Interview with Filmmaker Jeremy Benning (FOOTSTEPS)

FOOTSTEPS played to rave reviews at the July 2021 Short Documentary Film Festival.

1. What motivated you to make this film?

This film is incredibly personal for me.

I first met Andy Malcolm in 1990. My parents arranged a surprise visit to “Film House” (the name of a now defunct post production facility) in Toronto for my 16th birthday, as I had a keen interest in photography and sound at that age. I had seen the classic 1979 film Andy made called “Track Stars: The Unsung Heroes of Movie Sound” on TVOntario as a kid, and had become fascinated with the concept of Foley and sound effects in general. Over a few years back in those days, I would visit Andy and his team and hang out to watch them work. I’d sit quietly in the dark at the back of his Foley stage and watch Andy perform to a 35mm projection of the films they’d be working on. Sometimes I would even help out, and dabbled in Foley myself at times on my own student films.

I would end up becoming a cinematographer as an adult; but never lost interest in sound.I’d heard later that Andy had moved to a rural property an hour north of the city in the early 2000’s. We reconnected a few years ago (after 25 years!). After visiting their studios, I was struck with the idea of capturing some of their philosophies of Foley that I’d been introduced to as a wide-eyed teenager.

I’d also like to point out my homage to Track Stars in general, as the film had such an impact on me as a kid. The use of split screens in the opening sequence of Footsteps is directly inspired by that film Andy made way back when. Even the general photographic tonality, lighting and final colour grade are a nod to the look and feel of Track Stars, which was shot by iconic Canadian cinematographer Mark Irwin csc asc. Andy had in his possession the only 35mm release print remaining of the film, he owned the rights. I was able to get the film scanned in 4K (which had never been done before) in order to get the best quality clips of it for my short.

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

About five years. I began making this film in 2016, I started doing with the interviews with Andy, Goro and Sandra first. I went back to their foley farm several times over the ensuing years until I had finally completed it in early 2020, right after all the lockdowns began. My last in-person shoot at their studios was January of 2020. My good friend and top notch editor Kurt Ritchie cut the film for a few weeks after that and then in mid-March 2020 we recorded the score at Canterbury studios in Toronto. That was actually my first real taste of remote work in the new pandemic world. Tyler Emond the composer (and bassist) went into the studio with Adam Campbell the marimba player and I was attending via Zoom and giving notes from home.

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

Sonic wonder.

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

One of the main challenges of making this film was working around everyone’s busy schedules. I was often working on The Expanse and the foley team at Footsteps is constantly busy, I could really only go film there when they had gaps in their schedules, which I had to hope would land when I had a free day. Combine that with the hour plus drive each way, meant it would take a fair bit of coordinating for each visit. I probably went back and forth 6 or 7 times over 5 years.

Then there was the post production during a pandemic. I have to give huge thanks to Deluxe Toronto for the massive favour on all the colour grading and 5.1 sound mix (by the Oscar nominated Christian. Cooke!). Thankfully I was set up for remote grading season 5 of The The Expanse with them from home with a special calibrated OLED monitor and a proprietary internet link to Deluxe’s facilities, so I was able to work with Joanne my colourist from home on Footsteps using the same technology.

When it came to the sound mix a few weeks later, Deluxe was allowing limited access to the building, so they set me up in my own 5.1 mix theatre, and Christian was in his own theatre down the hall – perfect social distancing!

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

I really loved hearing their reactions, because it reaffirmed how well the film worked in getting the message and feeling across I was trying for the whole time I was making it. They really seemed to take away the vibe I was hoping would resonate with viewers.

Watch the Audience FEEDBACK Video:

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

I was probably around 9 or 10, seeing films in theatre like Raiders of the Lost Ark and then seeing the making of films on TV afterwards opened my eyes to this whole world of story telling and artistry.

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

I tend not to rewatch films generally speaking… but if I had to choose one, it would be Baraka. Its been a few years now since I have watched it – but I have seen it at least 6 or 7 times. To me its a time capsule, a visual poem… the kind of film that I would hand to an alien race if they came down and needed a crash course in the human experience.

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

The platform seems to be a huge asset to filmmakers of all levels. There is part of me that feels like its become a giant business of endless festivals that hand out awards and laurels constantly to satiate the massive output of thousands of filmmakers worldwide… but I still feel its important to have such a platform and all the exposure it allows artists.

9. What is your favorite meal?

Nothing beats a good hearty vegetable stew and some crusty bread.

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

I am about to start prep on a new Netflix anthology series I am DPing here in Toronto, unfortunately I can’t say much more other than its pretty exciting! In terms of personal projects like Footsteps, my partner Francis Luta and I have a few indie docs we have at various stages of development, we are hopeful one or more can find funding… that is always the challenge with indie projects. Our first feature we made together, which came out in 2020 (“Alone Across the Arctic”) was entirely self-financed. It was a good learning experience – meaning that going forward; we want learned to focus on finding funding before undertaking commitments too early.

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