An Interview with Director/Cinematographer Ben Demaree

Most horror fans will know Ben Demaree from his tireless work as Director of Photography on films like the Sharknado franchise and a host of other horror movies. Ben recently tried his hand at directing, with his first, the action period film Apocalypse Pompeii starring Adrian Paul. His second film, Hansel Vs. Gretel was just released and Ben graciously made time for Inlux Magazine to answer a few questions about his new movie. Hansel Vs. Gretel stars Brent Lydic and Lili Baross.

by Nav Qateel

Nav Qateel: Congratulations on the highly entertaining Hansel Vs. Gretel. Who came up with the idea to make a follow up to Hansel & Gretel and how difficult was it coming up with something different that horror fans would appreciate?

Ben Demaree: Thanks very much, everyone involved worked really hard, so we’re very grateful that people have been embracing it.

Anthony Ferrante directed the first Hansel & Gretel, and I was the cinematographer, so I can tell you it was he who, wisely I think, wanted the story to be open-ended so there could be a sequel with Gretel as a witch.

The trick with any sequel I think always lies in not repeating too many elements of the first film, while keeping a sense of continuity with it, and expanding and exploring its universe.

While the first movie was more of a dark torture film, I really wanted to expand and explore more of a scary world filled with witches of all kinds. I’m a huge horror fan, so I definitely wanted to see some good old fashioned gore, some great ‘boo’ moments, and I didn’t want it to be too jokey or camp. I also wanted to take advantage of putting in a bit of action now that Hansel’s a witch hunter, along with making the most of having a great, very female-dominated cast.

NQ: You have quite a list of credits ​to your name, including almost 40 as cinematographer. When did you get into the business and why?

BD: For as long as I can remember I’ve had a deep love of stories and movies. As a child I would pose my Star Wars figures and take photographs of them, then put the photo’s in an album and have it tell a story. Though I started out working in news and commercials in Sacramento about 15 years ago, I always knew it was film I wanted to work in, so I saved hard and moved to Los Angeles in 2007. My ultimate goal was always to DP, to direct and to write, so I started out by gaffing and I worked my way up through camera operating on to where I am now. And now I’m fortunate enough to have earned the chance to direct. I love this industry. We get to travel and do wild creative things. And the impact and reach of our work can be surprising. I get comments from people in other countries telling me how much they loved such and such a film I worked on. That’s really cool.

NQ: Why did you chose now to start directing after DP’ing on so many other movies?

BD: I absolutely love cinematography and that’s my main career, but directing allows me to work with actors and find a way to bring a script to life. When it comes together, well, there’s nothing quite like it. And I’m fortunate that things have just hit a point in my career where some opportunities have opened up to give me that chance.

NQ: Was directing more difficult than you expected and did you feel being around other directors in so many films, prepared you for helming your own?

BD: One of the things about directing that most people don’t know is that directors rarely get to see how other directors work. A lot of them don’t have the ability to be on set and watch and absorb, or learn from various mentors. I’ve been very fortunate in that, as a cinematographer, I’ve worked closely with a wide variety of directors that all had different skill sets. Some were great with actors, some visuals, some story, some were just great at time management (more important than people realize). That actually made it easier for me because I had a wide range of experience to draw upon. I’ve seen a lot of things done well and done poorly and it’s informed my decision making.

NQ: There’s quite a difference from Apocalypse Pompeii to Hansel Vs. Gretel, and you demonstrate greater confidence in Hansel Vs. Gretel. Did you feel more confidant going into your second film?

BD: It was a great experience being able to make Apocalypse Pompeii. We got to travel to Europe and shoot in Bulgaria and Pompeii, Italy. What’s not to love? The film has done well and it’s given me the opportunity to talk with movie fans worldwide. Apocalypse Pompeii had a more straight forward, traditional style story, whereas Hansel Vs. Gretel really allowed me to go bolder in my choices. It really lent itself to being very stylized and more in-line with my sensibilities as a filmmaker. I think that’s something that shows.

NQ: I loved the casting for Hansel Vs. Gretel. How did you get so many talented actors together with presumably such a small budget?

BD: I can’t put enough emphasis on how important a great cast is, and we were very fortunate. Obviously, Brent was Hansel in the first Hansel & Gretel and I was very thankful that he was onboard to reprise his role. Jhey Castles (Cthonia) and Aqueela Zoll (Willy) I had worked with before: Jhey was in Apocalypse Pompeii and Aqueela in an independent horror film I DP’d. They were so good I had to bring them in. Lili Baross (Gretel) had originally auditioned for a different character and it was actually my wife who first mentioned to me the idea of casting her as Gretel, which worked out fantastically. The rest we just got lucky on thanks to our casting director Gerald Webb.

NQ: Speaking of budget; I was very impressed with how well and wisely you and your great team spent the budget and got so much for so little. How tricky was it to spread it out like that?

BD: The budget for this film was less than the first one. And we had more locations, more characters and we had action scenes and stunts added in, too. It was crazy! It really came down to our outstanding Producer Dylan Vox, and every single person from PA to Department Head working together and planning everything out very carefully. It was a total team effort to make the most of our resources. I can’t praise them highly enough.

NQ: Do you think you could be directing a follow-up to Hansel Vs. Gretel?

BD: I think anything can happen with this franchise. Hansel Vs. Gretel is certainly open ended and there’s a lot that can be done with those characters. As to them asking me to direct a third one, who knows. I loved working with my cast and crew and I would absolutely love to work with them again, whether it’s on a sequel to Hansel Vs. Gretel or something else entirely.

NQ: What’s next for Ben Demaree?

BD: Generally, a push to work on more of my favorite genres: horror, action and science fiction. As for right now, it’s more travel as I start prepping another sequel in a certain stormy fish franchise…

NQ: Thank you, Ben Demaree.

You can read the review for Hansel Vs. Gretel here.