. Because of what covid has done to audience screenings in the past 16 months, this isn’t a film we get to experience with an audience very often. In hindsight, that hurt the film a bit because watching it in a theater or screening room with a group of people helps inform decisions in the edit, but we didn’t have that luxury this time around. We sent links to people we respected and trusted, and were fortunate enough to have some of them watch and give constructive criticism, but it’s not the same as the horrifying feeling that you get watching it with a group of people when something doesn’t feel right. It’s like seeing your film with fresh eyes. But even if people don’t like the film in a group screening, you still get to hear people talk about it, and it was sad not to have that with this film. That’s why the feedback video was such a joy to watch. Seeing the film connect with people we don’t know, and hearing them respond positive to things we hoped would work, was the type of fulfillment that artists strive for. It was a highlight in a year without many highlights.

6. When did you realize that you wanted to make films?

I messed around and made music videos or silly short films with some friends as a kid, but I didn’t become serious about wanting to be a storyteller until I was a sophomore in high school. I would write things and share them with friends, get feedback and do new drafts. It was something I loved to do, even when just sharing them with two or three people. So I knew I wanted to tell stories in some way. I didn’t know anything about film, but I loved movies, and was coming of age right around the time independent films were exploding, so it seemed like making movies would be a possibility. Turns out making movies is really hard and expensive! But it’s still just as fun as writing for those friends in high school.

7. What film have you seen the most in your life?

I was obsessed with The Breakfast Club as a kid. I even played the film into an audio cassette recorder so I could listen to it on a walkman. So when I was 12, I could recite the movie from start to finish. Despite it being a great movie, it turns out nobody was interested in seeing me recite the entire thing, so I didn’t go pro with that or anything.

8. You submitted to the festival via FilmFreeway, what are you feelings of the submission platform from a filmmaker’s perspective?

FilmFreeway is a godsend when it comes to simplifying the application for festivals. There’s no way I would have applied to, or been exposed to, as many festivals without it. I wish applying to festivals was less expensive, because the last thing independent filmmakers need is another way to sink a bunch of money into their film, but I understand where that money goes.

9. What is your favorite meal?

Cajun crab boil.

10. What is next for you? A new film?

We’ll see what’s next. I have some ideas I’m pitching and developing, some were on hold because of Covid, so with things clearing up hopefully we can get back out and shoot some stuff. In the meantime I’m working on a limited documentary series for Showtime and writing a couple feature screenplays.


By matthewtoffolo

Filmmaker and sports fan. CEO of the WILDsound Film and Writing Festival

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