SAMBA, an idea of Tia Benjamin, director of the film with Gaël Zaks co-directing. They are both actors of the film. The director and co-director are a mixed of French-American and an African. They are zealous about creating a new movie called “SAMBA” which will give the world audience on how young African and French-American can collaborate to bring a live story into a movie.
Three production companies (Eken Production, Souka and ‘La Famille Du Cinéma’) will collaborate in shooting the movie in the Ivory Coast, a country in West Africa.
We bring this exclusive interview held with Tia Benjamin and Gaël Zaks where they talked about their upcoming movie and many more.
- How would you like to be introduced to the world? (Describe your age, city, qualifications, achievement and interests).
Gaël Zaks: I’m a 35 years old actor and director. I grew up in New York but now I live in Paris. I went to the Lee Strasberg Theatre Institute in New York. I’m proud of my last film, in which I acted too, ‘In the Daze of things’ produced by a British production. The film won many awards in the world which allowed me to travel to all kind of different places and meet people coming from all around the globe. I also have huge interests, even call it passion, about astrophysics and economics. I read a lot of articles about it.
Tia Benjamin: I’m 23.I come from the city of Abidjan in Ivory Coast, Africa. I shot many short films before and this will be my first feature film. I went into a film training program. My interests are definitely films and music.
- When did you become interested in working as a film director, and what influenced your decision to pursue this career?
Gaël Zaks: I first got a crush on acting watching an old Sidney Poitier Film. Then when I started working as an actor, being on the set, I admired the work of the Director and realized I’ll have to do it one day. 2 years later I was shooting my first film (Sweet one youth) in which I acted too. It was an amazing experience to me. I think that was it; I was hooked on that beautiful job!
Tia Benjamin: My older brother is also a director. Originally I was gonna go to a whole different career path. I started shooting short films with my brother and realized this is what I wanted to do with my life more than everything!!
- What do you hope to accomplish as an actor or director with your organization?
Gaël Zaks: For both it’s actually quite similar. As an actor I wish to get varied and beautiful parts, play with my heart and touch people, give them something. As a director it’s the same, I want to give the audience the best of myself and the best of my vision of the world, whatever the story.
Tia Benjamin: Definitely directing my first feature film ‘Samba’ with Gaël Zaks and other great actors. If the film works of course make the second one!
- What is your approach to delegation?
Gaël Zaks: I’m not a control freak at all!! Ah ah when I directed I love to delegate; I love watching my crew working, giving the best of themselves, it’s touching to watch.
Tia Benjamin: I like when everyone on set is 200% focused on what they do. Sometimes I take a lot of opinion from my 1st AD or my Director of photography. It definitely helps!
- Describe how you would ensure that production is on schedule. What steps would you take?
Gaël Zaks: Oh my God that’s one of the toughest part. For that of course I get the great help of my first Assistant. But for example, if one day he tells me we’re 2 hours behind schedule, I have to manage to accelerate the work, shoot less takes and sometimes even sacrifice a scene…Which is a heart-breaker but we don’t have the choice.
Tia Benjamin: Because of everyone’s schedule, we have meeting months in advance with the entire crew and cast to set all the shooting dates in sync with people’s schedules.
- What, in your opinion, is the most important quality of a Film Actor or Director?
Gaël Zaks: For an actor definitely a TOTAL sincerity in his work and a TREMENDOUS desire to give something to the audience. ‘Giving’ is the word. For a director to me it’s 2 very important things: First, realize he’s the captain of the ship; he’s got to be a leader to his cast and crew. Second: Same as an actor, the tremendous desire to give something from his guts and heart to the public. Give them his vision of the world.
Tia Benjamin: To me the greatest quality is to find solutions to artistic or technical problems and make great use of your imagination and creativity to solve them
- If an actor is being unprofessional. How do you manage the situation?
Gaël Zaks: Luckily it never happened to me. But I think I would take him apart from the group to talk to him. Explain to him how his professionalism, his passion and his focus are important not only to the film but also his acting partners and the entire crew. It’s a team work.
Tia Benjamin: I will definitely bring him my help so he can keep his self-confidence and improve.
- Describe a time when you made a mistake in your duties. How did you rectify it?
Gaël Zaks: That’s a very good question. It was on my last film. There’s a scene when one of the lead character does a sort of short tea ceremony. We start shooting and he’s wearing white silk gloves. We break for lunch and we spend the afternoon finishing to shoot that tea scene. Towards the end of the day my continuity girl comes up to me shaking and she tells me that since we got back from the lunch break we’ve been shooting without the white gloves. My heart almost stopped! Now I want to laugh when I think about it, but it was terrible. It took us 2 days to change little things in the script to explain why he didn’t wear his gloves anymore.
