The Dinosaur Project - Sid Bennett interview (exclusive)
Interview by Rob Carnevale
SID Bennett talks about some of the challenges of directing The Dinosaur Project and why it’s inspiration didn’t come from the possibility of making a found footage movie but rather from real-life.
He also talks about some of the dinosaurs involved, Congo’s Mokele Mbembe (its version of the Loch Ness monster) and why he feels there is a demand for dinosaur movies that isn’t well served by filmmakers.
Q. I enjoyed The Dinosaur Project. It has a good mix of thrills, scares and comedy and it doesn’t overly rely on the shaky cam aspect of most found footage films…
Sid Bennett: Yeah, a found footage movie wasn’t the premise in the first place. My initial premise started to take shape a few years ago when I read about these guys that go off into jungles and try to track down these mythical creatures. They’re cryptozoologists and that’s what gave me the first idea because I used to be a documentary filmmaker. But then I got to thinking what might happen if they really did find some creature? How would they react? And obviously, if you’re going out there as a filmmaker, you’d be out there with professionals. You’d have a professional camera-man and a professional sound man, so the footage wouldn’t all be shaky.
Of course, it would be wobbly when you’re being chased by something but the overall feel would be of a high quality production, which is what I hope The Dinosaur Project comes over as. Some people might have thought this was always envisaged as a found footage movie. But it was never my intention to make a found footage movie. It was always driven by this narrative idea of what would happen if you were on an expedition and then found a creature and then discovered that it wasn’t friendly.
Q. Where does your fascination with dinosaurs stem from? You’ve obviously previously directed Prehistoric Park for ITV. But does it go back to childhood?
Sid Bennett: Yeah, I guess it did. Jurassic Park came out when I was a wee bit older. But when I was under 10-years-old I seem to remember doing all these transfers… do you remember the prehistoric scene that you could place your transfer of a T-Rex or a Brontosaurus, as it was known then, in the middle of? I was also a real TV kid. I know people say that TV is quite bad for kids but for me, it actually ended up with me making movies, so I’m happy with it. There were the old movies like The Land That Time Forgot and the films of Ray Harryhausen, which I loved. In fact, what was really gratifying was that Prehistoric Park was nominated for one of those Visual Effects Awards in Hollywood, which is a huge accolade. So, I guess all those things fired my interest in dinosaurs, as well as making animation movies and developing an interest in seeing how it was done. All of those things led me to this point.
Q. Are you at all nervous about opening weekend? Or is that not something you think about?
Sid Bennett: I’m not that nervous about opening weekend because I think we’ve done the hard work now. As far as the writer, director and production team is concerned, we’ve done a really, really hard job and we’re though the other side. Opening weekend could be down to a lot of factors. But I know there is a lot of interest out there and I’m glad that we’ve been able to provide something to cater for that because there’s not that many dinosaur movies. Jurassic Park is everybody’s yardstick for fantastic ones but there’s not that many made.
Prehistoric Park, on TV, was very successful but it also did incredibly well for ITV and Freemantle on DVD. And that, as much as anything, made me realise there is a big audience of dinosaur fans out there who probably don’t get enough stuff. So, I took that knowledge and also the know-how of this British CGI industry we’ve sort of developed for TV. We’re the best in the world at creating CGI for TV and for film, even though there are Far East companies coming up now and trying to undercharge – but there are disadvantages with them. So, we still make the best stuff. If Hollywood wants CGI they knock on the Framestore door. We have a fantastic pool of talent to draw from and Jellyfish were perfectly placed to do this for us. So, by using this pool of talent we have been able to produce a dinosaur movie and very few people can say they’ve done that.
Q. I also liked the fact that the dinosaurs in your film have a basis in reality. They’re drawn from real fossil findings…
Sid Bennett: That was really important to me because of the work I did on Prehistoric Park and my background as a documentary filmmaker. If you do anything like that for a company like Impossible Pictures, if you hadn’t got a good grounding in biology before you did it, then you could probably take a degree afterwards because you have to get it right. On The Dinosaur Project, there is some interpretation on the fossils but we tried to make everything as realistic as possible. And that wasn’t important to everybody; in the earlier stages of production one of the producers would ask whether we needed to be that close to what the dinosaurs would be like. But why do a film like this if you’re not basing it on some kind of fossil?
