20 Questions with Ben Trebilcook
A bit of a different one boys and girls. We have a little Q&A with screenwriter and producer Ben Trebilcook. We ask a question, they answer. That's how this works. There's nothing else for me to do but get into the Q&A.
1. What is your name?
2. What do you do?
That’s a tough one to answer right now and actually, always has been. I recall a former mentor of mine, Elliot Grove, who created the Rain Dance Film Festival. He told me to always say “I’m a screenwriter” whether I had another income or not. It’s true, I am a writer. Countless friends over the years, actors, writers and musicians, would be asked what they did when introduced to others and they’d say: “I work in a car dealership or I teach, etc” following it with: “But I also act.”
I’ve worked the supermarkets and have been a teacher, but I wrote throughout. Always say your craft first. You’ll know doubt be asked: “What do you really do?” or “Do you make a living from it?” People seem to think that’s an OK thing to ask. The nicer people would just respond with a ‘cool’ or talk about movies, art or music. So, yes, I’m a writer. I write screenplays and have written four novels.
3. How did you start out?
I’m forever starting out to be honest. It’s a business you have to be on top of continuously. I always wanted to get into Special Effects, though I began by writing and acting in sketches and short films a friend and I made in our teens. Camcorders and nothing more really. My A-Levels were in fine art and graphic design and English and I wasn’t particularly that good at any of them. I couldn’t get into the film school I wanted to as it was a ridiculous amount of money each term. I went the film festival route; Rain Dance and intensive directing courses, all whilst working in a supermarket.
There are many interweaving stories during this time as different creative projects developed over the course of a year that set me on a certain path. I guess the biggest game-changer for me was that I had always wanted to write a Die Hard movie. I was 21, it was 1996 and I had written a Die Hard 4 script. I had no idea what to do with it. I was full time in the supermarket, too. The internet wasn’t what it was today, but it was certainly a growing beast. I had become friends with some tremendous guys who each owned the top movie sites around the world. The press used to take all their scoops and use them for their thin showbiz stories. I’d write for the websites, too and oddly, a few years later, contribute to some of the movie mags and freelance showbiz columns for the like of The Sun and The Express. Anyway, word got around the net that a British guy working the beers, wines and spirits aisle had written a potential script for a fourth instalment of the Die Hard franchise. News of me ended up in some national press and a variety of magazines. It was the nineties, so lads mags were in their prime.
I wrote to a hundred agents in LA, seeking representation. I had two positive replies. One was an agent and an attorney, so I signed with him. It just so happened that he went to law school with Bruce Willis’ attorney. It was now 1998. I had written countless other scripts and was trying to get representation in the UK and it didn’t happen and – three US agents, one US manager, two US entertainment attorneys, one Australian manager and one agent in China later - still hasn’t happened to this day, all for the want of trying.
The Willis camp gave me six years to try and gain attention somehow as that was when Die Hard 4 fitted into his schedule. In 2000 Cruise/Wagner Productions had me rework another action spec of mine into Mission: Impossible 3. I went to LA and did a few other bits and pieces. It was a long time ago and once again, the internet was not what it is today.
4. What is your favourite part of being a creative?
It’s not boring. It’s exciting. It’s make-believe in every possible sense. You meet wonderful people, in between meeting idiots. Everywhere you go, every person you meet is a story.
5. What is the hardest part of being a creative?
Chasing the money. Many will say: “Don’t do it for the money” but of course you need to be paid. People take advantage of writers and always have done. It starts with the script, yet many don’t want to pay for it or pay you to do it. Writer’s a treated terribly. That and being understood by those who are not creative. That’s tough, too.
6. How has the pandemic affected you and your work?
Jeez, well, I was in the midst of producing a female-driven spy movie, called Daisy Scarlett. It’s been a long in development project. I’m producing it with an old friend and producing legend, Mario Kassar (Terminator 2, Total Recall, Basic Instinct, Rambo). The movie is set in the Far East and we’ve been putting various pieces together, however, not only did the pandemic cause for everything to be shut down, but the movie is about a weaponised virus stolen from China! What are the odds? I’ve not really written much in months. So many other life factors, unfortunately.
