Far Out Meets: Ben Briand, the fiercely creative director behind ‘Apricot’
At Far Out Magazine we believe in cinema’s ability to heal.
At a time when millions of people remain locked inside amid strict social distancing measures and cinemas around the world continue to keep their doors closed, we want to shine a light on filmmakers on a personal level.
Turning our attention to the work created by independent artists, we have launched our new weekly series ‘The Far Out Film Club’. The project will focus on one filmmaker during each episode and will premiere on both of Far Out Magazine’s Facebook page and YouTube channel every Wednesday.
Offering a platform for filmmakers around the world, promoting their work to millions of cinephiles while also connecting them to other creatives, our second edition of the series welcomes director Ben Briand and his emotionally charged short film Apricot.
Briand, director working across narrative and commercial disciplines, is a creative who feeds on the beauty of honest human performances, focusing heavily on the ability to portray emotion in the rawest form. Having previously worked on projects with the likes of Gal Gadot, Cate Blanchett, Rose Byrne, Joseph Fiennes, Jackie Weaver and more, the director has seen his work premiere at the most prestigious of events including an exclusive world screening at the SXSW Film Festival.
With Apricot, Briand is telling the story of two young people enjoying a date in the formative moments of their relationship. Reflecting on first love, initial kisses and fond memories, it becomes clear that the dynamic of the conversation is tinged with a missing part. For the director, the project was a clear attempt to “emulate a beautiful dream” as he cuts back and forth between childhood memories.
“For the story to be effective I was interested to tap into a memory that everyone would have which forms a sense of our identity and that became the memory of a first kiss,” Briand told Far Out Magazine.
“For Apricot I was inspired because of a piece of music that I fell in love with. I felt like I had found what the film should feel like through that track and it gave me a guide. I like to share music with the writers and actors that I work with as a kind of unspoken short hand for mood,” he added. “Other times the inspiration comes from the tone of a photograph or the emotional charge of a drawing. As for theme, it ultimately leads to an exploration of what makes up our personal identities. That’s not deliberate it’s just what I seem to be continually attracted to.”
Here, as part of the Far Out Film Club, we are premiering a screening of Briand’s short film which is available through our Facebook and YouTube channels.
See the film and a full conversation with its creator, below.
Far Out: Given the current circumstances, and the struggles that the film industry is facing, how difficult is it to be an independent director right now?
Briand: “There is a tendency for people to say that it’s all shit but there are plusses as well as minuses. Yes, the physical production is going to be a minefield and there will be so many specifications that will create a difficult working environment on top of what is an already tricky environment. And the festival situation (or lack of) seems to be making it tough for colleagues that are hoping to get their work seen. But it’s also created a situation where financiers and producers are reading material that they normally wouldn’t have time for because life was too hectic and almost everyone I know has embraced the space to write and get focussed. So I think these elements are giving filmmakers a different kind of push.”
Similarly, on a personal level as both a film viewer and creator, how important is cinema as a form of release at the moment?
“I think we can safely say that visual storytelling, be it narrative or documentary, have been an essential cornerstone of this experience. It has comforted and confronted how people navigated this recent period of difficulty and unusualness.
“This situation, although under difficult circumstances, is a once in a lifetime situation. It’s a moment of global pause that has the potential to show us something that we have never seen before. So for me, the messages that cinema carry are even more heightened because you have audiences attention in a way that we don’t usually have.”
We’re focusing on your project ‘Apricot’ could you explain where this idea came from?
“Apricot was one of three short films I made in a 12 month period that explored the relationship between memory and identity. One film was quite abstract, another was like a nightmare so with Apricot I wanted to try and emulate a beautiful dream.
“For the story to be effective I was interested to tap into a memory that everyone would have which forms a sense of our identity and that became the memory of a first kiss.”
Detail, if you could, how the scenario of this project was formed, how did you develop your ideas and did the end product match your initial expectations?
“I had a different script that featured a young girl and boy sharing their first kiss on the porch of his house. But it was about something totally different; a spaceman returning to earth to say goodbye to a loved one. The kiss scene felt so interesting to me that I took that and the feeling of circular, karmic payoff of a stranger actually being someone important from your formative years and wrote the Apricot script.
“I had come from doing a lot of corporate videos in my early 20s. So I basically used the same technique of talking heads in conversation and intercut them with action from elsewhere. The difference was that these were treated as memories to give a different layer of consciousness to the film’s narrative. The end product matched the experiment I set out to make. The audience’s positive reaction was completely unexpected.