You might as well make it a different kind of monster movie. I think it would be cheating the audience a bit if we didn’t have realism as a starting point. So, some of the creatures that you see in the film are exactly as they would have been and some look like they may look now had they evolved over that many years. The scariest animals in the film are the bat-like creatures and they’re based on the jeholopterus. There has been quite a lot of discussion in palaeontology circles about what kind of creature it was and someone put forward a theory that it could have been a vampire. So, that was cool to me. What if that had evolved since then and now it’s something else, which had taken on more of these vampirical tendencies?
Q. How much did you know about the Mokele Mbembe, better known as the Congo’s Loch Ness monster?
Sid Bennett: It’s a very interesting story because it first came to my attention when I was reading about those expeditions by members of the Cryptozoological Society. I think the last one was six or seven years ago, although there seems to be some kind of expedition every two years. But the reason why people keep going there [to the Congo] is because there have been quite a lot of eyewitness accounts that seem to say the same thing. So, I think there probably is a creature in there and that it’s probably quite big. But whether or not it’s directly related to dinosaurs I don’t know. It’s a nice idea though.
Q. Would you like to go on an expedition to find it yourself, given your background in documentaries?
Sid Bennett: Yeah, absolutely! I think those things are fascinating. If you did go out on one of those expeditions I think you would have to be prepared to come back with minimal evidence but it would still be exciting. I mean, imagine if you did go out and you did see something and managed to film it! These things formed the basis of our movie. Imagine being the person who finds Mokele Mbembe and it did turn out to be a dinosaur… whoever came back from the Congo with real pictures would be the most famous man in science. And it would be the best known news story in the world. It would be the discovery of the century.
Q. How important was it to be able to film in such stunning locations? And how challenging was it?
Sid Bennett: It can be really quite hard. What made it easier in South Africa was being able to film with such a brilliant crew because they’ve got such a terrific film industry out there, so we had amazing back-up. But the hardest thing, I would say, was the weather because we were filming at a time of year where there were some quite big storms. We had a day or two that were washed out completely. So, the biggest challenge was time because we put a lot of our money into the CGI. It meant that we actually scheduled for a quicker shoot in order to get the best out of the CGI.
But because I’ve worked in and come from a background on TV, which is traditionally more about tighter schedules, it wasn’t that much of an issue. There were one or two times where I felt we could have done with a couple of extra days, but my cast were great and they were always ready to go. So, it didn’t pose any big problems. And I think that, in the end, we got the best of both worlds because we shot it incredibly efficiently, it came out really nicely and we had some stunning locations and we had a good budget for the CGI.
Q. What was the biggest lesson you learned from the experience of making The Dinosaur Project?
Sid Bennett: The biggest lesson? That’s a tricky one and I’ve not thought of it yet. [Pauses] OK, I think it would probably be that filming in rapids takes longer than you think! [Laughs] That would probably come out as the main thing that I learnt on that! But I would also say that because of my background in TV and being used to tighter schedules, sometimes having a little bit more time felt like a luxury!
Q. Looking ahead, will you continue to concentrate on feature films now or will you still go back and make documentaries as well?
Sid Bennett: I do like documentaries because I like the variety they offer as well. But for now it’s all about films. I have another couple of projects in development. They’re in the fantasy genre again and involve creatures – but not dinosaurs.
Q. Are you doing those here or in the US? And is Hollywood somewhere you see yourself heading?
Sid Bennett: Well, we’re developing them both here and in the US. So, it’s whatever comes off first really. I know there is a thirst for these kinds of movies, so that’s a good thing. But I think the next one will be for a slightly older audience. It will still rely on shocks and decent CGI as well.
Q. Are those kinds of films easy to get green-lit in this economic climate? And does it help to have The Dinosaur Project behind you now?
Sid Bennett: I think you have to be clever about it. The story and premise have to be quite individual and you have to come up with something ingenious to get it commissioned. But it also helps if you’ve just made a movie. Also, in my case it’s not just me but there’s a whole team of people involved. I hadn’t worked with Jellyfish before, but I’d worked with people who had, while I already knew a lot of the cast and crew, so we went there [to South Africa] with a wealth of experience. And that really helps. If you can show that you’ve done it before, it really helps you convince people you can take their investment and come up with the goods. It also shows that you can be trusted with that investment. So, I’m optimistic going forward.
The Dinosaur Project is released in UK cinemas on Friday, August 10, 2012.
- Sid Bennett interview
- Natasha Loring interview
- Matt Kane interview
- The Dinosaur Project Photo Gallery