©2017 by Nosebleeds Magazine.

 Photo by: Sam Hanson

November 2016

Ben York Jones

By: Zeke Hanson

Through high school and part of college, I worked as a civil engineers apprentice. I am not an
engineer. Nor am I particularly outstanding in math. However, no matter what project I’m
working on, inevitably I find myself standing in the middle of a field…by myself. This narrative
is not about my lack of companionship. It’s about vision. And in the case of my engineering, I
didn’t have any. I remember vividly, a project to create the layout of a sand refinery. When we
started, it was a field of corn. I saw corn. I did not see a road that led to a refinery. I saw, in a
rather frustrating fashion, corn that led to more corn. But the mapping blueprint I held in my
hand sure showed it to be there. I just had to follow the script. If you drive by that spot today,
you’d still see corn. But it has a fine piece of road leading through it to the refinery. There’s an
art in everything; a vision, no matter the work.


You just gotta hang on through all the bullshit until it gets a little bit better.
If you know what Vimeo is, you’ve seen Ben. If you’re a fan of independent films, you’ve
probably come across more than one title BYJ has been involved with. Simply, if you have a
tendency to binge watch online entertainment…you are going to see Mr. Jones. He’s been a
creator since he was a freshman in high school, and because of that, he’s friends with people just
like him who work to play and play for work.


“Yeah, for sure!” Jones said, “I feel like, going back to the ‘work as play’ thing, work where it’s
not really work. Ever since I was a kid, I don’t think I understood the point of hanging out with
people and not creating something. I couldn’t just hang out with friends to hang out; we had to
put on a show. We had to be making plans for the TV show that we were going to make. That
was ‘hanging out’ to me. Or we had to make a haunted house and plan it for months before
Halloween. That’s just always been how I interact with people, and how I prefer to spend my
time anyway. “


Ben is a product of his environment, “I did a lot of theater. My mom and dad were both actors.
They met in drama school. So, the exposure to performing arts in particular was high.”
Acting has always been a byproduct of creating for him, a means to facilitate a finished product.
“It’s out of convenience for sure. The acting thing…is not a pursuit.” Ben explains, “I would
say I enjoy it as a form of expression. And I enjoy thinking as actors think. But, I get to do a lot
of that as a writer without having to put myself through the things that an actor does…which,
honestly, I’m not sure I have the constitution for those things. Going out and auditioning, it
takes a certain kind of spirit and soul, and I’m not quite sure that I’m that person. If you’re the
writer, you get to hang out in your house all day and you get to play all of the characters…for an
audience of one…yourself.” Going back to my comment of hanging on through all the
bullshit…”that’s the thing. That’s why I can’t be an actor.”

When Ben was 15 years old, he attended an improv class, and met a friend he would go on to
collaborate with professionally by the name of Drake Doremus. Together they completed their
first feature, called The Bum. “That was at a time when camcorders were just more accessible
and affordable, and normal to have around. So, we made a movie in high school and just after
we graduated it was very similar to the way we made Douchebag (2010) . Which was…”let’s
try this”…and then “does that work”…”let’s try this”…”let’s try this”… Honestly, Douchebag
was the same process as when we were 17-18 years old, we did the same things. We both wrote
it. He directed it. I was in it.”


They’ve completed 3 features since they’ve started their partnership, but that number is likely to
grow substantially. The second of those three projects is a film called Like Crazy (2011). “It
was highly improvised in terms of dialogue,” said Ben. “In terms of its structure and in terms of
its intentions it was very planned and written out, but in terms of the specific words…there were
times where it was clear that they [actors] have to say “THIS”…in this moment…so that’s what
was captured, but largely, the actors were allowed to say whatever they wanted as long as they
knew what the scene needed to accomplish, and how it served their character in the greater
narrative. All of that was written on the page for them to take a look at, and then it was up to
Drake and them to say, “okay, considering what we have to accomplish here…you might be able
to say just two words…and we’ll get it. Versus [actually] writing those two words on the page.”
It was a special film, a special time, and Ben went on to clarify, “That was kind of an
experiment. That one in particular worked really well in terms of the cast and the chemistry. All
of the components came together really strongly.”


The collaboration between the two of them began with improv, and their collaboraitve style
reflects that. “It was very much inspired by the Christopher Guest school of filmmaking,” said
Jones. “We wanted to have it largely improvised. We hoped that it would be funny. Everything
kind of started with that. Guest’s characters are also so real, and walk that fine line between
being hilarious and horribly tragic. That was where we wanted to land. And where I still want
to land. That’s where it all started.”


If “anything worth doing, is worth doing right” and if “nothing worth doing ever comes easy”
then the 15 plus years Ben York Jones has been honing his craft has accounted for time well
spent. As with any profession, there are egos, deadlines, and blindsides that you come across,
but Ben doesn’t get too hung up on the roles, or even if the words he put so much work into end
up not making the cut. “Especially, the two movies I’ve written with Drake. He’s so rooted in
improvisation. His mom ran an improv theater and that’s where we met when we were 15 years
old. That’s where he grew up, that’s what makes sense to him, that’s how he’s going to approach
it. In his case, I know what kind of filmmaker he is and I know things are going to change.
Sometimes maybe not for the better…but usually for the better. He’ll find special moments that
you can’t really plan. It’s high risk because he tries to catch lightning in a bottle every time he
makes a film. So, if you’re going to write something for him, you know…or at least I know at
this point, what you’re getting into. Things are going to change.”