Did your creative vision change when you began to understand more about your process?
“Absolutely. When the work shows something back to you that you didn’t realise about yourself it’s magical. But by the time it does that it’s finished and a decent amount of time has passed. You try not to analyse it too much and just take it into the next project.”
Did you encounter any unexpected difficulties in its creation?
“Well, no one thought it was going to work, including many of the people actually making the thing. It’s a strange little film on paper because not much seems to happen in a traditional sense. The gear shifts are very subtle compared to the traditional language of how short films are made. But I had a hunch which I kept following and tried not to let the doubt creep in.
“I give full credit to the actors Ewen and Laura for trusting this strange project and making the emotional core feel real.”
We’ve reached a point in cinema, much like that of the music industry, when the phrase “we’ve seen it all before” becomes a topical debate.
“How do you stay original? How do you find ways to produce something unique in a market that has so many creatives? Or is being unique even that important?
“As viewers, we want a sense of the familiar but also something we have never had before. I actually dislike the coming of age short film genre, so Apricot was a strange challenge to myself to do one the way that I wanted to see it. It’s a delicate dance between the people with the money (clients or financiers) wanting assurance that what is being made has worked before and the creators wanting to do something that feels unique. I think the result is best when there is a healthy tension between the two.”
What/who are some of your major cinematic influences?
“Videotronics in Edgecliff, Sydney Australia. I worked there for seven years in my teen years. It was a sanctuary filled with so much to discover. I grew up on a steady diet of horror. Apricot’s biggest influence was Nightmare on Elm Street would you believe. It might be a stretch to see why, but the slippage of reality and dreamlike quality of that film thrilled me as a kid.
“I also fell in love with art house cinema and the bizarreness of it all. So when I discovered directors like Cronenberg, Kubrick and Lynch that were knitting together aspects from both camps I found my influences.”
Do you think those influences are prevalent in your work?
“Sure. It all goes inside and feeds the basis of your language. But it takes many years to make sure that you are listening to your own voice and not theirs though. I would say I actually watch less commercials, short films and features than most of my director friends because I don’t like being too swamped by what others are doing. So I often look to other mediums. I
“I never studied traditional film making, I came from a Fine Arts background. I am working on a new project at the moment and all the influences are coming from music and painting references. It’s really refreshing.”
Given your inspiration, could you run us through your process? What distinctive themes are you looking to create, if any?
“The process is different every single time. It depends on where the seed of the idea comes from. For Apricot I was inspired because of a piece of music that I fell in love with. I felt like I had found what the film should feel like through that track and it gave me a guide. I like to share music with the writers and actors that I work with as a kind of unspoken shorthand for mood.
“Other times the inspiration comes from the tone of a photograph or the emotional charge of a drawing. As for the theme, it ultimately leads to an exploration of what makes up our personal identities. That’s not deliberate it’s just what I seem to be continually attracted to.”
Generally, speaking, what attracts you to a certain subject or field?
“I like subjective film making. Meaning films that are executed to place you inside a character’s view of the world. Cinema is the most effective medium to replicate the human experience. We all experience the world in a unique way so that elevated presentation seems to work well in stories about human perception. Which also leads back to the personal identity idea.
“I like that we can adjust and play with the way we see the world through the language of moving pictures.”
Moving on to the subject of independent cinema, I’m keen to know your thoughts on its current standing. How important is independent film today, what does it mean to you?
“I love the anarchic and groundbreaking content of the 1970s American New Wave and fell in love with movies during the 1990’ Sundance aesthetic. So I have a very big love for independent cinema. I definitely mourn the loss of the 20-30 million dollar film on our screens. They were a mix of edgy material with great cinematic craft. I do believe that the streamers are going to help pick up the slack here and give a place for emerging voices to put out more challenging content than we’ve seen over the last 15 years.”
Short films are often closely affiliated with independent film and filmmakers, do you think the landscape of this medium has changed over time?
“It has always been seen as a place to prove oneself and explore the ideas that you are interested in. But as music videos and then fashion films became part of the landscape it was interesting to see the medium expand. Mainly because production values were elevated and you saw established filmmakers dipping back into the medium, rather than young ones. This gave greater credibility and appreciation for the form to a wider audience in my mind.”
Finally, do you have any ideas in terms of which sphere of cinema you may be exploring next?
“I have a number of feature projects that are at various stages. One that I was passionately working on for many years flamed out but I have recently been offered a new project by a group of wonderful filmmakers so I’m zeroing in on that during this unusual time.”