PT native premieres debut film

Posted 8/14/19

Ben Medina started watching films at the Rose Theatre when he was 11 years old, and it was six years ago when he came to Rose Theatre owner Rocky Friedman, asking for his assistance in launching what Medina hoped would be his first feature film.

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PT native premieres debut film

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Ben Medina started watching films at the Rose Theatre when he was 11 years old, and it was six years ago when he came to Rose Theatre owner Rocky Friedman, asking for his assistance in launching what Medina hoped would be his first feature film.

“I said, ‘Couldn’t you start smaller?’” Friedman told the audience at the Rose Theatre Aug. 9, as they sat down to watch the premiere of Medina’s feature film debut, “ECCO.”

After the crowd’s laughter died down, Friedman told them, “I love being proven wrong, and Ben has proven me wrong with this film. What he’s achieved has been amazing.”

Medina, a class of 2001 graduate of Port Townsend High School, joined Friedman in addressing the audience, recalling how many of his favorite films he’d seen in the Rose, from “The Usual Suspects” to his all-time favorite, Michael Mann’s “Heat.”

Whether it was “Elizabeth,” “Shakespeare in Love,” “Titanic” with his mom or “Forrest Gump” with his dad that he recalled watching, Medina touted the value of seeing films in the theater, so much that, even when he’d gone to see films at the Rose with dates, he insisted “no tomfoolery” went on in the theater.

“A lot of people go to the movies, but this place gave me an education,” Medina said of the Rose. “It’s not a cineplex looking to sell you Coke and slushies. This place is filled with the heart and soul of real cinema, and it can’t be that without an audience,” he gestured out to those in attendance, “because otherwise, there’s no dialogue.”

After the film, Friedman led a question-and-answer session with the audience, and Medina was promptly asked how he managed to make a film for less than $1 million, while still matching the aesthetic quality of films with far bigger budgets.

Medina explained that his work in commercials and short films over the years had acquainted him with actors and other partners who believed in the strength of what he was planning for his debut feature film, and as such, they engaged in what he deemed “a leap of faith” by offering their services at “massive discounts.”

“They all tried to talk me out of it, but in the end, everyone stepped up and was so generous with their time,” Medina said. “In turn, I made sure I wasn’t wasting any of their time.”

When asked why he chose his native Washington state for the film’s shooting locations, Medina noted he’s worked in locales ranging from Los Angeles to New Zealand, but the filmmakers he went to for advice urged him to shoot in a place that he cared about, “because after a while, making your first real film is going to get disheartening and depressing, so they said I should shoot it in a place that would feed my soul.”

One of the film’s key locations, a farmhouse, was only a mile away from where Medina was born in Coupeville.

When asked about the genesis of the film’s story, Medina acknowledged its surface-level similarities to the Jason Bourne and James Bond films, but emphasized that he and Lathrop Walker, who stars in the film and helped develop its story with Medina, wanted to “get past the armor” of such a character, and explore his more human side, especially since Walker’s wife was pregnant, and he was about to become a father.

While Medina was mapping out an intentionally complex story structure, he also remained receptive to the input of his partners, including actors Helena Grace Donald and Tabitha Bastien.

“I’d worked with Helena before, but not with Tabitha,” Medina said. “But Tabitha would do these little things, and she thought I was giving her notes, but I was changing the script for her. When you work with actors who you can trust, it makes a film come alive. I have a very low take ratio, like maybe four takes, but it helps that I have these super-prepared actors.”

Once Medina had his ducks in a row, most of the actual shooting occurred in barely more than a month.

Medina conceded the challenge of balancing commercial considerations with selling a more nuanced story, noting that he enjoys watching the “John Wick” films, but for as many years as he knew he would be spending on making “ECCO,” he wanted it to be much more complicated and deeper emotionally.

“They originally cut this trailer for the film that made it look like ‘The English Patient,’ and I knew nobody was going to want to see that,” Medina said.

“ECCO” is currently playing in roughly 200 theaters across the country.”

“I wanted to get it on 200 more screens, but nobody knows who I am yet,” Medina said. “There were actually some folks who did not want me to be here tonight, because this is the opening night for the film everywhere, but I told them I would not do it in L.A. or New York or Boston. The Rose was 100% my only choice.”

When asked what advice he might offer another first-time filmmaker, Medina said, “Write what you can shoot, shoot what you can cut, and always finish, because 70% of films that are started are never finished.”

Medina and Friedman traded hugs as the question-and-answer session ended.

“This is where it all began,” Medina said. “I’ll never forget that, my whole life, because Rocky gave us this shot.”

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