7. How have you overcome it?
You last it out. You look at how the world is and the way it’s likely to be headed. That’s changed a few scripts of mine that were in the works. I get online and network. Everyone is in the same boat. I like the celebrity stillness. They’re meaningless. Those who were once flooding our feed on social media are being rendered pointless. Real people and those who save lives are what people want to see, not self-obsessed idiots, pouting and doing selfies, wanting likes and hearts. It’s a time to get scripts out there. People aren’t doing much, so there’s time to read. It’s a time to be as creative as possible, all whilst fitting other life stuff in.
8. What is your proudest moment?
Tough one. Getting on a plane on my own and heading to LA or Cannes or New York and just thinking ‘you can do this’. I could list a few script sales that were ‘wow moments’, but a proud moment, regarding this business, for me, is having confidence and belief in one’s self.
9. What is the most ridiculous story from your time in the industry?
I have too many. They’re pub conversations, if pubs ever open again and if I ever set foot in one.
10. What is your advice for someone just starting out?
I ask myself whether it is easier for someone now. There are more outlets for filmmakers and certainly more assistance for writers. It’s always been about networking. You can do that from a laptop or a phone now. Friends of mine run Stage32, which is tremendous. Get on Twitter. Make stuff, write stuff and get it out there on Youtube or Vimeo.
11. As a writer, how do you structure your screenplays?
I just write them. It depends on what I’m writing actually. Sometimes I’d write all the best stuff or all the action sequences and then write what goes in between. I try and get my plot out there by page 15. I like to have an action element every 15 pages. I’m not a fan of people who tell you this is how one should write a screenplay and this is how it will sell. Are those people selling screenplays, too or are they just selling books?
12. As a father, how are you balancing work and family life?
I’m not to be perfectly honest. It’s a difficult time and pandemic aside everything is kind of on hold as I am full-on single dad mode.
13. Do you prefer to produce your own work or someone else's?
I produced a sci-fi a few years back, but that was a good friend of mine who directed and produced with me. I’d prefer my own work and that’s how it’ll be really. It depends on what aspect of producing. Finance is hard. I’m more a creative producer when doing so.
14. What's your advice to anyone who is trying to produce their own work?
Remember, it’s your work, but sometimes you’ve got to let someone else hold your baby.
15. If you're reading a screenplay, what makes you excited and want to work on that particular project?
I’ve foolishly turned down things that have become very, very cool, so answering this is difficult.
16. If you could tell your younger self one thing, what would it be?
Wow, how far back do you go? And is it regarding life in general or filmmaking? Those questions, man. “Don’t go out with that one, kiss that one, don’t sue that one, split up with that one!” or “Do not turn down to work on a cartoon that became South Park. When Matt and Trey ask you to hang round Europe with them, do it.” or “Get an earlier plane when arranging to meet Bruce Willis in Paris” or “Don’t linger, just go for it.”
17. What do you think the industry will look like after the pandemic is over?
One meter apart.
18. Are you hopeful that the industry will recover?
It’s forever evolving. It has to. It’ll get back to ‘normal’. Tech will advance certain aspects. People will want to and have to work. This pandemic has proved creatives will think outside the box. Some intelligent filmmaking has shown this with certain lockdown shows. Of course it’ll recover. What is changing and should have never been a factor is more female-centric movies and people of colour making movies and being the leads in movies and recognised for the fact.
19. What are you working on at the moment?
Apart from life, several are in the works really. My Daisy Scarlett ‘female Bond’ is on hold for a bit, but is being produced by Mario Kassar and I in Indonesia. I’m writing a couple of action movies; one in the Himalayas, one set on a construction site. A couple of projects with a local director pal of mine, in Southend. A possible directing debut and a TV show with a music theme. There’s also a big comedy sequel I’m up for and that I’ve started toying with, but it’s very early days. A lot of plates being spun. I hope to get another book out, but it’s doubtful this year.
20. Are there any social medias you'd like to promote?
You can find me on Insta and Twitter @BenTrebilcook
Thank you to Ben for taking the time to answer these questions in such an open and honest way. I hope we can meet up once restrictions are lifted. If you have anyone you'd like us to do a '20 Questions' with, drop it in the comments below,
Bye for now.