15th Aug2018

Interview: Harley Wallen talks ‘Bennett’s Song’

by Phil Wheat

Bennett’s Song is a heart-warming new film about love, acceptance and inclusion. Directed by Harley Wallen and written by Nancy Oeswein, and starring Tara Reid (American Pie, Sharknado), Harley Wallen (Into A Dark Mind, Betrayed), Aphrodite Nikolovski (Cut/Print, Answer This!), Dennis Haskins (Saved By The Bell, A Million Ways To Die In The West), Calhoun Koenig (Moving Parts, Agramon’s Gate), and Victoria Mullen (Model No. Human, Whiskey Tango); this sweet and sentimental film follows two very modern families and a young girl with big music dreams. It is a very timely celebration of diversity, love and acceptance that has been described as Modern Family meets High Fidelity.

BENNETT'S-SONG-POSTER

What originally attracted you to Bennett’s Song?

My partner wrote the script and the it is absolutely fantastic. It’s a really current story about what it feels like to look and be different. To have a different family, different circumstances and still finds ways to be relatable. It is just about the difficulties to be a family now period. I was so scared, I have done thrillers, action and that style of film, then here comes this family-romance-comedy. I am like oh my god, how am I going to direct this thing? We are going to have over 20 children in this movie, I was just like really afraid and I really wanted to go to Nancy and go you are going to have to find somebody else. But every single time I felt that way I was worried that whoever was going to direct the film would not give it justice, they would make a cheesy kids film. They wouldn’t really cater to the entire audience. This is the type of film that I think a lot of mums are gonna grab and watch it with the family night type of movie. They are gonna sit on the couch and the dad is probably not going to be that interested, but by the end he is going to say, “You know what honey, that was a damn good movie”. It is just that type of movie it has a humongous audience.

We had a friends and family local screening for this film and we sold out over a thousand tickets for this thing, it was unbelievable. We have had three or four of the biggest premiers in the city and this one just blew everything away. We couldn’t get enough theatres, we couldn’t get enough anything. We had people on the way out saying if you are making a sequel for this I want to invest. Usually you have to go chase down investors, but people were just blown away by it. It has a really different film from what we normally do, where we are making a thriller, an action movie or a psychological thriller like Into a Dark Mind. There people walk out, and they are like Wow! They can’t believe what they just saw. But Bennett’s Song even now we have already had two festivals nominate us. We won Best Romance in Amsterdam and Best Feature Film in Berlin already, it has started right out of the gate. This film is brand new onto the festival circuit and is already winning, it’s going to be very interesting to see what happens. We originally took aim at some really big festivals which are Oscar qualifying, but when you do those festivals you essentially have to give up your distribution, because you need to have an unreleased film. So, we kicked around the idea, we entered into some of those festivals and then we made a decision to release the film. Because we want to release it before the summers over so families can sit down and watch the movie. We are looking at some cable stations, especially for a film like this we are looking at Lifetime, Hallmark and some other channels out there that I think would be a fantastic fit. We’ll see what happens but that is the plan.

You mentioned there that you had over 20 kids in the film and actress Tara Reid, what was it like on the set making the film?

It was the most complicated directing job I’ve ever have done for sure, but we took out time. Our casting was really selective, they had to jump through hoops three times to be a part of the cast. We had two table reads, two rehearsals, so by the time we came to the set we had the absolute best kids. We really got them to understand and coached them through the acting and growth pains. We took a lot of time to get through production and it was absolutely worth it.

As for the cast with Tara Reid and Dennis Haskins from Saved by the Bell, they were super easy to work with. I have worked with Dennis now three times and I guarantee I will bring him back again. Tara was very easy to work with, I wasn’t sure how thrilled she was to be the villain, but she was a good sport and she delivered what we wanted from the character. I could see her getting some nice notes in the media circles for her job, she was really solid.

As well as directing the film you are also play one of the leads Cole Bennet. Were you always planning to both direct and act in the film?

No actually. Nancy my business partner wrote that role for me, so she had me in mind all along, but it was the biggest role that I directed along side acting. I was in over 30 scenes which made it a different challenge for me, but I have such an established team behind the camera for me now that allows me to direct through the rehearsals and my crew really follows direction incredibly well. I would have been really scared to take on that big of a role without having such an established team behind the camera. It was a challenge I am not going to lie. The biggest challenge for me was not the amount of scenes, it was playing a role so similar to myself. To draw the line between Cole Bennett and Harley Wallen when both have so many similarities. She kind of wrote the role a little bit based on my life, so a lot of my personal the traits were in Cole, which she didn’t realise from an acting perspective can make it more challenging. Her daughter Calhoun Koenig is also one of the leads and she wrote a role also for her that had some strong similarities. We both talked about the challenge of playing somebody who is a lot like you, but not you. It’s been almost like going to a psychiatrist for a couple of months because you get to make decisions as somebody else who is incredibly like yourself. So, you almost get to second guess some of the things which you have done in your life. That was really interesting, and I loved it. And we are making a sequel this Christmas, so a sequel is being made this year.

And do you have a completed script for the sequel?

We are probably half way through the first draft. I am excited to see where we are taking this story. I can’t reveal it now, but the story leaves us at the touch of a cliff-hanger and we are continuing that in the second story. It is going to be really interesting to see. I said to Nancy, don’t tell me too much about what you are writing just yet. We just finished shooting the horror film Agramon’s Gate and we are right now in pre-production for Abeyance which is a sci-fi action thriller that we are shooting next summer. One of my tricks is I can compartmentalize my brain and I can only have one story in my head at one time, so I said, “Nancy, just go with it, I trust you, you wrote a great script the first time just go”. The only thing she said was “I have some really fun stuff that’s going to happen to your character” and I just said, “Oh my god!” we will see what that means. I just said, you can’t add any more kids, we had 20 or so in the first one, we can’t be adding kids, that was the promise she had to give me.

Was it always planned for your to do a sequel or has this come from the feedback which you received?

It’s from the feedback and from how many people have loved the message. Nancy wrote the story with a deaf girl and we took a big chance. Instead of casting somebody playing deaf we cast a deaf girl, so we had to have an interpreter on set. She plays my daughter, so we had a fair amount of scenes and we added some layers of difficulties with this, but it is such a beautiful story people just cant get enough.

Bennett’s Song is available on DVD and Digital now from Vision Films

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