Tia Benjamin: I made plenty of mistakes that I fixed thanks to a director training program. I also learned from people’s critics. They are essentials.
- What do you hope to accomplish as a director after a successful film launch?
Gaël Zaks: First, enjoy!!! Take some vacation and appreciate to good job we’ve accomplished. Then, since I’m not really a vacation guy, get back to work right away on the next film.
Tia Benjamin: My goal is to work with great European and American actors such as Gaël Zaks and of course the most important, to the public to like the film.
- Tell me about how you effectively communicate your directions to the cast and crew of a movie production?
Gaël Zaks: I’ve been blessed with very professional cast and crew. But I always make a little speech at the beginning of each shooting day and then they all know what they have to do.
Tia Benjamin: I have created a whatsApp account where all the crew and cast members can communicate. On the set, it’s the same. We communicate constantly so everyone can give the best of themselves.
- Can you discuss your favorite movie or TV show and what you like about it from a director’s perspective?
Gaël Zaks: Wow I have so many favorite films. It goes from Star Wars to Spotlight, Dallas buyers club, brassed off, Fences, Marvin’s room…They’re all so sincere and touching. You can tell the director put all his heart in it! I know less TV shows but when I was a teen in NY I loved Jerry Seinfeld and later the Sopranos.
Tia Benjamin: I watch a lot of British TV shows, I find them very creative and inspiring. In terms of films I love old French and American films even though I have a soft spot for David Lynch and Wes Anderson.
- What experience do you have with video editing and production software tools?
Gaël Zaks: I have my editor, Claire Fieschi, who works on Avid or final cut. Me I’m just a baby editor compared to her talent, but I can still edit.
Tia Benjamin: To edit I use Filmora 9.
- How do you stay fresh when your inspiration is low, and you don’t feel highly creative?
Gaël Zaks: It happens. In these moments I try to regroup my thoughts and I go over my little note book with all the scenes and takes written in it and usually the creative feeling comes back.
Tia Benjamin: When these moments of low inspiration occurs I always refocus on the script, asking myself ‘What the character would say or do now?’ and it really helps me.
- What influence do you think commerce has on – the art of making a movie?
Gaël Zaks: A Huuuuge Influence. I would say it’s part of the game so we have to deal with it the best we can . Find the right balance between the producer’s expectations and your creativity and what you want to express.
Tia Benjamin: It does have a tremendous influence. Productions always want topics that most people like. I would say it’s almost an ‘art’to sell them other stories. But it’s possible.
- What is the biggest mistake many filmmakers make while shooting a movie?
Gaël Zaks: I would say 2 things. First; an ego-trip, thinking they know everything. And second learn to let go what’s planned to allow their instinct to be in the moment and therefore feel what’s the most important to film.
Tia Benjamin: I would say everything comes from the stress, actors can wait long hours before shooting so the boredom comes. With all that mixed up we can make small mistakes that can accumulate if we don’t refocus.
- At what point do you recognize that a film is finished and ready to be released?
Gaël Zaks: It’s not easy because when you’re in the editing room you always think you can keep on improving your film. Luckily on my side, I have my editor, Claire, who knows how to tell me the job is over ah ah.
Tia Benjamin: It’s something you feel in your guts and sometimes you have to force yourself to stop. Otherwise you would edit forever, always thinking you can do better.
- Do you think that all the good stories have already been made into films?
Gaël Zaks: No, not really. A film is not only about a story. It’s also about human beings interacting with each other, it’s about scenery, it’s about text, it’s about music. Only when all these things combined are good you can say you’ve made a good film.
Tia Benjamin: No, a good film is a mix of a lot of good things not only a story
- Describe the last production you worked on in a directorial capacity. What was the title of the film?
Gaël Zaks: The film was my British film ‘In the daze of things’. The production went well (Expect for the gloves story) but since I was acting in the film too I had to find a way to rely on my first assistant director when I could not be behind the camera.
Tia Benjamin: It was my last short film, very hard to make because of tough weather conditions. I had to use all my energy to keep the staff and crew focused 100%. The film is called “A walk through the village”.
- The title of your current film is about what? (Give reasons).
Gaël Zaks: It’s called ‘Samba’. An orphan, Samba, lives in a small village of Ivory Coast, Africa. An American going through the villages will certainly going to get to know that child. He will adopt him and raise him.
Tia Benjamin: The film is called ‘Samba’. It is the story of an orphan who will be adopted by an American in a small African village.
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