It’s impossible to talk about the Wilmington film scene without mentioning David Lynch’s iconic classic, “Blue Velvet.” UK import Benedict Fancy has taken his love of the film to a new level with his documentary of its creation, “It’s A Strange World.” His unique vision for this behind-the-scenes look is from a “below the line” perspective. It serves not only as an homage to the movie itself, but an archive of the first generation of Wilmington film crew members who laid the foundation for the industry we know today.
Here is his story.
encore: Tell us a little bit about the journey that brought you to Wilmington.
Benedict Fancy: I originally moved to the U.S. from England in 2001. I had studied performing arts in the UK, started screenwriting, and in 2002 I moved to Charlotte to get married and begin working for the Charlotte Repertory Theatre as their assistant technical director, building scenery and props. While in Charlotte, I got on some Nascar commercials in the art deptartment, and in 2003, my wife and I moved to Wilmington so she could get her masters in creative writing at UNCW. We never left!
I started working in the local film industry in the locations department, and switched to becoming a grip, which I still do. I wrote and optioned two screenplays, won some fairly low-key accolades for my writing and started directing my own scripts locally.
Last year, I started a motion picture production company, Fiddler’s Creek Productions, with Wilmington filmmakers Shawn Lewallen, Derek Tindall and Shane Callahan. For the last four years I’ve also been teaching video and film electives at Cape Fear Academy. We’re about to open our brand new performing arts facility in 2012 where I’ll be fulfilling the role of technical director, as well as continuing to teach.
e: Tell us a little about how “Blue Velvet” influenced you as a filmmaker.
BF: I first saw “Blue Velvet” on a very bad VHS bootleg copy while in college in the mid-’90s. The film was unlike anything I had ever seen. Coming from a relatively small English town, the only movies I was exposed to growing up were Hollywood films playing at the local theatre and reruns on British television—nothing as caustic, violent and sinister as “Blue Velvet.” The film affected me deeply. I had an instant urge to discover the darker side of the human condition.
A few of my short films, “The Calming” and “The Hotel Trade” veered toward those themes. It is something that is always present in the stories I write. I remember my mother watching Lynch’s “Twin Peaks” on late-night television and explaining to me that the reason I couldn’t watch it was because I wouldn’t understand the symbolism and its complex characters. The irony now is ridiculous! I had always had a fascination with America and “Blue Velvet.” I never thought I’d find myself living here, especially in Lynch’s fictional Lumberton!
e: What are your hopes for the finished product? What do you hope audiences take away from the movie?
BF: To our knowledge, no one has ever produced a documentary about the crew who helped create [this] significant film—[especially not] by reuniting them with the original shooting locations that still exist today. You always see behind-the-scenes and making-of documentaries that include interviews with the cast, the producers and the director, but you never hear the stories from the technicians, the unsung heroes of the film industry who worked alongside these people. Being a film technician myself, the stories and experiences from the point of view of the crew behind Wilmington’s most significant film is very important—to capture those recollections and experiences before they are lost.
While filming this documentary, we’ve already lost Dino De Laurentiis, [who financed and produced it through De Laurentiis Entertainment Group], actor Dennis Hopper and local props master, Edward “Tantar” LeViseur. The crew’s stories need to be archived before more are lost. This was, after all, the freshman class of Wilmington’s film industry!
I hope to capture the experiences from the crew-members who worked with Lynch, and create a truly original and insightful documentary that gives fans of “Blue Velvet” a new and different look into the making of an American cult classic. My hope is that the film will be finished and ready for an audience by next spring. We should be done shooting interviews by the end of 2011 and will begin post-production in the new year.
Ideally I’d like the film to have a short run on the festival circuit in 2012 and to also shop it out to studios and networks who specialize in documentaries.
e: Without giving too much away, what was your favorite moment or revelation while making the film.
BF: Oh man, where do I start? One of my favorites so far has to be meeting Jeff Goodwin (“Blue Velvet” make-up supervisor) and holding “Mr. Ear” for the first time in a hotel room in New York City! Very surreal! I felt like we were dealing in black-market body parts!
I have many stand-out moments from shooting interviews this summer, but two that stick out were taking the films second AD, Ian Woolf, back to the Barbary Coast for the first time in 25 years and hearing his story about a scene they shot inside the bar. It was cut from the film’s theatrical release and shows a woman setting her nipples on fire! Just amazing details that no-one has ever heard of before, up until now.
The other moment: Having the film’s steadicam operator, Dan Kneece, return to the stairwell at Carolina Apartments. We filmed Dan re-enacting two famous shots he operated on at that location. Just hearing the complexity of what he had to do to get those shots and then seeing his interview footage run alongside the actual scenes from the film has been an incredible highlight for me so far! These moments coming out of the interviews really solidify how this film needs to be made—these stories need to be captured. I am just so very blessed to be able to have the opportunity to meet and work with these individuals who helped Lynch make “Blue Velvet.”