Different director. Different approach. Ben recently wrote a screenplay on spec, a friend was
directing it, but, he said “in the case of this movie, because there was no funding when I started
working on it, it was just whenever I had time do it. It is true, when you don’t get paid; you have
the luxury of dictating your timeline. So that’s one…maybe the only benefit of not getting paid
to do something. Just do it at your own pace, and maybe do it better by virtue of that.” This
project was a different beast altogether, one titled Ashes in the Snow, directed by another friend
of Ben’s, Marius Markevicius, and he was able to travel to Lithuania this past year to watch it
come to life.


“In the case of this script I wrote that Marius directed. It’s only the third thing I’ve written that’s
been produced. So, this one is a little more pointed, and intended, and it’s a historical drama so
there are elements of it that you really can’t mess with that need to be accurate.” Jones
continued that this project needed to be more structured than previous scripts, “I might be just a
little more protective of this script because it is an atone poem and it isn’t just an emotional
journey.” There’s an accountability that comes with History. There’s a service to it, and in a
sense, some justice. “In this new movie too, there’s a big leap of faith in terms of the actors
because, maybe a quarter of the movie is in Russian and I don’t speak Russian. In fact most of
the actors in the movie who spoke Russian in the movie don’t speak Russian. So for them, the
translation definitely, and some of the sentences I know …and some sentences I just have to let
them change. But as long as the intention is still working and it is working for the character and
the story, then that’s okay. It depends on what kind of script you’re writing I think. If you’re
writing a scene where the dialogue is very kinetic then that’s part of what you’re trying to
express in the rhythm and the pacing. If you look at a David Mamet play or script you can’t
change a lot of that dialogue because of the way that it is supposed to be delivered. It just
depends on what kind of script you’re writing. You gotta be loose. It’s not a novel. It’s going to
change. And it’s going to change again when they cut it. So, you have to be a little bit flexible.”
“It’s amazing,” Ben says, “the number of ideas vs. the amount of time that you actually have.
It’s always shocking. I always think I can do more than I actually can. Realizing…oh yeah, I
can’t work 24 hours a day. Not only is it impossible…but I don’t actually want to. I want to live
life and do some other things and try to cultivate hobbies. I feel like that’s the craziest thing if
you’re doing something artistic, because you’re doing the thing that’s fun for you…so it’s not
work, but it is work, and it’s still important to have other hobbies.”


If you’ve ever created something, no matter what it is, there’s always a lot of work that goes
unseen by those who view the final product. In the case of a film, it takes a lot of time to put a
script together. “If you’re writing a script it can take two years, or if it’s for a studio a couple
months, but the process on either end is long.” Ben has worked in the studio system before, “it
depends on which executive and which studio you work with, but with that it’s usually…okay,
you get 12 weeks to do it. And that’s how long you have to do your job.” A great movie needs a
direction, that vision needs to live and breathe through the performances of the actors, and all of

that needs to be pieced together by an editor…but before all of that, it all needs to take shape in
the mind of a writer, and play out on the page. You have to sit down, and make it happen.

 

“I’m always trying new ways of wrapping my head around shit. I tried putting the pages on the
wall to help me wrap my mind around it, and it did a little bit. For TV I write with Mike Mohan,
together we sold a project to Starz two years ago that ended up not happening.” In the realm of
TV and Film, selling something that doesn’t get made is a frustrating reality. One that, though
profitable, can become a stagnant environment. If the purpose of writing, in the literary sense, is
to have it read…then the purpose of writing, in the cinematic sense, is to have it seen. So it isn’t
unheard of for writers to make money for projects that you not only never hear of…but that just
aren’t available because they never go into production or the script was repurposed for another
project. When the Starz project didn’t go through, it didn’t deter the writing duo, in fact, for
their future project they decided to come go back 20 years and create a forthcoming TV series
about high school in the mid-90s. If you want to know more about it, you’ll need to start paying
attention to what Ben and Mike are doing.


Keeping up with B.Y. Jones is not an easy task. Writer’s have to write, and after 8 or so
features, a Pilot, and some writing for Anonymous Content, it’s not getting any easier. “The
ratio is staggering. It’s also misleading, people will look on IMDB and a writer will have a
credit from 2009 and then nothing until 2017 and people will be like, “pfft, what were they
doing?” Well, they were writing the whole fucking time, and if they were in the game, they were
probably getting paid, especially if they were in the studio system, they were probably getting
paid just fine for those scripts or doing rewrites for something they didn’t get credit for,” Jones
said. “You never know what’s going to actually get made. In a strange way too, whatever it is
will define you. You have to be sure that whatever it is you’re coming up with, on the off chance
it does get made…you actually like it. God forbid something you hate gets picked up for a
series. And suddenly, it’s now your life. Creatively and otherwise.”


By the numbers Ben York Jones is an actor by convenience. A man who takes pictures, but
doesn’t consider himself a photographer. And a writer who doesn’t mind if his lines are
changed.


I think what it boils down to is that in a world of ego and stress, he’s the guy you want in your
camp. So that in the end, regardless of who gets the credit, a final product is there for people to
see.


That’s the thing isn’t it? In order to be a filmmaker you have to actually make a film. It has to
be put on a page, brought to life, captured through a lens, and exported from a timeline.
Otherwise, it’s just an idea you talked about doing that one time while you were on break from
your 9-5.

DESERT ISLAND
You can hunt, fish, grow…if you cultivate the environment for them to be there. However you,
along with anyone you bring with you…will die. 3 things. Go.


BYJ: How’s cell reception?


Bleeds: Damn, no reception.


BYJ: (laughs) Solar charged tablet of some kind loaded with books. I’ll bring Tiff. And I’ll
bring pen and paper.


Bleeds: Wow.


BYJ: Well, you’re just stuck there. Don’t think too much.

The man can see the road in the midst of a corn field.

Follow him on Instagram @benyorkjones

And be sure to watch Everything Sucks on Netflix!